Head’s suicide raises questions about Ofsted inspection
A popular head teacher killed herself after shortly after inspectors said her school was Inadequate, an inquest has heard.
Carol Ann Woodward became head of Woodford Primary School in 2010 when Woodford Junior and Woodford Infants schools were amalgamated. She had been head of the infants’ school since 1996. In 2009, both Woodford schools had been described as being among the best in the country following inspections and Carol had been invited to a celebratory reception in London.
In 2006, Carol was named South West Primary Head of the Year and shortlisted for the national title. In 2012, Ofsted judged Woodford Primary School to be Good. Inspectors paid tribute to the head and senior leaders for having ‘successfully met several challenges arising from the amalgamation’.
In July this year, while Woodford Primary was in the middle of a £2.5m building programme, Ofsted returned and said the school required special measures. The report, which wasn’t published until 2 October, said: ‘Since the previous inspection, school leaders have failed to secure enough improvement in teaching to reverse the decline in pupils’ progress and halt the fall in standards at the end of Key Stage 2.’ But Schools Performance Tables show no fall in standards. In 2012, 73% of pupils reached Level 4 in reading, writing and maths. In 2013, 75% did so. In 2014, the proportion rose to 79%.
The Tables also show that progress was not in decline overall. Progress in maths in 2014 was low with just 78% making expected progress – this was down from 79% in 2013. But the proportion making expected progress in reading rose from a low of 79% in 2013 to 90% in 2014. In writing, 93% made expected progress – this was up from a low of 69% in 2013. The expected progress in reading and writing in 2014 was in line with national averages.
Inspectors, then, said a rise in results at KS2 was a fall, and more pupils making progress in reading and writing between 2013 and 2014 was a decline. It could be results dipped in 2015 – the results were published a day before inspection began on 8 July. But even if they had, it would be too soon to conclude whether (apart from Maths) this was a trend or a blip.
Ironically, inspectors said there had been ‘some improvement’ in Maths teaching thanks to local authority support. Inspectors mentioned responses to Parent View, the Ofsted questionnaire which allows parents to rate schools according to various factors. ‘Approximately one third of parents…expressed concerns that behaviour is not good,’ wrote inspectors.
But Parent View 2014/15* said 20%, one fifth, not 33%, one third, supported this view. According to the Mail, police had ‘examined Ofsted’s policies and procedures'. DC Riley told the inquest the inspection was 'completed in a fair manner but the timing, without assigning culpability, was wrong”. He said there had been a ‘swift decline’ in Carol’s health following the inspection which had taken place in the ‘chaotic environment’ caused by the building work. There was no mention of the construction in the Ofsted report.
The Coroner concluded that Carol 'just felt she was under so much pressure.' The mismatch between inspectors’ comments, school performance tables and Parent View, the lack of recognition by inspectors of the strain caused by building work and the timing of the visit raise serious questions about this inspection. And it’s a reminder that when schools are judged Inadequate, immediate support should be offered to lessen the trauma. Heads and staff are human – and damning judgements can have devastating consequences. Heads and teachers in similar circumstances should contact the Samaritans or their teacher union.
*Parent View for Woodford Primary School received 73 responses in 2014/15. There were 70 responses when inspectors wrote their report. The extra three responses can’t account for the mismatch between what parents said and what inspectors said they said. It should be remembered, however, that responses to Parent View are self-selecting. It would be unwise to conclude they reflect the feelings of a majority of parents. Nevertheless, if inspectors are going to cite Parent View they should at least do so correctly.