Ofsted chief inspector ‘serious’ about watchdog ‘doing better’

The chief inspector of Ofsted will say he is serious about the watchdog “doing better” as he launches a major consultation into its future direction.

Sir Martyn Oliver will pledge to put the interests of disadvantaged children at the heart of any reforms and will say “nothing is off the table” in the watchdog’s “Big Listen” public consultation.

Ofsted has come under greater scrutiny in the past year following the suicide of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Mrs Perry took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

In December, a coroner concluded the Ofsted inspection on November 15-16 in 2022 “likely contributed” to Mrs Perry’s death.

In his first major speech since becoming chief inspector, Sir Martyn will tell school leaders that he wants the Big Listen consultation to mark a new chapter in the watchdog’s relationship with the sector.

Views about Ofsted’s work will be sought from parents, carers and professionals in the education and social care sectors as part of the 12-week consultation, which opens on Friday.

Sir Martyn (pictured) will tell the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) in Liverpool: “We need to listen to feedback, to criticism, to ideas for small changes and for big reforms.

“If your work, your children, your decisions, your education or your care are impacted by what we do, we want to hear from you. Every voice will be heard, and nothing is off the table.”

His comments come after a report by the Education Select Committee in January called on the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted “to develop an alternative” to the single-word judgments used to rate schools in England.

Relations between Ofsted and teachers and school leaders have become “extremely strained” and trust in the inspectorate is “worryingly low”, MPs from the cross-party group concluded.

Addressing hundreds of headteachers on Friday morning, Sir Martyn, who took over as chief inspector in January, will say: “I hope the steps I’ve taken in my first two months show you that I’m serious.

“Serious about Ofsted doing better. Serious about making a difference. And serious about working with the sector to make sure all children have the best possible education, care, and life chances.’

Following the inquest into Mrs Perry’s death, Sir Martyn delayed school inspections until later on in January to ensure inspectors received mental health training.

The watchdog has also published a policy on how inspections can be suspended in exceptional circumstances – including where the head requires support.

The watchdog’s Big Listen consultation will ask a series of questions to help provide a sense of direction for the changes Ofsted could make.

Independent organisations will also carry out surveys and focus groups with parents and professionals to gather their views on Ofsted.

Launching the consultation, Sir Martyn will say: “We want to see high standards for all children, and positive outcomes for all children. This is how we start to tackle disadvantage as a society – by opening new doors, creating new opportunities and better life chances.

“We don’t want disadvantage or vulnerability to be a barrier. Because if you get it right for the most disadvantaged, you get it right for everyone. Ofsted has a crucial role to play in making sure that happens, and pointing out when it doesn’t.”

Ofsted will publish its conclusions and plans later this year after it has analysed all the responses to the consultation.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said: “We welcome the ‘big listen’ as an important step in resetting the broken relationship between Ofsted and the schools and colleges it inspects.

“It is vital that the inspectorate wins back the confidence of leaders and teachers who at present regard it as unnecessarily harsh, punitive and inconsistent.

“Sir Martyn Oliver has already signalled a change of tone, and this has been well received – but the proof of the pudding is in this translating to a better and fairer system.”

Mr Barton added: “We have repeatedly called for the current system of graded judgements – where everything a school does is reduced to a single phrase – to be scrapped and replaced with a narrative description which is more informative for parents and more supportive to schools that need additional support.

“This is not, however, something that Ofsted can implement but needs to come from the Government. We hope they are also listening.”

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