Ruth Perry believed Ofsted inspector was a ‘bully’, husband tells inquest

Ruth Perry was a ‘resilient and positive’ head teacher until an Ofsted inspection ‘destroyed and humiliated’ her, according to her husband
Ruth Perry was a ‘resilient and positive’ head teacher until an Ofsted inspection ‘destroyed and humiliated’ her, according to her husband - Brighter Futures for Children

A head teacher who took her own life after a school inspection told her husband she believed the Ofsted inspector was a “bully” and had “an agenda”, an inquest heard.

Ruth Perry was a “resilient and positive” head teacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading until an Ofsted inspection “destroyed and humiliated” her, according to her husband, Jonathan Perry.

Mr Perry said his wife told him that the lead Ofsted inspector “was a bully” who had “come with an agenda” on the first day of the inspection.

If she disagreed with the inspector’s interpretation of something, “he’d accuse her of being ‘in denial’”, Mr Perry said in a statement read out on the second day of the inquest into his wife’s death.

“She said she felt powerless. I’d never seen Ruth so deflated and defeatist. She was destroyed and humiliated.”

Mr Perry, a self-employed gardener, said they had been happily married for 21 years and Mrs Perry was a loving and attentive mother to their two children.

Main breadwinner

Mrs Perry was the family’s main breadwinner and had worked at Caversham Primary, where she had once been a pupil, for 13 years.

The school was rated “outstanding” but had not been re-inspected since Mrs Perry took over as head teacher.

“We had a happy, settled life in the heart of the local community, close to our family and many friends,” Mr Perry said.

They were in a “very comfortable financial position” and were in the process of buying Mr Perry’s childhood home. She was making plans for a kitchen extension and redecoration, the inquest heard.

She had even put her name on the waiting list for a nearby allotment, Mr Perry said.

Mrs Perry was not “overly stressed” at the prospect of her school being inspected. On the morning of the inspection, she left home “happy as usual”, according to her husband.

“All that changed from the very start of the inspection,” he said.

Mrs Perry phoned her husband on the morning of the inspection asking him to collect some paperwork from solicitors connected to a house they were purchasing.

‘Pale and stressed’

She told him over the phone the inspection “was going badly and she was traumatised”. When he went to meet her, she appeared “pale and stressed”, he said.

She told him: “I think I’m going to lose my job,” the inquest heard.

Mrs Perry told her husband that if the school failed on safeguarding, she believed it would mean the end of her career and she would be “destroyed”.

She later said that the inspectors were planning to downgrade the school from “outstanding” to “inadequate” and she felt it was unfair but she wasn’t able to fight it. She believed the grade of inadequate would be the “end of her job and her career”, Mr Perry said.

The inquest heard that during one meeting with Mrs Perry, an Ofsted inspector had “sniggered loudly” and had a “mocking tone”, according to a witness statement from deputy head teacher Clare Jones-King.

The lead Ofsted inspector during the inspection, Alan Derry, denied behaving in that way.

He had discussed problems with Mrs Perry around record-keeping around vulnerable pupils, which meant that the school could be downgraded to “inadequate”.

During the discussion, Mr Derry said that Mrs Perry became tearful and repeatedly said: “It’s not looking good is it?”

After the meeting, one colleague said that Mrs Perry was “flushed, shaky, and unable to speak coherently”.

‘Safeguarding concern’

Mr Derry was asked if he should have paused the inspection, given Mrs Perry’s mental state.

“No, not at all,” he said.

“There was a major safeguarding concern around the safeguarding of children, and this needed to be immediately addressed and safely addressed.”

He was asked why he did not speak to the school leaders about Mrs Perry.

“Mrs Perry suggested to me that that was what she was doing,” he said. “That she had the support of her senior leadership team and that she was doing that.”

In the final meeting on the second day of the inspection, when senior staff were told the school was likely to be graded inadequate, Mrs Perry made a “moaning sound” and when invited to comment, “said she was sad”, the inquest heard.

Nicola Leroy, the school’s business manager, said Mrs Perry had told colleagues that she had thought about taking her own life during the weekend after the inspection.

Ms Leroy said she spoke to Mrs Perry with the deputy head teacher and asked her to call her GP. With Mrs Perry’s agreement, they then called the local authority and chair of governors to alert them to what she had said.

Ms Leroy accompanied Mrs Perry to her office where she witnessed her making a call to her GP.

Ms Leroy said Mrs Perry was a “tough cookie” and in the nine years they had worked together, she had never seen her in the state she was in after the inspection.

The inquest continues.