'An awful and cruel way to finish a career'

9th April 2010 at 01:00
'Excellent leader' challenges Ofsted's tough judgment on technicalities of 'single central register'

It was Anne Riley's fourth Ofsted inspection as a head. When she arrived at Coppice Primary in Derbyshire 10 years ago, it had been in significant weaknesses with results almost half the national average. It was thanks largely to her leadership, said previous inspectors, that it had been turned into a good school.

But by 11am on January 26, 2010, her husband, John, was alarmed to be called to collect her from the school after Mrs Riley suffered - in effect - a breakdown.

She has been signed off work sick since the inspection in January and her husband, with the help of heads' union the NAHT, is pursuing complaints against the way the inspection was handled and the result - a school, which has been marked as "good" in almost all areas, was failed because of a mistake over the safeguarding register.

The report states: "The school's overall effectiveness is inadequate because leaders have not carried out all the checks required to ensure the welfare, health and safety of pupils, including children in the Early Years Foundation Stage; the care, guidance and support provided by the school are inadequate.

"This is because there are gaps in the school's records relating to staff recruitment and vetting checks that make up the single central record."

But this is disputed by Mrs Riley, who said the checks had been done verbally with the local authority.

Inspectors are told to ensure that schools have a single central register which shows, in relation to each member of staff, whether various checks have been carried out and the date on which each was completed or the relevant certificate obtained. They are also told to give schools the chance to resolve minor administrative errors, such as the absence of one or two dates.

But on that morning, the school's single central register had four dates missing - where written confirmation was still awaited for long-serving staff - including Mrs Riley.

The head said she explained that she had phoned the local authority and had confirmed that the staff, herself, a teacher, a midday supervisor and a person working in the kitchen, had been cleared.

But despite her assurances, the inspectors were concerned that uncleared staff were working in the school. They contacted Derbyshire, which confirmed that the staff at Coppice Primary were safe to work with children.

But this was not the end of it.

Mrs Riley said she was then repeatedly questioned about her mistake in filling in the register.

Mr Riley describes his wife as "a tough old boot", but by now she was in tears, convinced the school would fail because of this error.

Mr Riley, who has complained about the investigation process, said: "Our hope is that these people realise they did something wrong and will apologise.

"There is nothing wrong with the school. It is not unsafe. It is a ridiculous judgment and it's an awful and cruel way to be finishing her career."

Ofsted investigated the complaint on the conduct of inspectors and concluded: "We accept and deeply regret the fact that the headteacher, Mrs Anne Riley, became very upset and anxious at an early stage of the inspection process. It is not at all apparent from the evidence available that this was either directly attributable to the inspectors' approach, or that the inspectors behaved in any way incorrectly in what was clearly a difficult situation."


Concern has grown over the tough line Ofsted is taking since the new inspection framework was launched in September.

In the first term, Ofsted figures show the proportion of schools deemed inadequate has risen from 4 per cent to 10 per cent. Ofsted has said the figures did not reflect the national picture because they had focused on weaker schools. But a quarter of schools inspected had a lower grade than previously; another quarter improved; and half stayed the same.

There is also concern that the complaints procedure has become ineffective since being outsourced.

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