Ruth Perry’s mental health deteriorated following the Ofsted inspection of Caversham Primary School
Ofsted has said it will delay school inspections next week in order to give inspectors new training after an inquest found the inspections process had directly contributed to a head teacher’s suicide.
Ruth Perry, 53, took her own life following an Ofsted inspection of Caversham Primary School in Reading.
The “rude and intimidating” inspection, in November 2022, “likely had an effect on Ruth’s ability to deal fully with the inspection process”, a coroner found.
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector, said sorry to the family for the “distress that Mrs Perry undoubtedly experienced as a result of our inspection”.
Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, speaking to members of the media in Reading Town Hall at the end of the inquest – Andrew Matthews/ PA
She said Ofsted would delay inspections next week by one day to bring all lead inspectors together to address how to respond to teachers showing anxiety and what to do if a pause to the inspection was needed.
The inquest, at Reading Town Hall, heard how Mrs Perry broke down during the inspection last year after it became clear that the school would be downgraded from “outstanding” to “inadequate”.
Heidi Connor, the Berkshire senior coroner, found there was no realistic possibility for the inspection to be paused and the Ofsted inspectors had not been given detailed training about how and when to respond if a school leader was showing signs of distress.
The lead inspector, Alan Derry, had told the chairman of school governors in one meeting during the inspection that the school had a “robust” safeguarding culture, the inquest heard.
However, he later said he had changed his judgment after raising concerns relating to recordkeeping, which he believed could be fixed quickly. The school was given a negative safeguarding rating, which meant it would automatically be downgraded to “inadequate”, even though it was rated “good” in every other area.
An “inadequate” rating meant that the school was at risk of being forced to join an academy chain, and Mrs Perry’s job was under threat. The inquest heard she believed that she had let down her family and the whole community.
Mrs Perry and her husband Jonathan, a self-employed gardener, pulled out of buying a dream home for themselves and their two daughters over fears that she would lose her income.
Ruth Perry ‘led and loved’ the school, her family said
Ruth Perry, right, and her sister Julia Waters in an image taken in the early 1990s – University of Reading/PA
The inquest heard that Reading Borough Council, which ran the school, had planned to complain about the Ofsted judgment. However, it did not make a single word of comment on the draft report.
The coroner found that there was a “clear perception of a power imbalance” between Ofsted on the one hand and the local authority, school and board of governors on the other. She said it seemed no organisation wanted “to rock the Ofsted boat, for fear of the consequences of that”.
Mrs Perry had told a mental health professional that she believed that Ofsted is “the most untherapeutic and inhumane system, to have this on one person’s shoulders”, the inquest heard.
She said: “I am amazed there are not more heads killing themselves… the shame, the pressure, loss of income, where do I go next, I am too young to retire. The Ofsted system has to change. It is totally wrong that one person is made to feel like this.”
Reading out a statement, surrounded by Mrs Perry’s family and friends, her sister Prof Julia Waters, said: “Today, the coroner’s conclusions validate what our family has known all along, that Ruth took her own life as a direct result of the process, outcome and consequences of an Ofsted inspection of the school she led and loved.”
She said the inquest had shown the “brutal inhumanity of the system of Ofsted inspections”
Julia Waters, the sister of Ruth Perry, arrives at Berkshire Coroners’ Court at Reading Town Hall – Andrew Matthews/PA
The coroner said she was concerned that the Ofsted system allows a school to be graded “inadequate” when it is mostly “good”, but where safeguarding issues have been identified that can be quickly corrected.
She said she was concerned about the “impact on school leader welfare” that the Ofsted system will continue to have, and warned of the “risk of future deaths if there is only lip service paid to learning from tragedies like this”.
She said: “Transparency and ease of message to parents is not currently weighed against teacher welfare. The benefits are focused on without taking account of the risks.”
Ofsted said it would address each “area of concern” raised by the coroner. Mrs Spielman said the inspectorate would make it clear in its inspection handbook that school leaders can be accompanied by colleagues in meetings with inspectors, and that they can share inspection outcomes with colleagues, family, medical advisers and their wider support group.
From next week, schools will be given a number to call if they have concerns about their inspection.
Mrs Spielman said: “It’s right that we inspect first and foremost in the interests of children, their parents and carers. But in the light of Mrs Perry’s sad death, it’s also vital that we do all we can to minimise stress and anxiety when we inspect.”
Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, said: “My heart goes out to Ruth’s family, friends and the school community. Her death was a tragedy that not only shocked the local community but also the wider sector and beyond. It is clear from the coroner’s findings that lessons need to be learned.”
Numbers to call
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