I’m truly saddened to hear about Ruth Perry. For any non-UK readers, Ruth was a long standing Headteacher of an ‘Outstanding’ primary school, who committed suicide due to the pressure and unfair practises of Ofsted, the government’s equivalent of the Witch Finder General.. Think along the lines of – they make a judgement before they arrive and look for evidence to fit, ignoring everything else. Her outstanding school was moved to inadequate over one area and elements that could easily remedied. I can only imagine that, realising that despite giving everything to her work, that judgement made her feel she had nothing left to give. It’s an absolute travesty.
I wish I could say I am shocked about a passionate and dedicated teacher committing suicide because of the pressures of the UK education system, but I’m not. I’m surprised that more teachers haven’t reached that level of despair and hopelessness.
I’ve been a teacher for 20 years. I’ve been a leader for 6 of them. I’ve seen the frenzy, panic, and stress caused by Ofsted. I’ve lived through the unfairness and the hopelessness and the disbelief of the unjust practices of our so called ‘majesty’s inspectorate’.
I will say it right now: schools should not be inspected they should be supported. Yes, highly trained experts should visit schools and offer support. They should celebrate the hard work and dedication of the staff who choose this ill-paid, stressful job and guide them to improvements from their vast knowledge of working with other, similar schools. That’s it. That’s what they should do.
But it’s not.
First of all, there’s the political side to this. Each new government wants to prove how terrible the previous one was, and how wonderful they are. So what do they do? They criticise the education system, raise the bar to standards which terrify children and stress teachers (and then blame teachers when that ridiculous bar can’t be reached).
And let’s be honest here, they want schools to fail. They want them to fail so they can be bought off by the highest bidder – the academies. The academies who are paying their CEOs and directors far above what local authority headteachers etc are paid. In the meantime, academy staff are bullied to leave -so the academy can replace with a cheaper version- and SEN support is reduced to minimal. ‘If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t happen’.
So what that means, if the child doesn’t have a legal document called an ‘Educational Health Care Plan’ then the academy won’t offer support. But this is the problem. One, the NHS is also in crisis, which means that are countless children with special education needs waiting four years for an assessment. Two, even with a diagnosis, cash strapped local authorities deny EHCPs to over half of applicants because they can’t afford them. So what you are left with, is undiagnosed children with no support and diagnosed children with limited support. So these children struggle in school, cause disruption and chaos due to the lack of support and unmet needs…and who gets the blame? Yep, teachers.
Of course, even local authority school are struggling financially. Energy costs, food costs etc…and little government support to help. So, they pile the work on the existing staff, mainly because they can’t afford to pay them properly and now, because teachers are leaving in herds.
The workload and expectations are ridiculous. You are expected to work above and beyond. Read that again. You are expected to work above and beyond. Staff who simply do their job – like most other jobs in this world – are looked down upon.
And that’s not only in the remits of a teacher. No, we are expected to deal with all the social and economic issues too. Schools aren’t just about learning. We support families and children through crisis. We donate food and clothing. We offer counselling and health care.
And you know what, most teachers want to support their children. Most teachers are willing to give extra to help the children in their care. But this is what I want you to realise. Ofsted don’t care about that. Academies don’t care about that.
Are teachers paid well? Comparing to some other careers, yes. Compared to what is expected of them, the demand of the job, the stress- absolutely not. I’d love to know how much money is owed to teachers in one month, from all the resources, gifts and donations they fund out their own pocket. But it’s OK, that’s simultaneously expected and ignored.
Ofsted come in for two days and make a judgment on a school. They don’t truly see anything worthwhile. They see a snapshot. Think about that: two days out of three years and that is the judgement on the school. They don’t offer help and guidance. They bully and cause stress. They are cold, unfeeling and immovable. Probably because the judgement was made before they walked through the door.
An Ofsted visit should feel like the local wise man/woman coming. We should feel respect for their wisdom and gratitude for their kindness. We should want to impress them with all that we are doing, and feel relief that we will be supported and guided through the things we are struggling with. Schools should be desperate for ofsted to visit, just for that support alone.
But no. Instead, overworked and stressed education workers are treated with contempt and scrutiny. They are being made to feel that their best isn’t good enough. They are being made to feel that every extra hour they give, going above and beyond what they are paid to do, isn’t good enough. They’re being made to feel that every hoop they are jumping through, still isn’t good enough.
And it isn’t. Because if schools were actually allowed to use the combined professionalism of the staff within, then schools would improve.
If they made decisions based on the needs of the children, not outside pressures and Ofsted threats, they would improve.
If they were well funded and staffed, and staff worked their just hours and no more, things would improve.
If exam pressures disappeared, children would be children and enjoy learning again. And things would improve.
So, as an experienced teacher and parent, let me make this clear. The Government’s handling of education is INADEQUATE. Ofsted are INADEQUATE. And whilst they fail to recognise this, more teachers will leave the profession, less graduates will sign up for the punishment of this career and sadly, more teachers will suffer at the hands of the stress pushed on them. More teachers will take their own life.
To Ruth’s family, I am so sorry for this tragic loss. I’m sure the words of the many parents and children who mourn her are a true testament to the work she did.