24th April 2023
Amanda Spielman refuses to abolish "one-word assessments" despite widespread calls from teachers and education unions.
The ratings, which range from "outstanding" to "inadequate," have been described as "integral" to the school system by Ms. Spielman.
Pressure on the schools watchdog in England has been mounting after education unions threatened legal action because Ofsted continued to carry out inspections without a full mental health assessment for teachers. The recent suicide of Ruth Perry, a headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, who took her own life while awaiting an Ofsted report that downgraded her school from the highest rating to the lowest, has added to the calls for reform.
Ms.Spielman acknowledged the "strength of feeling" in the debate around Ofsted reform and said the inspectorate was "making changes" but rejected more "far-reaching suggestions." She added that the watchdog is piloting changes to make the complaints process "more responsive" so school staff get a "fair and thorough hearing" during an inspection. She also said Ofsted inspectors are looking to return more promptly to schools such as Ms. Perry's which are deemed to have safeguarding issues but are performing well in other areas.
Ms. Perry's sister, Professor Julia Waters, criticized Ms. Spielman's refusal to back wider reform of Ofsted and accused the watchdog and the Department for Education of failing to provide "anything like a meaningful response to the growing calls for reform." She said that "Ofsted has marked its own homework and is telling us that everything is under control. I think many people would score Ofsted's current system as 'requires improvement' and their response to calls for reform as 'totally inadequate'." Critics of the Ofsted grading system argue that it is too simplistic and fails to reflect the complexity of a school and its teaching quality. Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, said the grades have "had their day," while the union indicated in March that it could take legal action against the watchdog after it did not suspend inspections following Ms. Perry's death.
Defending the System
However, Ms. Spielman defended the grading system and said that "distilling all that a school is and does into a single word makes some in the sector uncomfortable, particularly when there are consequences of the grade awarded." She added that "the overall grade currently plays an integral part in the wider school system" and that "many parents find the grading system useful, whether that’s in choosing a school or to understand the one their child attends."
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said she would meet Ms. Perry's family and local headteachers to discuss her death. She added that "nothing is more important than keeping children safe" and that she would listen to the views of teachers. Ms. Keegan said that following a positive meeting with Ms. Spielman, Ofsted would intensify its work to reassure leaders and teachers, including making sure they feel safeguarding is considered proportionally in overall school judgments. She also said that "parents rightly want to know how their child's school is doing, and I fully support our approach to providing a clear one-word rating to inform their decisions."