Ofsted has to change. For all our sakes.

I’ve written so much about Ofsted over the years detailing my issues with the whole regime: the fundamental weak validity of inspection, the toxic impact of the inadequate grade and, of course, my own personal experience. More recently I’ve tried to leave it alone and, in my work, I hardly ever mention them. I just focus on the stuff schools and teachers do day in day out and would still do in any context just to improve teaching and learning. I decline any work that explicitly requires reference to the Ofsted framework – I’m not interested in perpetuating the hoop jumping.

Here’s some of the previous related posts:

Now, in the wake of the tragic death of Ruth Perry, fresh momentum is building around the urgent need for reform. It’s worth restating that we know suicide is complex (everyone understands that). However, at the same time, even if a person has mental health vulnerabilities due to multiple or non-specific factors, it’s reasonable to address the likelihood that the experience of a brutal Ofsted judgement has been a contributory factor when their own family is making that direct link. The discourse makes some feel uncomfortable – but that’s nothing compared to the anguish expressed by Ruth’s sister in the news report. At the very least, given what has happened to Ruth Perry, this issue demands our attention; it requires us to ask some hard questions about how our inspection regime might impact people.

In my opinion, failing to remove the Inadequate grade has been an absolute disaster – an avoidable one. Plenty of people have focused on positive changes with the new model inspections but this has allowed their positive experiences to mask the possibility that elsewhere people might be suffering. I’ve said it many times – the fact that our system operates de facto on the basis of accountability by public shaming and humiliation is deeply f**ked up. It’s incredible to me that we somehow tolerate it.

This is from my emblem of a toxic system post.

If Ofsted not only keeps the grades but sticks to the language of Inadequate and all that follows, this is what it means:  They think people deserve it.

  • Leaders who are publicly humiliated.  They deserve it.
  • Schools that fail and are vilified in the local press.  They deserve it.
  • Leaders who sign off with stress with chronic mental health issues. They deserve it.
  • Leaders with years of service to give but are left demoralised and beaten. They deserve it”.

I totally understand that people have to work in the system as it is and that success in an inspection process can feel important. People will feel they’ve earned the rewards of a strong outcome. For the majority of schools, it’s a reasonably benign process and the outcomes match their own assessment – it’s not stress-free but it’s not a total nightmare. Our system gears schools to strive for Outstanding and to achieve that is going to feel absolutely brilliant. A just reward.

However, there are too many winners in the system who simply don’t give enough of a s**t about the losers. Some even scoff Wilshaw-style about the meek whining failures they seem to look down on. I see it in the twitter rhetoric and the job ads. This kind of attitude and discourse has allowed the system to persist that leaves some school leaders and their communities crushed. Even if it’s 5 out of 100 – that is 5 too many.

Of course I’ve been personally affected. I am deeply biased. I can say now that, six years on, despite having moved into another way of working that has been rewarding and reasonably successful, it still affects me at some level. I’m triggered massively by the whole thing. Even though people can joke with me that ‘Ofsted did me a favour’ because I’m so much happier now, when I look back six years, I still feel the shame; that I was a total failure and I still feel bullied by the system and some specific individuals in it. So much so that I have had to mute and block a whole range of people on social media to avoid various triggers. You have to look after yourself!

Comparing my mental state now – living a normal work life- compared to six years ago when I felt like absolute shit, it’s stark. I remember when I was talking to the brilliant ASCL reps about my situation back then – they said I was one of very many and, comparatively, I was doing well. “At least you can still talk” they said. I found another working life but other members never worked again. I’ve come a long long way since then but the worst days were really bad. I can’t even exaggerate it. So – I know what an Inadequate judgement and the public fall from Outstanding can do. I’ve been there.

Sadly I don’t even need to have experienced it to know the truth of it – I just have to scan back through my inbox. So many emails over the last six years from despairing heads, their partners and some inspectors tell the same story. The whole rotten system stinks and it still does. Not for everyone – but for too many people. So- whatever some folk want to think – it’s just a simple truth: the current regime can and does crush people. That’s the system we have. It’s deeply wrong. It can’t be defended. It has to change. And the time for that is now.


a) None of the above suggests schools shouldn’t be accountable. There are 100s of ways of doing that more effectively.

b) The idea that the current debate is somehow exploiting a tragic suicide is pretty disgusting to me. Nobody I see is doing that. The cue comes from Ruth’s family.. let’s hear them and look it in the face.


  1. Thank you for highlighting Ofsted’s failings. Our staff are our most valuable resource and should be protected, supported and rewarded.


  2. Tom. I resonate with so much here, especially the “triggers” part when discussing or seeing the whole process unfold; the inboxes and the freedom of information requests bring out all those anxious feelings time and time again.

    It’s shameful that some ‘shout down’ on others from their ‘outstanding’ parapet. Few really acknowledge the wide body of research that shows gradings are a weak predictor of pupil success.

    There is power and influence at play for many to keep the status quo. Many profit from the grading; get a second school or an OBE. Few have ever lived the sharp end of the wedge, especially Ofsted leadership, the media and politicians. I wouldn’t wish it on any of them …

    I suspect soon enough, we’ll start seeing the ‘We are Outstanding’ posts on social media in a few weeks, helping fuel the machine …

    Liked by 1 person

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