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THE country’s biggest teaching union pledged to bring down Ofsted today after members slammed England’s under-pressure schools’ inspectorate for being the “snarling rottweiler of toxic government policy.”
After the suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry in January, which her family said was the “direct result of inspection pressure,” the National Education Union (NEU) stepped up its calls for Ofsted to be abolished.
Delegates at the union’s annual conference in Harrogate unanimously backed an urgent motion from the NEU’s executive which demanded a more “supportive, effective and fair” approach to the vital work of maintaining school standards.
During an emotionally charged debate, interrupted by several shouts of “shame,” members also endorsed an appeal from Denbighshire delegate Lowri Lewis Williams for Ofsted’s Welsh equivalent Estyn to be replaced as it leaves colleagues “emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted.”
The dramatic day at the North Yorkshire’s town’s convention centre leaves the union on a collision course with Westminster, as the Tories claim the existing inspection system is a “key driver of raising standards” and Labour has only committed to reforming Ofsted.
In a passionate speech, NEU committee member Siobhan Mary Collingwood said the suicide of Ms Perry, who died after being told her school Caversham primary in Reading would be downgraded to “inadequate,” was not an isolated incident and asked “how many more deaths will it take” to prompt change.
At least 10 teachers have taken their own lives either just before or just after an Ofsted inspection since 1998, according to coroner inquests.
Ms Collingwood said: “Ofsted stinks, it’s abhorrent and it’s rotten to the core — we’re coming for you,” prompting a long standing ovation.
Following the address, NEU president Louise Atkinson confirmed Professor Julia Waters, Ms Perry’s sister, had contacted the union to express her thanks for its stance and support.
Members also passed an amendment proposed by Reading member Paul Arnold to “empower members to decline to engage with Ofsted-related drivers of workload and stress as civil disobedience has power” and an appeal for school leaders not to serve as inspectors to bring the public body to a “grinding halt.”
About three-quarters of its 1,100 inspectors are serving head teachers, according to official figures.
NEU joint general secretary Dr Mary Bousted, who has been a long-term critic of Ofsted despite pressure from the right-wing press, warned that the inspectorate is in the “eye of a storm and seems incapable of responding to concerns.”
Chief inspector Amanda Spielman described Ms Perry’s death as a “tragedy” but is resisting calls to pause school visits, claiming the move would “not be in the best interests of students.”
Dr Bousted added: “The levels of anxiety, sleeplessness and distrust that NEU’s leaders report in anticipation of or during inspection is overwhelming and shocking.
“Ofsted must take responsibility for the breakdown in trust. There is little evidence it is a force for improvement, and it does not support schools to meaningfully evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.
“Ofsted’s single-word judgments are unfair and unreliable and cannot possibly capture the complexity of a school and the quality of its education.
“The NEU is campaigning for it to be replaced with a system that is supportive, effective and fair.”
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