The picket line at Valentine School, 14.3.19, credit: Southampton Socialist Party (uploaded 27/03/2019)
The picket line at Valentine School, 14.3.19, credit: Southampton Socialist Party (uploaded 27/03/2019)

‘It’s worsened life for staff and pupils’

Liz Filer, Southampton Socialist Party

The tragic suicide of Ruth Perry – the headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading – has led to a furore about school inspectors Ofsted, and the pressure it puts on headteachers, teachers, school staff and children.

I have recently retired from headship, after 36 years in the profession. The poisonous triangle of Ofsted, exam/test results and league tables played a major factor in my decision to retire a couple of years early.

Dreaded call

When you know that you are due an Ofsted visit, the stress really starts to ramp up. Every time the phone rings at 11am, a rush of adrenaline courses through your body as you think it may be the dreaded call. Then when they do come the stress is unbearable.

These visits are so high stakes. If you don’t do well, as a headteacher, your job will be at risk, and the very future of the school may be under threat of forced academisation. This puts pressure on school staff and children to perform well.

But the lower the number of children eligible for free school meals in a school, the more chance you have of getting a good or better Ofsted judgment.

I worked in a school with a high number of children with free school meals, and with children who sometimes struggled to manage their feelings and emotions. Their needs had often been failed at previous schools. Due to the approach, culture and ethos of my school they would often thrive.

During an inspection, based on this information, I asked why we were not given an ‘outstanding’ judgment for behaviour. The reply was that behaviour at the school was not ‘exemplary’.

That sums up everything that is wrong with Ofsted. The whole system is based on values and beliefs where children are expected to be compliant.

The other major stress is that Ofsted suddenly decides to have a focus on a particular issue, and then schools all rush around trying to achieve well in that area, or else face a ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’ judgment.

A one-word judgment will never sum up what it’s like to attend a particular school. Schools are complex organisations with all schools having different needs, things they do well and things that need to improve.

Ofsted has not ‘raised standards’. It has narrowed the curriculum through an emphasis on exam results and league tables. Ofsted needs to be abolished, along with league tables and all testing in primary schools. Workers employed at Ofsted – most of whom themselves are low paid, over-worked, and are currently taking part in PCS strike action – should be redeployed into other work in the civil service with guaranteed protections of pay and conditions

Democratic control

All schools should be brought back into local authorities, and under democratic control. Proper resources need to be given to schools to enable them to meet the needs of children and communities they serve. 

A self and peer review system, based on trust and confidence, rather than competition, needs to be developed. A system where school workers, parents, students, and local communities have a democratic say in how schools are run.

In the meantime, schools that refuse to let Ofsted inspectors in should have the full support of the trade union movement.