Ruth Perry, a respected headteacher, took her own life when faced with an unfavourable OFSTED report on the Reading primary school that she managed.

School inspections may be stressful for all involved in them , depending on circumstances.

My teaching career began during the early sixties in Northern Ireland. At that time , the first two years of appointment were probationary and suitability to teach was assessed by HMI visit to your classroom. There were serious shortages of teachers in most subjects ; the headteacher asked me to me to teach Irish and History in addition to English; my only knowledge of History was acquired during the first two years at secondary school – scarcely a qualification but the HT assured me that ‘Dickie would keep me right’. In 1965, the History  Inspector called to assess my probation. He was somewhat taken aback to find me using graphic texts in Irish. However, I was deemed suitable to become a teacher.

I was appointed to a new secondary school in Derry which, after three years,  was subjected to a statutory, detailed inspection across the curriculum. It was 1969 and I was an active and well publicised  member of Derry Civil Rights. On the day when my department was due scrutiny , a plane load of Bogside residents was scheduled to picket Downing st, following the actions of a riotous RUC group a month earlier. The HMI greeted me , “Oh , I thought that you might be otherwise engaged today, Mr Patton!”. The department was thought to be doing well in the eventual report.

In the eighties , I was headteacher of a primary school in an area of multiple deprivation where the community had been traumatised by pit closures and the appalling police treatment of the striking miners. Teachers were taking prolonged strike action and working to rule . In the middle of March, a close family friend, a Hospital Consultant , took his own life and I went home to Ireland for the funeral. On my return , my Depute told me that the HMIs were coming the following month. I saw things in perspective; I was confident that the school was doing its best for pupils and in ways which an inspection would almost certainly not assess. The process took place and the subsequent report noted that industrial action was happening and would hope for improvement when the disruption ended.

As a trade unionist , I attended several meetings with representatives of the Inspectorate and the Government Department, including Ministers. Assurances were always given that inspections were conducted in a positive , supportive ethos. Frequently, this did not match the experience of schools.

In June 1969, I was elected Vice-President of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and almost immediately, I received notice that the school would be inspected at the beginning of the new school year. Not good news for the summer holidays! 

While I was confident of the school’s performance and the quality of learning and teaching, troubling doubts persisted and I was now a minor public figure , receiving media exposure. I could be kicked hard, if things went wrong. I spent a summer holiday , making certain that all the paperwork was in order. In the event, Craigbank Primary School received a glowing report, noting the high quality of learning and teaching and my effective management of the process.

The system in Scotland is not as market driven as seems  to happen south of the Border.

1 Comment
  1. When I worked in Further Education, the wisdom was, “Those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach become HMIs.” It was certainly true in some of the craft subjects.

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