Ofsted review compared to ‘getting an old friend to mark your homework’

Ruth Perry took her own life after an Ofsted inspection (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)

The sister of a headteacher who took her own life following an Ofsted inspection has likened the review of the regulator to “setting your own homework and getting a friend to mark it”.

The inquiry, which is set to be led by former Ofsted chief Dame Christine Gilbert, was launched in response to a Coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths Report following Ruth Perry’s inquest.

Ms Perry ended her life in January 2023 after her Caversham Primary School in Reading was downgraded from outstanding to inadequate over safeguarding concerns flagged in an Ofsted report.

Her inquest concluded in December 2023 with a verdict of “suicide, contributed to by an Ofsted inspection carried out in November 2022”.

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File photo dated 07/12/23 of Professor Julia Waters, sister of headteacher Ruth Perry who took her own life after an Ofsted insp

Professor Julia Waters has criticised the decision to appoint a former Ofsted chief to lead a review into Ofsted (Image: PA Media)

Ofsted has confirmed that the review will commence this month and aims to produce a written report by year-end.

However, Dame Christine’s previous role as chief inspector at Ofsted for five years has raised concerns among Ms Perry’s family and teaching unions.

Ms Perry’s sister, Professor Julia Waters, said she “needs to be convinced” of the review’s independence following the appointment.

She said: “Given that Dame Christine Gilbert is a former head of Ofsted, we and others will need to be convinced that she has the necessary independence of perspective that is required for the task.

Undated handout photo provided by the University of Reading of headteacher Ruth Perry, who took her own life after an Ofsted ins

Ruth Perry (Image: University of Reading)

“The review needs to be rigorous and explore Ofsted’s systems, practices and culture in depth if it is to learn the lessons required to lead to significant change. I hope we get that assurance, and I hope she can do what is needed.”

“It could feel a bit like Ofsted has set its own homework and has got an old friend to mark it. I hope that isn’t the case.”

She says she is looking forward to Dame Christine “and sharing my family’s experiences and concerns with her”, calling for a “truly independent and deep inquiry” to assure her family, teachers, parents and others “that Ofsted is serious about change”.

Commenting on the scope of the investigation, she noted that the published terms of reference for the review “seem rather limited and limiting” and expressed her hope that Dame Christine “will consider interpreting the terms in a way that provides opportunity to properly review what Ofsted does and how it can improve”.

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Former head of Ofsted Dame Christine Gilbert (PA Archive/PA)

Former head of Ofsted Dame Christine Gilbert (Image: PA Archive/PA Images)

The NAHT, a school leaders’ union, insisted that the review must maintain independence and impartiality, highlighting worries over it being spearheaded by a former Ofsted chief.

However, the National Education Union (NEU) took a stronger stance, arguing that the review “should be carried out by someone from outside Ofsted, rather than a former chief inspector, so that it has the trust of the profession, and we can all have faith in the process”.

Daniel Kebede, the general secretary, has insisted that the review “will only take us forward if it is impartial and independent”.

Dame Christine Gilbert, who boasts an 18-year career in teaching, previously held the position of chief inspector at Ofsted from 2006 to 2011.

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Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, has said she will need to be convinced of the independence of the review following her siste

Professor Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, has said she will need to be convinced of the independence of the review following her sisters death (Image: Andrew Matthews/PA)

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, has urged for the concerns regarding Dame Christine’s appointment to be tackled “head-on”, while he also praised her as a “widely respected and knowledgeable figure in education” with the necessary “insight and determination to carry out a comprehensive review”.

Ofsted has clarified that the review will not delve into the inspection of Caversham Primary School or the judgments made.

Dame Christine has committed to a “detailed and thorough” examination of the events spanning from the end of the school inspection to the conclusion of the inquest, including discussions with Ms Perry’s family.

She commented: “The death of Ruth Perry was a deeply sad and shocking event. Ofsted has accepted that it is vitally important for it to learn from this tragedy and has asked me to help them do that.”

“I intend to take a very detailed and thorough look at all areas of Ofsted’s work from the moment the Caversham inspection ended, through to the conclusion of the Coroner’s inquest.”

“I will scrutinise the approach taken and advise on future actions and revisions needed to improve Ofsted’s policies and processes for dealing with any tragic incident.”

“Importantly, I will hear first-hand from the family of Ruth Perry to gain a better understanding of the impact of Ofsted’s work. I would like to thank them in advance for agreeing to engage with my review.”

Current chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Martyn Oliver, expressed his gratitude towards Dame Christine for taking on the leadership of the review, citing her “wealth of experience in schools, in inspection, and in undertaking a range of reviews”.

Dame Christine is no stranger to educational assessments, having been involved in previous reviews and also contributing to Baroness Casey’s investigation into the Metropolitan Police last year.

Ofsted has assured that Dame Christine will be granted access to all necessary internal documents and will have the opportunity to converse with any member of the Ofsted team.

Her conclusive report is expected to propose any changes needed in Ofsted’s internal policies and procedures when dealing with “tragic incidents”, as stated by the watchdog. It also mentioned that it will consider the recommendations within the context of the broader response to the Big Listen.

The Big Listen, a public consultation aimed at gathering opinions on Ofsted, was initiated last month.

Tom Middlehurst, inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), welcomed Dame Christine’s appointment, but said its concern remains “that neither the review nor the Big Listen tackle the key issue of single-phrase judgments – the very feature of the system which makes inspections so high stakes and drives stress and anxiety”.

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