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Friday 05 April 2024

Education Secretary’s refusal to retract comments about punching Ofsted inspectors “disappointing”

Shutterstock / B. Lenoir

FDA General Secretary Dave Penman has criticised Education Secretary Gillian Keegan’s refusal to retract comments made last month that she “would probably have punched” Ofsted inspectors involved in a school inspection.

In response to the statements, made during a Q&A event at the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference, the FDA sent a letter to the Education Secretary asking that she publicly retract her comments. The letter stated:

“Your comments are completely unacceptable in any context, let alone coming from the Secretary of State for Education.

“Many of our members have already been in touch to raise their concerns to us about your use of inflammatory language, which has further undermined the role of hard-working inspectors.

“Our focus is very much on ensuring that inspectors can carry out their duties safely and without fear. Your comments serve to further stoke division between inspectors and school leaders, adding to the existing difficult climate around school inspections.”

FDA’s National Officer for Ofsted Matt Newman also condemned Keegan’s statements, telling Tes they were “dangerous” and “completely unacceptable”. He added:

“Ofsted inspectors are hard-working, decent people who are passionate about what they do. They do not expect to be threatened just for doing their job - especially by the Secretary of State for Education.”

This week Keegan responded to the FDA’s letter, writing back:

“As I think you know, the comments you refer to were off-the-cuff remarks, made in a light-hearted manner in a very particular context, and in the spirit of expressing support for headteachers and teachers in the audience.

“Clearly, I would not be punching anyone, or advocating anyone else do so, and to imply otherwise would be completely wrong… It is precisely because Ofsted and its inspectors play such an essential role that we must strive to ensure that all inspections are conducted to the highest possible standard. The vast majority are, but not all.”

Following the Education Secretary’s response, in which she refused to publicly retract her comments, Penman said “it’s clear she could have gone further”.

“It’s disappointing that the Secretary of State has not publicly retracted her comments, as we urged her to do in writing last month,” Penman said. “We welcome her acknowledgement that Ofsted inspectors play an essential role and I know our members share her belief that we must strive to ensure that all school inspections are conducted to the highest possible standards.

“However, it’s clear she could have gone further to rebuild trust with inspectors, so that crucial work to improve inspection arrangements could be carried out in a collaborative approach, based on mutual respect.”

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