3 min read
31 Oct

As you can appreciate, we have received many calls from distressed and exhausted headteachers telling us about their recent inspection experience and the devastating effect it has had, not only on their own health and wellbeing, but also on those in their local community. Here is the letter in full.

The Rt Hon, Nadhim Zahawi MP 

Secretary of State for Education 

Sanctuary Buildings 

Great Smith Street


21st October 2020

Dear Secretary of State, 

OFSTED’s role in undermining school leader well-being 

Headrest has offered a free and confidential well-being telephone support service for headteachers, executive headteachers and Multi Academy Trust CEOs for the last 12 months. Calls are responded to by four experienced former headteachers with successful backgrounds in supporting headteachers and as National Leaders in Education (NLEs)  This letter is also being shared with the Shadow Education team, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, and sections of the media. 

The school leaders who call our helpline are very concerned that many outside of schools labour under the misapprehension that COVID is no longer impacting on schools operationally. However, those who contact us are adamant that things are far from “back to normal”. Indeed, managing COVID related issues is proving a constant source of anxiety and stress to school leaders. Many cite that the pressures are greater now than in the earlier stages of the pandemic. School leaders are finding themselves having to manage high rates of staff and student absence; teach the classes of absent colleagues; restructure class groupings at exceptionally short notice; and retain a high profile around their schools so as to support the well-being of students and staff in these most extraordinary of times. We find it hard to envisage how any national policymaker can think reinstating school inspections at this time would be anything other than a stress inducing process that will damage the well-being of school leaders and their staff teams. 

The stresses, fears and concerns articulated to us can be heart rending. It is certainly clear to us that in these most abnormal of times the looming pressure of OFSTED is a major stressor that damages the well-being of many school leaders and their staff teams. Below is a summary of some of the key themes and concerns that have been shared with us in recent months: 

  • We receive calls from school leaders who are needing medication to manage their anxiety and workplace stress – an impending OFSTED inspection is often a key contributory factor to the anxieties they relay. Frequently their doctors wish to sign them off - invariably the caller is resisting because they do not want to let down their school community.
  • Some callers are fearful that they will be branded failures by the inspectorate for being unable to deliver all the strategic tasks that in non-COVID times they would normally have completed by this stage of the academic year. To be blunt they do not fully trust inspectors to comprehend and empathise with the pressure they have been under. Indeed we hear, from both additional inspectors and headteachers, that the practice of lead inspectors is hugely variable in this regard, and so this lack of trust is not without foundation.  This fear is toxic to the maintenance of a healthy well-being.
  • Many who call are already hatching their “escape plan” from the profession because they do not want the emotional stress of an OFSTED inspection in the midst of COVID and its immediate aftermath. Those planning their escape route are often, but not exclusively, experienced school leaders that a post-COVID education system cannot, in our view, afford to lose.
  • A considerable number of callers are concerned that meeting the plethora of demands upon them, again including OFSTED pressures, is undermining their family relationships.
  • Colleagues in smaller schools, often with no other senior leaders with whom they can share their onerous load, face the abyss of self-doubt that they just cannot balance the often conflicting demands of operational and strategic leadership alongside managing the adverse impact of COVID within their school. They are often fearful that OFSTED inspectors will not empathise or comprehend the uniqueness of their situation.
  • Some colleagues tell us how the only way they can get all the strategic tasks done, like the documentation OFSTED inspectors often ask to see, is by working ridiculously late hours at night or getting up at ludicrously early hours in the morning. In doing this they inflict upon themselves major issues of sleep deprivation.

In most instances the calls we receive can involve a combination of several of the above. 

In conclusion, we demand that OFSTED’s graded school inspections should be stopped. We believe at this time school leaders and their staff teams need empathy not inspectorial scrutiny; support not OFSTED judgements; and, most of all, they need national policymakers to take decisions that reduce, rather than exacerbate, stress levels. 

In your role as Secretary of State for Education we feel it imperative that you are fully aware of the concerns we are receiving.

Yours faithfully


cc. Amanda Spielman, HMCI, Kate Green MP, Shadow Secretary of State, Robin Walker MP, Peter Kyle MP

You can read more about this in the TES article that covered the story. 

As soon as we receive a reply, we will post it here. 

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