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Ruth Perry inquest: Ofsted inspectors trained to manage stress for schools

Ofsted inspectors are trained to manage inspections in a way that “reduces stress” on schools, a director at the watchdog has told the inquest into the death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Ms Perry’s family says she killed herself after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

Her sister, Professor Julia Waters, previously said Ms Perry had the “worst day of her life” after inspectors reviewed the school on November 15 and 16 last year.

At Berkshire Coroner’s Office in Reading on Tuesday, Ofsted’s national director for education Christopher Russell said inspectors discuss how to reduce stress for school leaders as part of their training.

“When we train inspectors, we certainly talk about how to manage the inspection in a way which reduces stress and, where people are getting anxious, how to manage these kinds of stress,” he said.

But he said Ofsted did not have written guidance on how to manage the stress of inspections on headteachers at the time.

Mr Russell defended the watchdog’s policy of giving schools 24 hours’ notice before inspections.

He said when parents question the validity of Ofsted’s judgments, the reason they typically give is that the school was given notice of the inspection ahead of time.

People attending a vigil for Ruth Perry outside Ofsted's offices in central London after her death
People attended a vigil for Ms Perry outside Ofsted’s offices in central London after her death (PA)

“The reason they typically give is that we give a school notice instead of just turning up,” he said.

“If we give lots of notice, we would have a situation where parents say, ‘Well, the school has known for weeks’.”

He added: “Giving a school more notice is potentially more stressful, I would argue.”

Professor Julia Waters
Professor Julia Waters, the sister of headteacher Ruth Perry (National Association of Headteachers/PA)

Mr Russell said Ofsted’s message to schools was to go about their usual business before inspections.

An inspection report, published on Ofsted’s website in March, found Ms Perry’s school to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate”.

Inspectors said school leaders did not have the “required knowledge to keep pupils safe from harm”, did not take “prompt and proper actions” and had not ensured safeguarding was “effective”.

Senior coroner Heidi Connor said she has already made it clear that Ofsted’s rating did not fall “within the scope” of the inquest.

But the inquest will hear evidence from representatives from Ofsted about schools inspections and is expected to explore the impact of the inspection on Ms Perry.