Government’s failure to stop Ofsted damage is reckless, union chief warns

The Government’s failure to address the damage being done by the current inspection system is “reckless”, a school leaders’ union boss has said.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said the Government’s continued commitment to single-phrase Ofsted judgments has “left a chill in the air”.

In a speech to school leaders on Friday in Newport in south Wales, Mr Whiteman called for Ofsted reform and described the current accountability system as a “diseased root which creates further havoc” in schools.

Last week, the Department for Education (DfE) said it had no plans to remove single-phrase Ofsted judgments despite calls for them to be scrapped.

In its response to an Education Select Committee inquiry on Ofsted, the DfE listed benefits of one-word judgments – which included providing a “succinct” summary for parents and helping identify schools needing support.

Delegates at the NAHT annual conference will now debate an emergency motion on Ofsted on Saturday following the Government’s response to the inquiry which is described as “wholly inadequate”.

The motion calls on the union’s executive to “explore all campaign, legal and industrial routes to secure necessary changes to inspection to safeguard leaders’ lives” after the death of Ruth Perry.

The debate will be held after Sir Martyn Oliver, chief inspector of Ofsted, addresses school leaders at the union’s conference.

Ofsted has come under greater scrutiny in the past year after the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Mrs Perry took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating, “outstanding”, to its lowest rating, “inadequate”, over safeguarding concerns.

In December, a coroner concluded that the Ofsted inspection on November 15 and 16 in 2022 “contributed” to Mrs Perry’s death.

Addressing hundreds of school leaders at the union’s annual conference, Mr Whiteman said: “I am afraid the Government response to the Education Select Committee has left a chill in the air.

“Their complete failure to really address the damage being done is reckless.”

He added: “I continue to get too many reports of a broken and brutal inspection regime.

“And despite Sir Martyn’s efforts, the Government has set out its stall to continue on its current course despite the overwhelming evidence of the damage being done.

“The accountability in its current form resembles a diseased root which creates further havoc across the school ecosystem.”

In March, Sir Martyn launched the watchdog’s Big Listen public consultation, which closes at the end of this month, to seek views about the inspectorate.

During his speech, Mr Whiteman suggested schools had been treated as a “sideline” by politicians as he called on political parties to prioritise education.

He said: “For the best part of 15 years now, schools have been treated as though they’re the sideline, a niche portfolio to be considered once populist talk on immigration, polarised views on trans rights, and removing the right to protest have all been exhausted.”

He warned : “The effect of such neglect on our schools has been pernicious.

“If political parties think the electorate haven’t noticed, or simply don’t care, I strongly suspect they’re all going to have a nasty shock during the election campaign.”

Paul Nowak, general secretary of  the TUC, who also addressed the conference, said the inspection system “isn’t fit for purpose” and it is “time for change”.

Mr Nowak joined the the NAHT leader on Friday in calling for single-word Ofsted judgments to be scrapped.

A DfE spokesman said: “Headteachers across the country are doing an excellent job day in day out ensuring pupils have a world class education, and on average they are rightly among the highest 10% of earners in the country.

“At secondary school, heads can receive a total package of well over £130,000 including pension contributions.

“Thanks to our reforms, 90% of schools are now rated good or outstanding, up from just 68% in 2010.

“We will continue to work with Ofsted to further improve the inspections system, informed by Sir Martyn Oliver’s Big Listen exercise.”