Dear Mr Russell,
At Headrest we received in the last 24 hours a case that greatly concerns us. The key points are summarised below:
In your letter of the 8th of November, you state:
“…We have amended our published deferral policy regularly throughout the pandemic to ensure that inspectors are able to respond sensitively when schools are facing acute challenges.”
Your words frankly do not match the awful experience of that colleague. Nor is this the only example we have received of inspection deferrals being refused when leaders are faced with a combination of extreme family circumstances and high rates of COVID related absence. These family circumstances include school leader colleagues with close family members exceptionally close to end of life. We cannot believe this is an outcome that anyone in your organisation would choose but it is the reality of what happens when organisational fine words are not matched by supportive and humane actions.
We also have examples of colleagues being so traumatised by the feedback from Ofsted inspectors that they have required emergency medical treatment. Additionally, we have numerous calls from those now off sick because of what might best be described as “post inspection stress”. Colleagues have, for twenty months, led schools through a global pandemic and are exhausted – a hostile or intemperate Ofsted inspection can be that one trauma too many.
You state in your letter that you can deliver inspections in “a fair, manageable and safe way for schools.” We do not believe that colleagues requiring urgent medical treatment or needing to be signed off work with a combination of exhaustion or stress, as a result of Ofsted triggered ill health, is particularly safe. We would welcome your thoughts on this.
In your letter of the 8th of November 2021 you state:
“..We fully recognise that schools and colleges are operating in extraordinary times and have been for some time….Inspectors will always take time to understand and take account of different challenges schools are dealing with and how they are being affected by the pandemic.”
With regret this is not the case in every inspection. A consistent response we have received through our work with Headrest, and within our own wider educational networks, is that often little or no account was taken by inspectors of the pandemic or its adverse impact. Indeed, we have reports of inspectors stating that “COVID is over” (do they really believe that?); or that it is “in the past and not relevant”; or that they “do not want to hear about COVID”; or that “COVID cannot be taken into account”. This variability in the inspectorate’s response to this issue is causing immense stress - and distress.
Many colleagues contact us unhappy with the inspection process. We advise them to use Ofsted’s complaints procedure. Their response is essentially one of “what is the point – nothing will happen, and nothing will change”. It is a lamentable situation that this is the standard response from those leaders we speak to. I do wonder if that lack of faith, justified or unjustified, in the integrity of your organisation to be open minded in considering a complaint is of concern to you? If stakeholders in a school were to express the same misgivings of a school’s complaints procedure we feel it highly likely that Ofsted would comment adversely upon this in their report.
The current situation with graded inspections is unsustainable. We believe it is only a matter of time before a school leader, burnt out by the pressure of leading a school through a global pandemic, has either a serious physical or mental health fatality triggered by Ofsted’s heavy handedness. Will it take a death, a dramatic increase in signed off staff, or a major retention crisis as colleagues walk away, for Ofsted to realise they are pushing colleagues beyond acceptable limits?
When we first wrote in October 2021, we felt the situation was becoming serious; it is now grave.
Pete Crockett Dr Kenny Frederick Andrew Morrish Ros McMullen
The Headrest team was established a year ago to listen to and support headteachers who wished to speak to an experienced headteacher in total confidence and free of charge - we could see the strain colleagues were facing and, as experienced heads ourselves, wished to do something to help. We are all successful ex-heads, some of us NLEs, and still work in the sector professionally training, coaching and consulting. In our experience, we represent the full range of primary, secondary and special school backgrounds.