'Some change needs to come of this': Call for new school inspection system after headteacher's suicide

A friend and colleague of Ruth Perry has told Sky News her death must lead to change in the way schools are inspected.

Ruth Perry, head teacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire, killed herself after finding out that Ofsted inspectors had downgraded her school.

Sophie Greenaway, headteacher at nearby Thameside Primary, worked with Mrs Perry for many years.

Speaking of the impact on Mrs Perry's family, she said: "They've lost their mum, they've lost their wife, and us speaking out now can't bring her back but she has to not have died for no reason.

"Some change needs to come of this because this can't happen to anyone else."

Mrs Greenaway described Ofsted inspections as being like "the biggest interrogation of your life".

She said that, from the moment of being informed her school would be inspected, "immediately it's anxiety, worry and it's so intense".

Schools are contacted the day before a two-day inspection.

'I'm so scared of letting people down'

"I'm so scared of letting people down, of letting my school down by saying the wrong thing," Mrs Greenaway said.

"And that's what's so terrifying - that you can say something and it can be taken the wrong way and then your entire school judgement for the next five years on a piece of paper can be reliant on that one thing."

She said that once an inspection is complete, a small number of school leaders are called together by the inspectors.

"You get the word told to you that you are going to be judged on and defined by for four years, five years... and then you're told in no uncertain terms that you cannot share that outside that room.

"Otherwise you do risk a reassessment of that judgement being taken away from you."

That grading can only be shared with staff and parents once Ofsted's assessment is published.

Mrs Perry had killed herself in the period when only she knew that her school had been downgraded.

"That pressure to keep it within you from your family and from members of staff is intense," Mrs Greenaway said.

A 'high-stakes single judgement'

Under the current assessment system schools are awarded a rating of outstanding, good, requires improvement, or inadequate.

Ofsted data show on their last inspection in England 72% of schools were judged as "good", with 17% given the top rating and just 12% rated in the bottom two categories.

The National Association of Headteachers is calling for the system to be reformed, arguing inspections currently give a "high-stakes single judgement" of a school.

Teaching unions have been calling for Ofsted inspections to be paused following Mrs Perry's death.

Read more:
Devastated family blame headteacher's death on 'deeply harmful' pressure of Ofsted inspection
School which 'refused entry' to Ofsted over headteacher's death is facing inspection

'Our aim is to raise standards,' Ofsted says

But Ofsted's chief inspector Amanda Spielman has resisted those calls, saying: "I don't believe that stopping or preventing inspections would be in children's best interests.

"Our aim is to raise standards, so that all children get a great education.

"It is an aim we share with every teacher in every school."

She said: "Ruth Perry's death was a tragedy.

"Our thoughts remain with Ruth's family, friends and the school community at Caversham Primary.

"I am deeply sorry for their loss.

"The broader debate about reforming inspections is a legitimate one, but it shouldn't lose sight of how grades are currently used.

"They give parents a simple and accessible summary of a school's strengths and weaknesses.

"They are also now used to guide government decisions about when to intervene in struggling schools."

'It's absolutely agonising waiting for the call'

Lisa Telling, the executive head at Katesgrove Primary, another school close to Caversham Primary, knows her school will be one of the next to be visited by Ofsted, as its inspection is overdue.

"It's absolutely agonising waiting for the call. It's stomach churning," she said.

"Sunday night I don't sleep.

"I start to get that anxious feeling in my tummy.

"Monday I come to work and every time I jump… I instantly think Ofsted.

"We're just on tenterhooks all the time and it's genuinely wretched.

"We need to have a consistent system that when the inspectors come through the door they're going to work with you.

"We're asking for a pause after Ruth's death to re-look at this.

"As leaders, as Ofsted inspectors, we all want the same thing.

"We all want the best education for our children, the same as our parents.

"We can do this together.

"Let's just stop. Let's not be adversarial, let it be together, because actually together we can achieve more.

"Let's work together."

Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK