Image source, Brighter Futures for Children
Image caption, Ruth Perry was the head at Caversham Primary School in Caversham, Reading
Education unions have called for Ofsted inspections to be paused in the wake of the death of a head teacher.
Ruth Perry, head at Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life while waiting for the publication of a report that downgraded her school from outstanding to inadequate.
The National Education Union, school leaders’ union NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders have called for inspections to be halted.
Ofsted has been asked for a comment.
Ms Perry’s family said the 53-year-old had described the inspection in November as the worst day of her life.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It is clear that school leaders up and down the country are placed under intolerable pressure by the current approach.
“It cannot be right that we treat dedicated professions in this way. Something has to change. Whilst it should never take a tragedy like this to prompt action, this has to be a watershed moment.
“The anger and hurt being expressed currently by school staff is palpable. It is essential that all policy makers, including Ofsted, listen and respond.
“Given the strength of feeling and the need for a period of calm reflection, Ofsted should pause inspections this week.”
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Given recent events and widespread concerns about leaders’ wellbeing, it’s the height of insensitivity for Ofsted to be going into schools or colleges this week.
“Ofsted should pause all its inspections and reflect upon the unmanageable and counterproductive stress they cause for school leaders, and the impact on leaders.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, called for “an immediate review” and urged the inspectorate to consider replacing the current system of “graded judgements which reduce everything that a school or college does to a single blunt descriptor”.
He said: “These judgements do not do justice to schools and colleges, and negative outcomes are devastating to leaders, staff and communities.”
Ms Perry’s sister, Julia Waters, has called for schools to “boycott Ofsted”.
In a Facebook post she said: “In Ruth’s memory and to protect others, I call on headteachers (with the support of teaching unions) to boycott Ofsted until a thorough, independent review has been conducted and changes implemented; refuse Ofsted inspectors entry to their school (or, at least, refuse to comply with inspectors’ requests).”
She previously said her sister told her in feedback to the senior leadership team inspectors said a boy doing a dance move akin to flossing was evidence of the sexualisation of children at the school.
There were also said to be claims of child-on-child abuse, which turned out to be a playground fight.
In the report, seen by the BBC but not published on the Ofsted website, leaders were described as having a “weak understanding of safeguarding requirements and procedures”.
It stated there was not “appropriate supervision during breaktimes”, which meant pupils were “potentially at risk of harm”.
But it also described a “welcoming and vibrant school”, where relationships between staff and pupils were “warm and supportive”, and bullying was rare.
Image source, BBC
Image caption, Julia Waters urged schools to refuse access to Ofsted inspectors
Flora Cooper, executive head of John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire, had earlier tweeted Ms Waters’ plea and said she had refused access to inspectors who were due to visit on Tuesday.
She tweeted: “I’ve just had the call. I’ve refused entry. This is an interesting phone call. Doing this for everyone for our school staff everywhere!”
In a statement West Berkshire Council later said that following discussions the inspection would go ahead as planned.
“We understand that the inspection process can be a busy and stressful time for teachers, governors and school staff. As a council, we work closely with all of our schools to support them through the inspection process and address any individual concerns,” it added.
The Department for Education said inspections were a “legal requirement”.
A spokesman said: “Inspections are hugely important as they hold schools to account for their educational standards and parents greatly rely on the ratings to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child.
“We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham Primary School at this difficult time.”
West Berkshire Council said some people had indicated they would protest at the school.
A spokesperson said: “We would ask people not to do so as this will have a detrimental impact on pupils and disrupt the start of their school day.
“We are already busy speaking to the parties involved to try and find a solution to this situation.”
The school inspectors who work for Ofsted have the legal right to enter schools and ask for any documents they wish.
In theory, under the law, anyone who obstructs them could be fined up to £2,500. But the reality is it would never come to that.
These are unusual circumstances – a head teacher, grieving for a colleague, who wants to take a stand.
Head teachers describe Ofsted inspections as a process many find almost unbearably stressful, which takes a toll on their mental and physical health.
Ofsted has a legal duty to check on the standard of education and welfare of children in school. The shocking death of a head teacher in her prime has ignited strong feelings and debate about how they do that.
A petition calling for education secretary Gillian Keegan and Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman to review the inspection and to make changes to the inspection system has so far gathered more than 40,000 signatures.
In the report seen by the BBC, but yet to be published on the Ofsted website, the watchdog rated the school as inadequate, the lowest rating.
Matthew Purves, Ofsted regional director for the south east, said: “We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death.
“Our thoughts remain with Mrs Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham Primary School community.”
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