Ofsted: Head teacher’s family blames death on school inspection pressureon March 21, 2023 at 12:45 pm

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Ruth Perry took her own life while under “intolerable pressure” after an inspection, her family says.

Ruth PerryImage source, Brighter Futures for Children

A head teacher who took her own life ahead of a school inspection report was under “intolerable pressure”, her family has said.

Ruth Perry was waiting for an Ofsted report that would rate her primary school in Reading as inadequate.

The National Education Union, school leaders’ union NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders have called for inspections to be halted.

The Department for Education said inspections were “hugely important”.

Ms Perry’s family said teaching had been her “passion and vocation” for 32 years and they had been left “devastated” by her death on 8 January.

In the Ofsted report, the watchdog rated Caversham Primary School as inadequate.

The family statement said: “We are in no doubt that Ruth’s death was a direct result of the pressure put on her by the process and outcome of an Ofsted inspection at her school.

“We do not for an instant recognise Ofsted’s ‘inadequate’ judgement as a true reflection of Ruth’s exemplary leadership or of the wonderful school she led.”

‘Watershed moment’

They accused inspectors of reaching conclusions that were “sensationalist and drawn from scant evidence”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “It cannot be right that we treat dedicated professions in this way. Something has to change.

“Whilst it should never take a tragedy like this to prompt action, this has to be a watershed moment.”

  • If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story you can visit BBC Actionline.

Ms Perry’s family echoed calls for a “massive reform” of the inspection system.

“School inspections should be a welcome and positive contribution to improve standards in education,” they said.

“They need to be genuinely supportive and so to safeguard the health and wellbeing of hard-working, talented, altruistic headteachers and staff.

“This is a vital part of ensuring the best educational environment for children, who are of course everyone’s priority, as they were for Ruth.”

Out of 359 schools previously rated outstanding, 140 have held on to their top mark since September.

The rest have dropped their gradings, with five having fallen to the bottom category of inadequate.

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Sir Michael Wilshaw, a former chief inspector of schools in England and head of Ofsted from 2012 to 2016, said Ofsted existed to improve the education system and provide parents with “some sort of indication of the sort of school they want to send their children to”.

“At the end of the day, what parents want to know is this a school that is good enough for my child to go to?…. and if it isn’t good they want to know what action is going to be taken,” he said.

Her added the “great majority of schools” welcomed Ofsted.

On Monday, the head teacher of John Rankin Infant School in Newbury, Berkshire, said she planned to refuse inspectors entry in light of the death of Ms Perry.

However, West Berkshire Council later said that following discussions the inspection would go ahead as planned.

Ellen (left) and Liz (surnames not given) outside the gates to John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire

Image source, PA Media

Earlier, two former teachers stood in protest outside the school.

Liz, who was mentored by Ms Perry, said: “There is not a day where I don’t think about Ruth and the loss not only obviously to her family but the entire teaching community.

“She didn’t just care and dedicate herself to her school and her pupils, she was also a huge support for schools in the Reading area and beyond.

“She was absolutely brilliant and the pressure and the stress that she was under was immense.”

A petition calling for an inquiry into the Ofsted inspection at Caversham Primary School has been signed by more than 110,000 people.

Rona Metters, who started the petition and works as a freelance school business officer, said: “I see the pressures of Ofsted almost daily and it has become worse and worse, and I just felt that it shouldn’t make people feel like this.

“It should be supportive – there is a need for regulatory checks to keep people safe but it shouldn’t seek to ruin people, it should be there to support them.”


Speaking to Nicky Campbell on BBC Radio 5 Live, one caller said her mother, who was the head of a school in Plymouth, took her own life eight years ago after an Ofsted inspection, during a week when building work was being carried out and the school was not running “normal lessons”.

She said: “About two weeks later my mother took her life because the school went from outstanding to inadequate due to this inspection.

“She felt like she had let everyone down. It’s ruined my life I’d just turned 18 when it happened – she’s not there and she should be here – I just blame Ofsted.”

She described inspections as “brutal”.

In an open letter, Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association (SPHA) described Ofsted as a “Damoclean sword hanging over dedicated professionals for months and years on end”.

Calling for for a “complete overhaul” of school inspections it said the current model for school inspections was “faulty” and called for an end to “one-word judgements”.

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Analysis box by Branwen Jeffreys, education editor

An inquest this summer will fully investigate Ruth Perry’s death but the publication of the Ofsted report has unleashed an outpouring of angst about the system.

Schools previously given the top grade – outstanding – are being inspected for the first time in 10 or more years after an exemption was removed.

Since September, 359 schools that were previously deemed outstanding have been inspected, with 140 remaining in that top category.

All the rest have been given a less good grade, but only five have fallen to the bottom category of inadequate.

The systems schools have to keep children safe have come under particular scrutiny, and that’s what led to Caversham Primary School being downgraded despite otherwise good standards.

There is also a bigger debate about whether single grades for schools make sense, with the Labour party saying it would move to a system of report cards.

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The Department for Education said inspections were a “legal requirement”.

A spokesman said: “Inspections are hugely important as they hold schools to account for their educational standards and parents greatly rely on the ratings to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child.

“We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham Primary School at this difficult time.”

A petition calling for education secretary Gillian Keegan, and Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman, to review the inspection and to make changes to the inspection system has so far gathered more than 100,000 signatures.

Matthew Purves, Ofsted regional director for the south east, said: “We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death.

“Our thoughts remain with Mrs Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham Primary School community.”

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