Head’s suicide raises questions about Ofsted inspection

Janet Downs's picture
 21

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.

Share on Twitter

Comments

Phil Taylor's picture
Fri, 20/11/2015 - 16:49

Thanks for posting this Janet. It is extremely sad and shocking that someone who was obviously a great head has lost their life because of Ofsted incompetence. I wouldn't mind betting that she is not the first. It is certainly true that many, many, heads have been prematurely thrown on the scrapheap as a result of a 'damning report' and who knows how many of them have died 'before their time' because of the ignominy of this treatment.

Of all the damaging things that have been done to our wonderful state education system over the years as a result of the policies of both main parties, the undue influence that OFSTED inspections and inspectors have been allowed to wield must rank as one of the most severely damaging, destroying good schools, good teachers and good headteachers.

janee's picture
Fri, 20/11/2015 - 18:13

Thank you, Janet, for saving me the time. I was just beginning to look into this sad case as well. I am constantly appalled at how damaging inspections can be and how, although set up to improve education, the way they are carried out encourages almost exactly the opposite by focussing on paperwork not teaching.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 09:46

My heart sinks as I read your blog this time. We read constantly about the stresses of schooling - indeed I know head teachers still in the profession and some retired - and the story they report back is deeply concerning, both for our schooling system and not least for their own wellbeing. Looking at matters from the outside, whilst I doubt anyone could say the stress of a poor Ofsted report is the sole cause of a head committing suicide, you have to weigh up the pressures of a system which demands constant performance with seemingly little professional support.

All the heads I have ever spoken to report that they feel unsupported by the educational framework around them. The ones I know are in Wales, I should point out. Add to that the fact that when a school does badly in a school inspection, the head carries the can and it's very public. As word gets around parents start moving their children out to other schools.

I note from your article, Janet, that the school's Infants and Juniors were amalgamated in 2010 and then the school underwent a building programme. Carol Ann Woodward clearly managed the amalgamation well according to Ofsted - and that's no mean achievement. The change in their opinion seems to have come during the building programme. It begs questions for me about whether heads are given proper support. I might be wrong, but I wasn't under the impression that teacher training includes a module on 'buildings project management'. It's completely unfair that no mention of the buildings work was made in the report and that the parent view was misrepresented statistically. It doesn't appear that the percentage of parents responding was given. 73 responses out of how many sent out? It leaves me with questions as to why Ofsted is run in this way. I sincerely hope Carol Ann Woodward's union pursue this further. Who would want the strains of headship under these circumstances?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 11:26

Michele - Parent View is an on-line questionnaire which is available at any time not just during or before inspections. Schools are, however, encouraged to make parents aware of Parent View when an inspection is imminent. Inspectors will take into account views expressed on Parent View.

In the case of Woodford School, Parent View responses for 2014/15 (when the inspection took place) show there were 417 pupils on roll and 73 responses (70 of these were available at the time of inspection). As I said in the article, responses to Parent View are self-selecting so may not necessarily reflect the views of all parents. Parent View could, for example, attract responses from a clique of parents who may, say, be particularly supportive of a controversial head or, on the other hand, working together to discredit a head whose methods/views they don't like. Inspectors should be aware of this. However, if they are going to cite Parent View they should at least do so accurately.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 11:37

Michele - the inspection was done by three additional inspectors employed by Tribal, one of the three firms outsourced to do inspections (the other two being Serco and CfBT). They were not HMIs employed by Ofsted.

The practice of using outsourced firms has now ceased. Ofsted took all inspections back in-house from September after complaints about the quality and consistency of Ofsted reports. That is, except for early years which are still outsourced.

Guest's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 11:38

Lets not forget to take all the factors involved here in the round.

1. Michele's comments cover the wider facts: amalgamation stress followed by rebuild stress followed by Ofsted's judgement. All of these needed to taken fully into account. The mental, emotional and physical drain of the cumulative impact of these things simply cannot be underestimated.
2. Michele is also spot on the ask what if any additional support was put in place to assist the HT with the build programme. I am unaware of a case where HTs have received such important and necessary support. In this regard the LA, like Ofsted, has some major issues and questions to address. Was it really the case that the SIO/SIP or other LA officer(s) were unaware of the stresses and strains taking such an evident toll on the HT?
3. Yes, as Janet's piece makes clear, there does appear to be some significant questions that Ofsted must address in relation to the accuracy of the report and the basis of the judgements. It is for consideration that a DC is not best placed to determine/judge whether an Ofsted inspection was completed in a fair manner.

I am then taken aback by the speed with which some on here jump to damning Ofsted and strongly implying that there were no other factors at play in creating the terrible maelstrom of pressures that pushed this colleague into a dark, dark place wherein she felt there was no alternative to the action she so tragically took. I just wish that some would put their anti-inspection cudgels away and treat this tragedy within its full setting. This is not a situation where cheap shots and cheap recriminations are appropriate.

With regard to the inspection report, it doesn't adequately reflect the mixed picture on the data dashboard. Additionally, I found the reference in the L&M section regarding a damning comment about the lack of robustness of the replacement of NCL and sub levels to be unwarranted. I say that because I have yet to meet an inspector (even HMI) who can concretely say what a replacement system should look like and more tellingly Ofsted state that they do not have a recommended or prescribed methodology. Even said that this would evolve based on emergent practice within schools.

For me the Lead Inspector and QA person have some hard questions to answer on the integrity of the report and quality of the evidence to support the judgements.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 12:44

Guest - you're right there were multiple factors, the Coroner made that clear. In pointing out the irregularities in the Ofsted report, I hope I didn't imply Ofsted alone was responsible although there are questions that need answering.

That said, inspections were cited in 2011 as one of the reasons why teachers, especially older ones, contemplated suicide. The other reasons included workload and Government targets. Channel 4 reported that 'Instances of suicide are now 30-40 per cent higher for teachers than the national average.'

Guest's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 13:17

Janet - On the contrary. I hope that point (2) of my comments gave the message that your thread piece was balanced. That said, I could have been more explicit in that regard.

agov's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 12:07

"More than one parent/carer can complete the Parent View questionnaire so the results may show more respondents than pupils attending the school"

So there could have been up to around 830 legitimate parental responses. Last time I checked anyone supplying a relevant post code could use one email address to submit two responses.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 12:56

Teaching has always been high-pressure but this has increased in the last few years. Negative inspections are not regarded as an opportunity for improvement but as a way of enforcing academization. A head and staff of a school deemed Inadequate are in a precarious position - not regarded as people who want to do the best for their children who need support but as the cause of the inadequacy who should be shamed and, if possible, removed.

At the same time targets are rigorously enforced - any school below average (and the bell curve of distribution means there will always be some who are below average) is at threat of being labelled 'coasting', eligible for intervention or, if they are academies, receiving Warning Letters without even the bother of having Pre-Warning letters first (as in the case of six of the seven academies served with Warning Letters recently). It didn't even matter that four of the seven had been judged Good and the other three were Requires Improvement and inspectors had found they were already taking steps to improve.

Add to that the workload including ever-increasing requests for data, more and more testing on which schools are judged, the negative perception of state education pushed by politicians to justify their 'reforms' (eg plummeting down league tables; rhetoric about the 'Blob' and 'enemies of promise'; only teachers who agreed with Gove were good - the rest were bad etc etc), and media support for the latter (eg 'Travesty of our Stagnating Schools'), it's hardly surprising teachers feel stressed. And it takes just one more bloody thing on top of other bloody things to tip some over the edge.

Guest's picture
Sat, 21/11/2015 - 13:48

And here lies some ambiguity and a huge slice of political skulduggery. That is to say, an ever changing Ofsted inspection regime and likewise changes to the benchmark/floor targets from DFE. The threat of academisation through (alleged) underperformance through either Grade 4 or the new Coasting category. This creates the question as to whether SMW is in collusion with DFE in targeting schools for academisation or whether DFE simply monitor and review Ofsted inspection reports to identify candidate schools. In this regard, SMW has been consistent in his position that Grade 3 = RI and schools get 3-years to attain Grade 2, Good. He has also been clear in maintaining a differential within Grade 4, Inadequate. That is to say, and I inset my own adaptation here, 4A = Inadequate (Serious Weaknesses) and 4B = Inadequate (Special Measures). The difference between the two being that 4A acknowledges that the Leadership has capacity to effect improvement to at least RI "inspectors will have judged leadership and management to be at least grade 3 because leaders, manager and governors will have demonstrated the capacity to secure improvement."

All of this creates an environment of negativity to despair across schools/academies/free schools in all grades. Nothing appears to be good enough - not even outstanding!

For middle and senior leaders - particularly in the secondary sector - there are the added pressures of shortages in specialist colleagues and most subjects generally. For HTs comes the pressure of an effectively year on year reducing budget funding.

Irrespective of the rights/wrongs/effectiveness/pressures of performance related pay this adds to the negativity as the incidence of meeting the targets but not getting the increase because budgets are too tight!

One of the sadness things in all of this is that what politicians sow others - in this case teachers - reap! So once again the political executive don't feel or carry any real consequences for their ideological driven actions.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 08:13

Guest - you're right about the ever-changing Ofsted boundaries. A few years ago Grade 3 schools were Satisfactory, but that designation was replaced with Requires Improvement. Lately we have seen how 'failing' has been applied to RI schools (eg in New Schools Network 'research'; Morgan's pronouncements) and the new 'coasting' category will ignore Good judgements if results are deemed too low (irrespective of context). We've already seen that in the case of four of the seven academies in Norfolk and Suffolk slapped with Warning Notices. The OECD warned in 2011 there was too much emphasis on exam results in England. It was only referring to 16+ exams. But not only has emphasis on results at 16+ regime increased but primary schools have been sucked in to this excessive pressure not just at the end of KS2 but with phonic screening tests at 6. And now there's the threat of external tests at the end of KS1; the baseline test at 4.

The education system in England is being tested to destruction. The casualties aren't just teachers but also the children.

MICHELLE WOODACRE's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 10:19

This is so sad and shows that OFSTED did not fully read into all the reports given to them, or take into account the upheaval the work being done on the School impacted on the School. This adverse report must have devastated the Head, I worked in education for over 16 years and have seen myself the personal effect it has on Staff when they get a bad report from Ofsted. The Inspectors themselves very often only stay in the classroom for 10 to 30 minutes and rarely for the full lesson how can they judge a lesson in such a short time. They are often Teachers that retired many years ago or have been side stepped into Ofsted when there have been problems within there career. They can be extremely rude and curt and don't provide constructive criticism and devastate staff, I personally saw what a detrimental report can have on all staff it devastates, devalues them and moral is often low after an inspection and this impacts on students and the whole School community.

Please can the government now look at OFSTED and how they perform and choose to do their inspections it is unfair on Staff, I have now left education. it seems sad that Schools are judged on test results, and the pastoral support that was so important in schools has now decreased because of a lack of funding!!!!

Guest's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 10:40

Michelle - Your comments raised several questions:

1. Did you read any of the thread before deciding to focus on and laying the blame at the door of just one aspect of it?
2. When was the last time you experienced an inspection?
3. Are you aware of and up to date with the inspection handbook?
4. Are you even faintly aware of the changes effected by Ofsted over the last 3-5 years?

In the nicest and gentlest way possible way it strikes me that you somewhat behind the curve of inspections.

MICHELLE WOODACRE's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 11:09

I experienced an inspection two years ago and on the contrary my daughter still works in education and can personally qualify everything I have said. I have many friends that still work in Education who will back up my comments so to say I'm out of touch is laughable.

Maybe you ought to think about the impact this had personally on this poor womans family and indeed the Staff too that worked for many years with her. The lack of support given to her and the Staff when the School was put into Special Measures must have devastated them. When a School is put into Special Measure it demeans the School in the Public Eye and the pressure the School and staff are put under to meet targets and qualify every decision made, puts the Head and Staff under horrendous pressure

I have read the up to date handbook and know how the inspections are carried out and the way reports are drawn up. I still think that OFSTED have a long way to go even with the changes they have implemented in the last few years. Do I think they are just and fair in the way these inspections are carried out NO, I have nothing more to say on this matter.

My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends, staff and pupils at this very sad time

Guest's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 11:23

I deduce that your approach is firmly based in emotivism and a single focus on Ofsted being the root of all that was wrong and therefore to blame.

I suggest you read each of my earlier comments before you shamelessly and woefully inaccurately accuse me of lacking any thought or feelings for our late colleague, and go to

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/11/was-michael-gove-a-great-e...

to affirm my response in this regard.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 13:58

Janet - thanks for the further detail re parent view and the nature of outsourcing of Ofsted inspections. As you know, I live over the border in Wales and I'm not aware of Parent View and I've never heard of Estyn (our Ofsted) outsourcing inspections, though I would stand to be corrected on the latter point if anyone on LSN does. Last time I checked when a parent governor (4 years ago), parent questionnaires were not compulsory but considered desirable. Our Primary School always sent one out before the end of the year. The ones I saw tended to ask black-and-white questions which begged black-and-white answers. Not all parents are of a mind to complain: some are genuinely supportive and have some creative professional suggestions taken from their own areas of expertise. But there wasn't room on the form to expand one's thoughts or submit ideas. What tended to emerge was a picture of parents who were either hugely in favour of the school and the head or very damning.
It strikes me that inspections are borrowing from the pass-or-fail mentality of testing and exams. Everyone is constantly evaluated. A pass brings relief and a fail acute anxiety regarding the fall-out. I, too, think a punitive system prevents people from doing their best work and the children pick up on it as well. Children have an uncanny ability to understand an adult's tone rather than their words. When the staff in a school are fearful and unhappy it has an effect on the kids.

Guest's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 14:21

Michele - For the purpose double clarity, since September 2015 the only outsourced Ofsted inspections in England are EYFS.

It is my understanding that the Estyn model is based on using:

1. Permanent staff in the form of HMIs
2. Recruited inspectors actively teaching in schools in Wales. They were advertising for senior leaders to become Estyn Inspectors earlier this year
3. Former qualified teachers who tender for inspection work and operate for contracted periods (so they are not permanent Estyn employees. Rather you might categorise them as short term outsourced contractors)

No matter which category the inspectors undergo Estyn training. A fuller explanation can be found on the Estyn website which also gives the opportunity to sign up for a range of alerts.

Hope that helps.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Sun, 22/11/2015 - 15:52

Ta, Guest.

Guest 1's picture
Wed, 25/11/2015 - 11:41

I knew as soon as I read this who one of the inspectors was. The same person who inspected our school over 2 days. We disagreed about the data and I presented him with my file, which he was going to take away and look through. This was still on my desk the following day.

James's picture
Sat, 12/12/2015 - 11:59

. I myself taught for fifteen years and may I say that any teacher's death is a tragedy. The more people care and the more conscientious they are, the more vulnerable they become. This is one of the saddest aspects of human nature. In my humble way, unless you have skin as thick as a rhino. I WOULD SERIOUSLY RECOMMEND PEOPLE THINK TWICE ABOUT BEING A HEAD-TEACHER. You simply cannot win. I am by no means vilifying all inspectors as that would be churlish, but where is it all leading to.

However, anyone taking on a Headship now with the greatest respect needs their head tested, unless as mentioned before you are tough as old boots, which might possibly mean that you do not care as much. The fewer heads there are might encourage the powers that be to rethink; however, even this is unlikely. In the words of Gordon Sumner a.k.a Sting, himself a former teacher: 'Protest is futile/ Nothing seems to get through/ What's to become of our world/ Who knows what to do? Driven to tears.'

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.