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Ofsted ‘setting own homework’ after appointing former chief to lead Ruth Perry review

Family calls for ‘truly independent and deep inquiry’ into headteacher’s suicide following damning Ofsted inspection

Amy-Clare Martin
Crime Correspondent
Monday 08 April 2024 19:37 BST
A photograph of Ruth Perry attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (Andrew Matthews/PA)
A photograph of Ruth Perry attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

Headteacher Ruth Perry’s sister has hit out at Ofsted for appointing a former chief inspector to lead an independent review into to its response to her death.

In a broadside against the decision, she called for a “rigorous” inquiry, adding: “It could feel a bit like Ofsted has set its own homework and has got an old friend to mark it.”

The comments come after the schools’ watchdog announced former chief inspector Dame Christine Gilbert will carry out a review into their response to Ms Perry’s suicide.

The headteacher took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

In December, a coroner concluded the Ofsted inspection in November 2022 contributed to her death.

Ofsted said Dame Christine will lead the independent learning review, which was announced in January in response to the Coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths report from Ms Perry’s inquest.

Dame Christine was a teacher for 18 years and served as chief inspector at Ofsted from 2006 until 2011.

Responding to the appointment, Ms Perry’s sister Professor Julia Waters said: “Given that Dame Christine Gilbert is a former Head of Ofsted, we and others will need to be convinced that she has the necessary independence of perspective that is required for the task.

“The review needs to be rigorous and explore Ofsted’s systems, practices and culture in depth if it is to learn the lessons required to lead to significant change. I hope we get that assurance, and I hope she can do what is needed.

“It could feel a bit like Ofsted has set its own homework and has got an old friend to mark it. I hope that isn’t the case. Only a truly independent and deep inquiry will be able to reassure my family, and teachers, parents and others that Ofsted is serious about change.”

Ruth Perry took her own life after Caversham Primary School was graded ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted (PA, Shutterstock)

She also raised concerns about the review’s scope, after Ofsted said the review would not examine the inspection of Caversham Primary School or the judgments made.

“Much will depend on how Dame Christine interprets the published scope and terms of reference for her review. While it is important that the review has focus and does not drag on unnecessarily, the published terms of reference seem rather limited and limiting,” she added.

“We hope Dame Christine will consider interpreting the terms in a way that provides opportunity to properly review what Ofsted does and how it can improve.

“I look forward to meeting Dame Christine and sharing my family’s experiences and concerns with her.”

The death of Ms Perry, a 53-year-old mother of two, sparked widespread debate over Ofsted’s practices and their policy of using one-word summary judgments to rate schools.

NAHT, the school leaders’ union, said the review must be independent and impartial, noting some may have concerns over it being led by a former Ofsted chief.

General secretary Paul Whiteman said Dame Christine is a “widely respected and knowledgeable figure in education” with the insight to carry out a “comprehensive” review.

“However, it is important to confront head-on the concern that some might express about a former chief inspector reviewing the work of Ofsted,” he added.

“It is therefore crucial that the review demonstrates a robust level of independence and impartiality.”

Professor Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, has said she will need to be convinced of the independence of the review following her sister’s death (Andrew Matthews/PA) (PA Wire)

The National Education Union (NEU) went a step further, saying the review “should be carried out by someone from outside Ofsted, rather than a former chief inspector, so that it has the trust of the profession, and we can all have faith in the process”.

Its general secretary Daniel Kebede said the review “will only take us forward if it is impartial and independent”.

Dame Christine said she will take a “detailed and thorough” look at events from the end of the school inspection to the conclusion of the inquest and will speak with Ms Perry’s family.

She said: “The death of Ruth Perry was a deeply sad and shocking event. Ofsted has accepted that it is vitally important for it to learn from this tragedy and has asked me to help them do that.

“I intend to take a very detailed and thorough look at all areas of Ofsted’s work - from the moment the Caversham inspection ended, through to the conclusion of the Coroner’s inquest.

“I will scrutinise the approach taken and advise on future actions and revisions needed to improve Ofsted’s policies and processes for dealing with any tragic incident.

“Importantly, I will hear first-hand from the family of Ruth Perry to gain a better understanding of the impact of Ofsted’s work. I would like to thank them in advance for agreeing to engage with my review.”

Ruth Perry and her sister Professor Julia Waters (Family handout)

Current chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Martyn Oliver, said: “I am very grateful to Dame Christine for agreeing to lend her valuable experience and expertise to leading this important review.

“She has a wealth of experience in schools, in inspection, and in undertaking a range of reviews. I have no doubt that her insights will help us to reflect on, and learn from, our response to Ruth Perry’s death.

“I look forward to receiving her recommendations for improving our policies and practice.”

Dame Christine, who also took part in Baroness Casey’s report into the Metropolitan Police last year, will start her review this month and produce a written report on her findings later this year, Ofsted said.

It comes after the ‘Big Listen’ public consultation, seeking views about Ofsted, was launched last month.

Tom Middlehurst, inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), welcomed Dame Christine’s appointment, but said neither the learning review or the Big Listen “tackle the key issue of single-phrase judgments - the very feature of the system which makes inspections so high stakes and drives stress and anxiety”.

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