Ofsted not able to provide evidence for claims it made under oath that inspectors had paused inspections due to wellbeing concerns

Ofsted not able to provide evidence for claims it made under oath that inspectors had paused inspections due to wellbeing concerns

Ofsted is not able to back up claims it made under oath that inspectors had paused inspections where headteachers were distressed, saying it does not hold a record of such instances.

A coroner last month ruled an Ofsted inspection in November 2022 contributed to the death by suicide of headteacher Ruth Perry in January last year.

The embattled watchdog gave evidence at the inquest that it had previously paused inspections due to headteacher distress.

Chris Russell, Ofsted’s then-national director for education, told the inquest while there was no written guidance on modifying inspections where heads were under “high levels of stress”, this was a “core value” of inspector training.

‘No central record’ on pause data

But Ofsted has since admitted “we do not hold a central record of the number of inspections that have been paused, or the reasons why”.

“We are therefore unable to supply accurate data on the number of school inspections paused due to headteacher distress in each of the last three years,” former chief inspector Amanda Spielman added in a letter last month, and seen by Schools Week.

However she claimed “we are aware from anecdotal evidence from our regional teams that inspections have been paused for various reasons, including headteacher distress.  

“We are committed to doing all we can to minimise stress and anxiety when we inspect.”  

Spielman was responding to a parliamentary question from Gareth Thomas, Labour MP for Harrow West.

He told Schools Week: “I think it is symptomatic of the way Ofsted has run inspections recently that they did not bother to record when headteachers and other staff were distressed by the way inspections were being run.”

Former academy trust boss Sir Martyn Oliver took over as chief inspector this week. He has halted inspections while new mental health training is rolled out and has launched an inquiry into how Ofsted handled Perry’s death.

Thomas added he hopes Oliver will “correct this as a matter of urgency; how else will we be able to tell if there really is a more effective, less brutal and more thoughtful inspection regime in place?”  

During Perry’s inquest, senior coroner Heidi Connor said it was “suggested by Ofsted witnesses that it is an option to pause an ongoing inspection because of reasons of teacher distress”.

However she concluded it was “something of a mythical creature”, adding she heard “no direct evidence” and neither the school or council were aware of the possibility.

Ofsted pointed Schools Week to Oliver’s previous comments when he halted inspections so the watchdog can fully respond to the coroner’s concerns.

‘Overzealous inspector’ concerns

Ofsted also provided data on complaints relating to inspector conduct.

In the 2020-2021 financial year, 39 complaints from 2,585 inspections related to concerns over the conduct of inspections (1.5 per cent). The number of inspections this year was lower than normal amid Covid.

In the 2022-2023 financial year, Ofsted received 171 complaints raising conduct concerns out of a total of 7,615 inspections (2.24 per cent).

Thomas said he was “very concerned by reports of aggressive and overzealous inspectors”.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “Not only has Ofsted failed to act upon this major issue, but it appears that it has barely been taken note of.  

“Major reform is required to produce an inspection system that is fairer and less punitive.”