Ofsted inspections halted to ensure inspectors receive mental health training

By Kate Norris,
updated on Jan 3, 2024

Ofsted inspections halted to ensure inspectors receive mental health training

Ofsted's new chief inspector has announced that school inspections will not resume until later in the month to guarantee that inspectors receive mental health training

Ofsted has been heavily questioned in the wake of the tragic passing of Ruth Perry, the headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading. Mrs Perry took her own life in January last year while she awaited the outcome of an Ofsted inspection report that saw the school go from ‘outstanding to inadequate’.

The pressure that comes with Ofsted inspections can have a significant impact on teachers' mental health, job security, school culture, and staff retention. In fact, according to a recent Education Support survey, 82% of senior leaders and 75% of teachers said that inspections had a detrimental effect on their mental health and wellbeing.

Sinéad McBrearty, Chief Executive of Education Support commented: “These are not findings that anyone wants to see. Our education workforce is stressed and unhappy at work. Such high levels of burnout, overwork and loneliness will not lead to a world-class education system.

Sir Martyn Oliver, England's new Chief Inspector of Education, has announced that regular school inspections will begin later in January, with inspectors receiving training from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England beginning next week. All inspectors will also be subjected to an ongoing programme of additional mental health awareness training.

Sir Martyn said, “Over the last year, since the tragic death of Ruth Perry, our inspections have come under great scrutiny. I’m determined that we learn from this to improve the way we work and respond fully to the coroner’s inquest, taking tangible actions to address the concerns raised.

A lot has been done already, but a lot more can be done now – starting with a robust programme of mental health awareness training for all our inspectors. That begins next week and will become an integral part of how we train and develop our people.”

In the last year, 38% of the 1,890 school leaders surveyed by NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers) reported receiving professional help for their mental health and a further 11% said they wanted professional help but were unsure of how to obtain it or were unable to do so.

According to the findings, half of the school leaders surveyed (51%) said they are considering leaving their positions within the next three years for reasons other than retirement, and nearly nine in ten (88%) cite the impact of the role on their personal wellbeing as a factor.

Paul Whiteman, chair of NAHT, said: “These dire findings paint a bleak picture of the unacceptable toll school leadership is taking on our members and their mental health and wellbeing.” 

Counsellor and teacher, Catherine Beach, shares her experience of working as a teacher and the impact of Ofsted inspections on the mental health and wellbeing of teachers.

“Having worked in education for over 20 years, I have encountered a number of Ofsted inspections and although each of them has been different, during every one of them, staff felt the pressure of the one-word judgement that came at the end.

Staff care deeply about the children in our care and their education and wellbeing are the cornerstones of how schools are run, under ever-increasing workloads and restricted budgets. The pressure to reflect the children’s education experience in a two-day inspection ripples throughout the school when it gets ‘the call’, the day before the inspectors arrive. 

It is because they care as much as they do that staff can feel very vulnerable, with the existing inspection process as it is. The announcement that Ofsted are prioritising the ongoing mental health training of their inspection team is encouraging and if it is a step towards making the inspection process a collaborative one, where the education professionals taking care of our children, feel both respected and heard, this can only be a good thing. 

I would urge any teachers who may themselves be feeling under pressure, to reach out and talk to someone, be it a colleague, friend or professional.” 

Where can I find support as a teacher?

It's clear that more support is needed for teachers, with 72% of education staff describing themselves as stressed at work, what other help is available?

Education Support - A UK Charity dedicated to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of teachers, teaching assistants, headteachers and education staff in schools, colleges and universities. 

Anna Freud - The Anna Freud Centre’s ‘5 Steps to Mental Health and Wellbeing’ framework provides useful tools and recourses to support teacher mental health. The detailed handbook provides practical guidance about what school staff and senior leaders can do to support their own and their colleagues’ wellbeing.

Counselling - If you're a teacher or member of education staff looking for support and guidance, consider talking to a therapist who can provide a safe space to discuss your concerns and provide strategies to help you cope with feelings of anxiety and stress, or you can connect with Catherine by visiting her profile. 

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