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Ofsted school inspections halted after Ruth Perry suicide

In December, a coronial inquest found that Ofsted inspections had ‘likely contributed’ to the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Tom Watling
Tuesday 02 January 2024 07:31 GMT
Ruth Perry's sister says inquest shows 'brutal inhumanity' of Ofsted inspections

Ofsted will be halting school inspections indefinitely to protect the wellbeing of vulnerable staff after a headteacher killed herself, the watchdog’s new chief has announced.

Sir Martyn Oliver, who started as Ofsted’s chief inspector on New Year’s Day, began his tenure under difficult circumstances following the death of Ruth Perry, the headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading, who took her own life after an Ofsted inspection.

Last month, a coroner ruled that the inspection of Perry’s school had contributed to her death, and issued a “prevention of future deaths” notice listing a string of issues for the body to address urgently. Unions later called for all inspections to be suspended in the interim.

Martyn Oliver (right) has vowed to improve safety standards at Ofsted after the death of headteacher Ruth Perry (PA)

Sir Martyn announced on New Year’s Day that he had bowed to pressure and was calling off inspections until safety standards had been improved, adding that responding to the death of Perry was paramount.

“We’re not going to start inspecting until that initial training has been put in place,” Sir Martyn said.

“But this training is not just a one-off, it is part of a series that will significantly upskill all of our inspectors in how to manage the wellbeing of those we’re inspecting.”

Perry’s family, as well as the senior coroner in her case, claimed that the November 2022 Ofsted inspection of Caversham Primary School had significantly affected the late headteacher’s health.

Perry had been running Caversham for 13 years when it was rated “inadequate” by inspectors.

Colleagues and family members told the inquest that meetings with Ofsted inspectors had left her so distressed that at times she was unable to speak.

Senior coroner Heidi Connor said in the findings of the inquest: “I find that parts of the Ofsted inspection were conducted in a way which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity.”

She later added that the inspection team had at times been rude and intimidating.

Sir Martyn said the organisation must accept the criticism in order to make “a fresh start and move on”.

He told the BBC: “Ultimately we have to be about high standards, and say to parents, ‘These are the standards that are being provided.’ But I think we can do that in a way that is far more empathetic.

“I am determined that we shall learn those lessons, and we shall review our practices, we shall work with others and we shall respond fully to the coroner’s inquest.”

The general secretaries of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) jointly called for inspections to be suspended until Ofsted implements the changes suggested by the coroner.

A statement issued by Geoff Barton of the ASCL and Paul Whiteman of the NAHT said: “The coroner has warned that there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken over the inspection system.”

Former Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman said Ofsted had made changes to reduce the pressure felt by school leaders and “will do more” to address concerns raised by the coroner.

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