Inspection goes ahead at school where head planned to refuse entry to Ofsted

·4-min read

An Ofsted inspection is going ahead at a school where the headteacher said she planned to refuse inspectors entry after Ruth Perry’s death.

Flora Cooper, executive headteacher at John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire, had announced plans to boycott an Ofsted inspection on Tuesday.

In a Twitter post on Monday, she said: “We have to do this! I’m taking the stand!”

Ms Perry, who was headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report which gave her school the lowest possible rating, her family said.

Professor Julia Waters, Ms Perry’s sister, said the education watchdog’s report was “deeply harmful” in its “implied focus on one individual”.

The inspection report, published by Ofsted on Tuesday, found the school to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate”.

A version of the report on the school’s website refers to a change of leadership “following the death of the headteacher who was in post at the time of the inspection” but Ofsted’s finalised report does not include the line.

On Monday, Ms Cooper called on people to support her at John Rankin Schools on Tuesday morning when inspectors were due to arrive.

But, hours later, the headteacher asked people not to go.

On Tuesday, West Berkshire Council said the Ofsted inspection at the school would go ahead “following discussions between the parties”.

A group of teachers – a minority of whom were wearing black armbands – walked out to the school gates for a photograph and Ms Cooper left the school later on in the morning, wearing a black armband, to welcome pupils.

After a delayed start to the day, the headteacher used a portable speaker to play Justin Timberlake song Can’t Stop The Feeling before locking the school gates once pupils had arrived.

It comes after Ms Waters suggested a number of actions could be taken by school staff in memory of her sister Ms Perry – including wearing black armbands when inspectors are on site.

Ofsted protest
Headteacher Flora Cooper, wearing a black armband, stands next to a photograph of Ruth Perry as she closes the school gate at John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (Andrew Matthews/PA)

A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspection of Caversham Primary School has more than 110,000 signatures.

Three unions representing teachers and headteachers have urged Ofsted to pause inspections this week.

Former teachers and parents voiced concerns about Ofsted outside John Rankin Infant and Nursery School, where photos of Ms Perry were attached to the fence, as the inspection got underway.

Liz, a former teacher mentored by Ms Perry when the school went into special measures, held a placard outside the school saying “RIP Ruth”.

She said: “As a former teacher, I would like Ofsted to go back to its roots of supporting schools and their improvements.”

Speaking about the current inspection process, she added: “It is reduced to a one-word grading over two days of observation where schools are given a day’s notice.

“It’s incredible amounts of stress and that’s also coupled with the fact that the budgets have been cut as well so there are fewer staff to do the same job.”

Jelena, who has a child at John Rankin Junior School, said she was backing Ms Cooper against “intensely cruel” Ofsted inspections.

The mother said: “The system is so antiquated and needs a complete reform.

“To give a school so little notice and put that school and those teachers under pressure when they’re already under pressure is intensely cruel.

“People’s mental health is at stake, as we found out at Caversham. Who’s managing that? Nobody. Where’s the support for that? There isn’t any.”

In a statement on behalf of her family on Tuesday, Ms Waters said some of the Ofsted inspectors’ conclusions were “sensationalist” and “drawn from scant evidence”.

She said her sister died “under intolerable pressure from external scrutiny”.

Ms Waters said: “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.”

The family rejects Ofsted’s judgment of Ms Perry’s leadership.

An inquest into the headteacher’s death will take place at Berkshire coroner’s court later this year.

The family are calling for the system to be reviewed and changed to focus on the welfare of teaching staff and pupils.

“We support anyone who cares about education in this country and wishes to drive forward rapid, far-reaching change to Ofsted’s punitive regime,” Ms Waters added.

Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s regional director for the south east, 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.”

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