Headteacher withdraws request for public support to help stop Ofsted inspection

·5-min read
The death of Ruth Perry, pictured, has prompted calls for Ofsted to be reformed. Photograph: Brighter Futures for Children (Brighter Futures for Children)

A Berkshire headteacher who issued a plea on social media for support for her plan to prevent Ofsted inspectors visiting her school has withdrawn her request, asking people not to come to the school, in the interests of children and staff.

Flora Cooper, the executive headteacher at the John Rankin federation of nursery, infant and junior schools in Newbury, wrote on Twitter earlier on Monday that Ofsted inspectors were due to visit on Tuesday morning.

She said she would not allow them to enter the premises after the death of Ruth Perry, who took her own life after a negative inspection, according to her family, and called for others to show up at the school and offer their support.

The death of Perry, 53, a mother of two and headteacher at Caversham primary school in Reading, has triggered a storm of protest on social media among teachers and headteachers, many of whom are critical of Ofsted and would like to see it reformed. Labour has pledged to scrap the current ratings system and replace it with a report card.

Cooper wrote on Twitter: “I’ve just had the call. I’ve refused entry. Doing this for everyone for our school staff everywhere!” She called for outside support: “Can I please get everyone here tomorrow? Would you show up? John Rankin School, Newbury.” She added: “Please! We have to do this! I’m taking the stand!”

Later in the day, Cooper sought to defuse the situation and tweeted: “Please can people not come to school now in the morning. I have to protect our children, our staff and our community. Please for the protection of our children and staff.”

In an email to parents and carers on Monday night, Cooper announced that the school would be closed until at least 10am on Tuesday in order to “ensure the school site is safe for the whole community”.

Perry’s family said she killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report which downgraded her school from outstanding to the lowest possible rating. The inspection report found the school to be good in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged inadequate.

A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspection of Caversham has collected more than 39,000 signatures.

Perry’s sister, Julia Waters, who is professor of contemporary French literature at Reading University, later issued a statement saying her family were in no doubt that her death was a “direct result” of the pressure put on her by the process and outcome of the Ofsted inspection, and calling for an urgent review of the entire inspection system.

Waters said some of the conclusions drawn by the inspectors in their report were “sensationalist “and based on scant evidence, such as gaps in record-keeping and typical childish behaviour. She went on: “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.

“No doubt the Ofsted inspectors did not mean to cause any harm. We are sure they were only doing their job as best they could under the appalling system that is in place. It is this 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. It is the firm view of Ruth’s family, friends and colleagues that the entire Ofsted system must urgently be reviewed and changed, to place the welfare of teaching staff, as well as of schoolchildren, at its heart.”

Waters said that following the inquest, which is due to take place later this year, the family hoped that recommendations would be made to prevent further tragedies from occurring.

Perry’s sister, Julia Waters, told the Times: “Ruth killed herself because of this Ofsted report. Ruth just saw this one word ‘inadequate’ as summing everything she had ever achieved and it was targeted at her. That is how she felt and it just crushed her.”

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the National Education Union (NEU) called on Monday for a pause to all Ofsted inspections. The NAHT general secretary, Paul Whiteman, said: “Ruth Perry’s death is an unspeakable tragedy and it is clear that school leaders across the nation have been deeply affected by the news.

“It is clear that school leaders up and down the country are placed under intolerable pressure by the current approach. It cannot be right that we treat dedicated professionals in this way. Something has to change. Whilst it should never take a tragedy like this to prompt action, this has to be a watershed moment.”

Dr Mary Bousted, the NEU joint general secretary, said: “That they are phoning leaders this week and initiating inspections speaks to the arrogance of Ofsted and their absolute lack of empathy. This is an agency that is completely out of touch, and which is making claims and judgments which are unreliable.”

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), added: “We’ve seen that a headteacher has tweeted their intention to refuse entry to an Ofsted inspection team, and this shows very clearly the strength of feeling following the tragic death of Ms Perry.

“Many school and college leaders and their staff find inspections and Ofsted judgments very traumatic, and this is often damaging to their wellbeing. This case has brought matters to a head and something has to change.”

Katie Kearney and Chris Adams, the co-chairs of the John Rankin governing board, said: “We want to reassure the whole John Rankin community that, as always, we will act in the best interests of the children and the schools.”

Cooper was approached for comment.

A Department for Education spokesperson said it was a legal requirement for schools and nurseries to be inspected by Ofsted. “Inspections are hugely important as they hold schools to account for their educational standards and parents greatly rely on the ratings to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child.

“We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham primary school at this difficult time.”