One-word Ofsted grades should stay, says government

Children putting their hands up in class
Ofsted inspects schools in England [Getty Images]

The system of one-word Ofsted judgements for schools in England has "significant benefits" and should stay, according to the government.

It said the grades, such as "outstanding" or "inadequate", gave parents an important summary of local schools.

The sister of head teacher Ruth Perry, who took her own life after her school was downgraded, said she was deeply upset by the government's response.

In January, a report from the cross-party education select committee called for an end to the single-word judgements.

The Department for Education, in its response to that report, said ministers "would continue to listen to views and look at alternative systems".

However, it added: "There are significant benefits from having an Ofsted overall effectiveness grade.

"In our view, the priority is to look for ways to improve the current system rather than developing an alternative to it."

It said such improvements could include how Ofsted findings are presented and highlighting more detail that underpins the summary grade.

But Pepe Di’Iasio, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The problem is not presentational, it is that the system is fundamentally flawed and must change."

He said the government's response came "despite all the evidence that these single-phrase judgements are the source of sky-high stress and anxiety, damaging the wellbeing of leaders and teachers, sapping morale and causing many people to leave the profession".

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders’ union, the NAHT, said the government had defended "an inhumane and unreliable inspection system that is driving a mental health and wellbeing crisis across England’s schools".

"We cannot rule out something awful happening again in future if the inspectorate does not change," he added, referring to Mrs Perry's death in January 2023.

A picture of head teacher Ruth Perry, who died last year
Ruth Perry said she had not been allowed to talk about the Ofsted result to anyone [BBC]

Ofsted downgraded Mrs Perry's school, Caversham Primary, in Reading, from "outstanding" to "inadequate" because of safeguarding concerns, after visiting in November 2022.

A coroner ruled in December that the inspection "contributed" to Mrs Perry's death and said there was a risk of further deaths "unless action is taken".

Ofsted apologised fully the following month for the role it played in Mrs Perry's suicide and promised a review of lessons to be learned.

Changing one or two-word judgments - like "inadequate" or "requires improvement" - can only be done by ministers.

Mrs Perry's sister, Prof Julia Waters, told the BBC she was angry and deeply upset that the government had failed to act on the family’s main concern.

"That word 'inadequate' destroyed my sister... It's the consequences, the completely disproportionate consequences, that are attached to that single word," she said.

"They claim to be listening but they haven't been listening."

Labour has previously said Ofsted's system of one-word judgements "can’t capture the breadth of school life".

It has said it would scrap the system of single-word grades and introduce a "report card" for schools.