Colleagues of headteacher Ruth Perry encouraged her to “look to the future” after her school received the worst possible rating from Ofsted, the inquest into her death has heard.
Ms Perry, 53, is believed to have taken her own life in January after learning that her school – Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire – was being downgraded from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ over concerns around safeguarding.
Her family have previously said they believe her death was “a direct result” of the November 2022 inspection.
This has been echoed by Ms Perry’s colleagues, Caversham’s acting co-headteachers Joanne Grover and Clare Jones-King, and the school’s chair of governors Neil Walne, all of whom told Coroner Heidi Connor that they believe there was a “link” between the inspection and Ms Perry’s mental health deterioration and death.
Reading Coroner’s Court heard evidence on November 30 of how colleagues had attempted to support Ms Perry after the inspection by Ofsted, which her husband said had left her “traumatised” and fearing the “end of her career”.
Caversham’s chair of governors Mr Walne described a meeting between himself, Ms Perry, and Alice Boon and Brian Grady from Reading Borough Council, which came after Ofsted had advised it would give Caversham an ‘inadequate’ grade.
He said: “Ruth was in a very distressed state at the beginning of the meeting. She was worried about her reputation.
“She was asking about the possibilities of academisation, and about whether she was going to lose her job.
“I assured her that was not going to happen, and Brian said he did not want to hear the word ‘academisation’ again – as this meeting was about her and how we were supporting her.
“The meeting was about trying to give her ways to look to the future. I think that the focus on moving on helped her.”
Ms Boon, who works in education for Reading Borough Council, also spent time with Ms Perry in the wake of the inspection.
She told the court: “I felt that Ruth was panicky after the inspection. She found the whole process profoundly upsetting. I don’t think she was expecting it to feel the way it did.
“She was an amazing headteacher and an amazing person. So, moving forwards, we wanted her to remember those things and know that she would be able to make the changes – that it was actually a very doable process.
“There were days when she seemed like her old self and days when she didn’t, but when it got to the point where everyone was worried that Ruth was really not doing well – it was a flag for me that she needed immediate medical attention.
“I begged her to see a GP, and said to her, if she was not going to do it for herself, she must do it for her friends who desperately want her to get help.”
Ms Boon also drew attention to the pressure headteachers feel when they are inspected by Ofsted.
She explained: “I believe that this extremely heightened level of stress that headteachers feel around Ofsted inspections has become normalised, to the point where it is considered usual if a headteacher is struggling to sleep.”
Reading Coroner’s Court heard earlier from Ms Jones-King, who described how Ms Perry had been “panicked, overwhelmed, and upset” during the inspection.
She said Ms Perry “became increasingly upset” during one meeting with Ofsted inspector Alan Derry, explaining: “She was crying. She was red in the face. Her makeup was smudged.
“It was clear that she was not okay.”
Ms Jones King also described Mr Derry’s style of inspection as “unpleasant” and “lacking in empathy”, adding that he “sneered” at her and “interrupted” her during meetings.
Mr Walne also spoke of his own experience of the inspection – and of how he had questioned Mr Derry about how a conversation between the two “did not match up” with the ultimate decision to give an ‘inadequate’ grade to Caversham Primary.
Mr Walne said: “I spoke to Mr Derry after the second day of the inspection, as I was aware that things had not gone well.
“He mentioned that there were some incomplete safeguarding records, but said he felt the school had a robust safeguarding culture and that students felt safe.
"The issue was that the school was having some problem evidencing that, such as the records.
“This is why during the final feedback meeting, once the grade had been given, I reminded him of the comments he had made to me – of the culture and of students feeling safe.
“I wanted to understand how he had reached that conclusion given our conversation.
“Mr Derry told me something along the lines of, ‘I shouldn’t have said that’, or, ‘I was wrong’.”
Mr Walne was asked later during his evidence whether Reading Borough Council had approached him and asked him to participate in any "lesson learning exercises” in the wake of Ms Perry’s death.
He said: “It has not been that specific but we have had countless conversations, of course. Since the awful events of January, my focus has been on making the school keeps running.
“It has been an awful time for the school. Unless you have been involved, I think it is difficult to understand just how awful it has been.”
Ms Connor is expected to deliver her findings on December 7.