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Teachers wear black arm bands during Ofsted inspection in solidarity with head who took own life

Head of the John Rankin Schools in Newbury had announced plans to boycott an inspection

Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Tuesday 21 March 2023 13:39 GMT
Headteacher’s family say she took her own life while waiting for damning Ofsted report

Teachers at a school where a headteacher had planned to refuse an Ofsted visit were pictured wearing black armbands in solidarity with Ruth Perry during the inspection.

It comes as Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association said they will discuss wearing armbands throughout inspections later this afternoon in an open letter to Ofsted.

But staff from John Rankin Schools, in Newbury, Berkshire already made a statement with the armbands this morning as they stood outside the gates of the school.

It follows the tragic death of Ms Perry who killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report which gave her school the lowest possible rating, her family said. The 53-year-old was headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading.

Headteacher Flora Cooper had announced plans to boycott the Ofsted inspection at John Rankin School, before later reversing the decision.

She had posted to Twitter on Monday to organise the boycott, saying: “We have to do this! I’m taking the stand!” and that she is, “Doing this for everyone for our school staff everywhere!”

However, she later asked people not to come out in protest, concerned for the safety of the children and staff.

Despite her initial refusal to allow Ofsted inspectors entry to the school, the inspection went ahead today.

A photograph of Ruth Perry attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (PA)

A man who said he was on the board of governors came out from the John Rankin Schools, in Newbury, Berkshire, and read a statement to reporters just after 9.30am at the school gates.

He said: “The Ofsted inspection is now going to go ahead and the school will fully engage in the process.

“What I’m going to ask you all is to please if you can move away from the school entrance as much as possible, and from the vicinity to safeguard the children and their families as we start the day because most important is the children, the families and their wellbeing. There’s no further comment at this time.”

Headteacher Flora Cooper, wearing a black armband, stands next to a photograph of Ruth Perry as she closes the school gate at John Rankin Schools in Newbury (PA)
Teachers at John Rankin School wore a black armband during an Ofsted inspection on Tuesday (PA)

He added inspectors had been at the school from just before 8am and the school day had not started yet. He declined to give any further details about himself or the situation.

Ms Perry’s sister, Professor Julia Waters, said in a statement on behalf of the family that some of the Ofsted inspectors’ conclusions were “sensationalist” and “drawn from scant evidence”, such as gaps in record-keeping and typical childish behaviour.

Two former teachers stood in protest outside John Rankin Infant School on Tuesday morning following the death of Ms Perry.

Liz, a former primary school teacher who was mentored by Ms Perry when the school went into special measures, said: “It is just unimaginable.

“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.”

Ellen and Liz outside the gates to John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (PA)

Jelena, who has a child at John Rankin Junior School in Newbury, Berkshire, but asked not to give her surname, said she was backing headteacher Flora Cooper against “intensely cruel” Ofsted inspections.

The 53-year-old full-time mother said: “I just wanted to come out and show my support to Flora, who has bravely come forward.

“I was surprised because it’s a brave move but I thought it was a bold move and it had to be done and I knew why she was doing it.

“The system is so antiquated and needs a complete reform.

“To give a school so little notice and put that school and those teachers under pressure when they’re already under pressure is intensely cruel.

“People’s mental health is at stake, as we found out at Caversham. Who’s managing that? Nobody. Where’s the support for that? There isn’t any.”

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