More than 120,000 sign petition for inquiry into Ofsted inspection after headteacher’s death

Ruth Perry, headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life while waiting for an Ofsted report, her family say

Kate Plummer
Tuesday 21 March 2023 14:03 GMT
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Headteacher’s family say she took her own life while waiting for damning Ofsted report

Over 120,000 people have signed a petition calling for an inquiry into an Ofsted’s inspection, after the school’s headteacher is said to have taken her own life.

Ruth Perry, head of Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life while waiting for an Ofsted report which judged the school’s leadership and management as “inadequate”, her family said.

An inquest into the headteacher’s death will take place at Berkshire Coroner’s Court later this year and Ms Perry’s sister Professor Julia Waters has spoken out about the tragic death, blaming Ofsted for putting “intolerable pressure” on Ms Perry.

Ruth Perry was worried about the outcome of a school inspection, her loved ones say

Now, and at the time of writing, more than 123,000 people have signed a petition to Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman and education minister Gillian Keegan calling for an inquiry into the report.

The petition, launched by education consultant Rona Metters, also called for the original report into the school to be reviewed.

She wrote: “Ofsted inspections have evolved into such a monster that the mere thought of them causes fear, stress and anxiety to schools, school leadership and staff alike.

“Actual inspections can leave staff in tears. Many leaders leave the profession following an inspection because the stress caused by the inspection is simply too great and sadly some take their own life, like in the very sad case of Ruth Perry.

She said that the Ofsted “framework has become unwieldy and cumbersome and inspectors have become less supportive and instead seek to trip schools up, terrorise and traumatise.”

Inspections should be “supportive” to “help schools” work on shortcomings and should not “seek to crush and destroy”, she added.

She continued: “Ofsted need to look into this case specifically, review the inspection and the actual wording of that report, what could have been done better.

“They also need to review the whole system”.

Headteacher Flora Cooper had hoped to close the school gate at John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire, to Ofsted inspectors

The watchdog’s report found the school to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management.

Ms 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.

“In our opinion, the findings of Ofsted were disproportionate, unfair and, as has tragically been proven, deeply harmful in their (implied) focus on one individual,” Ms Waters added. “Nevertheless, 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.”

She said her sister took her own life “under intolerable pressure from external scrutiny”.

A photograph of Ms Perry attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools

Ms Waters added that there was “no doubt” the Ofsted inspectors did not mean to cause any harm and said it is the “fatally flawed system” which is at fault.

“Our only hope is that Ruth’s sudden, appalling death will be the last to occur as a result of the intolerable pressures caused by the Ofsted system,” she continued.

Meanwhile, three unions representing teachers and school leaders have urged Ofsted to pause inspections this week.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Ofsted should undertake an immediate review of the impact of inspections on the wellbeing of school and college leaders and staff, and a pause in the inspection cycle would allow for a period in which this could happen.”

Flora Cooper, executive headteacher of the John Rankin Schools, in Newbury, Berkshire, took to Twitter to announce she would refuse Ofsted inspectors to enter her school in solidarity with Ms Perry.

But a spokesperson for West Berkshire Council confirmed on Tuesday morning that the inspection would go ahead.

An Ofsted spokesperson 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.”

If you need to speak to someone, Samaritans are available 24/7 by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

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