Teachers are battling a mental health crisis – toxic Ofsted inspections must change before more lives are lost
With so much noise about teachers striking and arguments over pay, people shouldn’t forget that we are sleepwalking into an education crisis.
In my 23 years of teaching, and 12 as a headteacher, I have never experienced anything like the challenges we face in schools today. Many teachers will tell you that the situation has only deteriorated following Covid-19 lockdowns. Attendance has plummeted, special needs have skyrocketed and the behaviour of some children has become almost impossible to manage.
It would be easy to apportion blame to our post-pandemic world and the effects of lockdowns but that would be only half the picture. When you’re worrying about how to put food on the table, or money in the meter, it is no surprise that we are seeing a dramatic increase in mental health issues of everyone, at all levels. I have never had so many parents and staff burst in to tears, suffer panic attacks, or tell me that they are contemplating ending it all – the situation is desperate.
I came in to teaching to change lives and make a difference, I did not expect it to destroy my mental health
It is no surprise that teachers are tired and stressed like never before. Nothing could have prepared us for the world we suddenly find ourselves in; trying to do more and more, with less and less. Unfunded pay-rises last year and potential ones to come this year have plunged most schools in to deficit budgets and keep us headteachers awake at night, trying to figure out how to balance the numbers without having to let staff go.
The tragic suicide of Ruth Perry, following an inadequate Ofsted judgement, was avoidable and cannot be allowed to happen again.
Ofsted inspections strike fear into the hearts of most school leaders, commonly hearing of “the rogue inspector” or the wrong team who doesn’t get it. I have seen too many headteachers reduced to tears and their mental health in tatters following an inspection, having been driven into the ground through excessive workloads and unrealistic expectations.
I have ended up on medication to help with sleepless nights and anxiety caused by the build up to an inspection. I know plenty of colleagues who have retired because they simply couldn’t go through the process again.
The inspection framework is not nuanced enough and does not account for the varied communities that schools serve. Schools in deprived areas, such as mine, are clearly at a disadvantage. We are statistically far more likely to receive a “requires improvement” judgement than schools in more affluent neighbourhoods nearby.
The responsibility is too much for headteachers to shoulder alone in an age where news spreads quickly and public feedback can be brutal. Schools can live or die by the outcome and a negative report can have a significant impact on a school, their staff and the community. Our predecessors in days gone by never had this level of online scrutiny and it comes at a personal cost. I cannot imagine what Ruth Perry went through knowing the outcome of the inspection and then waiting weeks for it to be published.
In its current toxic form, we have had enough of Ofsted. But, it can change, quickly, and without the need for additional funding (although we desperately need more). Our profession understands the need for accountability, I have never met a teacher who doubts that. But, we desperately need a system that works with us not against us. Remove the one word, one-dimensional labels and help us improve.
I came in to teaching to change lives and make a difference, I did not expect it to destroy my mental health. The current situation is unsustainable and recruitment and retention worsens by the day.
The inspection process needs urgent reform before more lives are lost. For the good of the profession I love, we all need and deserve so much better.
Dave McPartlin, headteacher at Flakefleet primary school
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