3 min read
18 Nov

We wrote to the Secretary of State for Education one month ago outlining our concerns about the impact of inspections on headteacher wellbeing and morale. We asked that he pause Ofsted inspections until schools return to normal following the pandemic. He failed to respond, instead choosing to ramp up inspections and invest millions more. Determined not to give up, we have now written to the shadow education team to see if they will at least listen. Here is the letter in full.

18th November 2021                                                                                                                                                             

Dear Shadow Education Team,                                                                                 

On 21st October (4 weeks ago) we wrote to the Secretary of State for Education to share our serious concerns with him about the damage being done to the health and well-being of headteachers as a consequence of OFSTED’s current activity.  We copied you into the letter which outlined our key concerns in detail. To date, we have not received a reply from the Secretary of State. 

At the time we wrote that letter we could see the situation was becoming serious; it is now grave, and the consequences for children and schools will be severely damaging.  As we have not received a reply from government we feel that it is important that, rather than copying you into a follow-up letter, we lay out our concerns directly to you, who are best placed, as HM official opposition to provide powerful challenge and scrutiny. 

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, 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. 

In our letter of 21st October, we outlined in detail our concern regarding the effects of the current inspections and requested that 

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) judgement; and, most of all, they need national policymakers to take decisions that reduce, rather than exacerbate, levels of stress.   

Since then, calls to us have escalated further.  On Monday alone this week, we heard from five headteachers who will be unable to lead schools again as a result of the impact OFSTED has had on their mental and physical health.  It is important to note that these are not heads from schools with below average outcomes or with concerning aspects; indeed some are graded ‘Good’. Calls to us are confidential but the following regular and common points can be made from what we have listened to: 

  • Inspections taking place when significant percentages of staff are absent with COVID and this ‘not being an excuse’ 
  • Feedback and draft reports citing ‘as things begin to return to normal after the pandemic’, and  ‘taking longer to readjust post pandemic’ being seen as judgements on the competence of leaders 

This is simply unacceptable when the reality in schools is far from ‘post-pandemic’ and headteachers are managing bereavement, anxiety, serious staff shortages and the ongoing logistics of operating with rising cases.  Many are experiencing ‘burn out’ and what would appear to be PTSD. 

  • CEOs reporting that they are now looking for a career change, something they never thought  would happen, and that their headteachers ‘are literally on their knees’.
  • headteachers who have been rushed to hospital during inspections with suspected heart attacks and other physical and mental breakdown. 

On Tuesday this week we were both astounded and horrified, along with all system leaders (including the Chartered College, ASCL, NAHT and many other high-profile individuals and organisations) to hear that an extra £25 million is being given to OFSTED for them to scale up inspections.  

It is damaging schools. School leaders need to be helped and supported now more than ever and they need extra financial resource.  It is not inspection itself that is bad; it is the nature of graded inspections using a framework which is now inappropriate for the current context, and which has such high stakes consequences for schools and communities.  

At a time when schools need high quality heads more than ever, we are ‘bleeding leaders’ and the response from DfE and OFSTED is to ‘scale up’ the damage. The consequence we fear most is that the system will begin to lose the quality, experience and commitment of leadership it has enjoyed in the past. The very people who make the system work increasingly doubt their ability to sustain their involvement. 

Headrest colleagues are happy to meet with you to discuss this further. 

Yours sincerely, 

Ros McMullen, Andrew Morrish, Peter Crockett, Dr Kenny Frederick 


Cc Secretary of State for Education

You can read a copy of the letter we sent to the Secretary of State here

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

* The email will not be published on the website.