Ruth Perry: Family blame death on pressure of school inspectionon March 21, 2023 at 12:20 am

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Head teacher Ruth Perry took her own life while waiting for the publication of an Ofsted report.

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 report seen by the BBC, but yet to be published on the Ofsted website, the watchdog rated Caversham Primary School as inadequate, the lowest rating.

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.”

Ms Perry’s family echoed calls for “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.”

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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 65,000 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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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 ten 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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