‘Urgent lessons’ must be learned by Ofsted from Ruth Perry’s death, family say

The family of Ruth Perry said “urgent lessons” must be learned after a coroner concluded an Ofsted inspection contributed to the headteacher taking her own life, but added they had “no confidence” the watchdog would make the reforms needed.

Mrs Perry took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

Staff at the school said the headteacher was left tearful and incoherent after the inspection on November 15 and 16 last year.

Ruth Perry inquest
Headteacher Ruth Perry took her own life in January this year (University of Reading/PA)

On Thursday, senior coroner Heidi Connor concluded that the Ofsted inspection “likely contributed” to Mrs Perry’s death.

Speaking to the press after the coroner’s conclusion, Mrs Perry’s sister, Julia Walters, said the inquest had shown the “brutal inhumanity” of Ofsted inspections.

“Today, the coroner’s conclusions validate what our family has known for a long time – that Ruth took her own life as the direct result of the process, outcome and consequences of an Ofsted inspection of the school she led and loved, Caversham Primary School,” she said.

“The inquest into Ruth’s death has shown the brutal inhumanity of the system of Ofsted inspections. Ofsted likes to judge people with single-word labels. We could judge the current Ofsted system with our own labels: callous, perverse and inhumane.

“Ruth’s death, and this inquest, have laid bare the imbalance of power that exists in our education system.”

Concluding her inquest in Reading, Ms Connor said: “The evidence is clear in this respect, and I find that Ruth’s mental health deterioration and death was likely contributed to by the Ofsted inspection.”

The inquiry heard Ofsted’s Alan Derry, who led the inspection at the school, said Mrs Perry was “tearful” and kept saying “it’s not looking good is it?”

Mrs Perry’s husband Jonathan Perry told the inquest his wife felt the Ofsted inspector was a “bully” with an “agenda”.

He said she was concerned that failing on child safeguarding would be the end of her career.

An inspection report, published on Ofsted’s website in March, found Mrs 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”.

Ms Connor said: “I find that parts of the Ofsted inspection were conducted in a way which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity.”

She said that this “likely” had an impact on Mrs Perry’s ability to deal with the inspection process.

Ruth Perry inquest
Ruth Perry, right, and her sister Julia Walters on a family holiday in 1996 (Family handout/PA)

She added that a claim made by Ofsted during the inquest, that school inspections could be paused if the distress of a headteacher was a concern, was “a mythical creature”.

“Ofsted gave evidence under oath that they have paused inspections before for reasons of headteacher distress”, she said.

“I heard no direct evidence of this, and I am afraid I have to wonder what the level of distress must have been in those cases for such an action to be taken. It is clear that there is no guidance or training in this respect.”

Ms Connor then turned to what could be done to prevent deaths such as Mrs Perry’s in future.

She said that Ofsted’s aspiration to “assist” parents with their school inspections and grading system, should be “balanced against the safeguarding of the teachers involved in inspections”.

The senior coroner said she was “concerned to note the almost complete absence of Ofsted training” in situations where school leaders showed distress during an inspection, and around whether inspections could be paused in such cases.

Ofsted protest
The coroner said that a claim made by Ofsted that inspections could be paused if the distress of a headteacher was a concern was ‘a mythical creature’ (Jonathan Brady/PA)

She said that she intended to issue a Regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths in this matter and that she hoped this would assist the parliamentary inquiry into Ofsted inspections.

Turning to Mrs Perry’s family, the coroner said: “The composure and dignity you have displayed throughout is remarkable.

“She is your Ruth, not our Ruth.”

A statement from Mr Perry was read out in court.

He said that he first laid eyes on his future wife when he was 12-years-old.

“I thought to myself, one day I am going to marry that girl. Many years later I did,” he said.

Mr Perry said that his wife was “the best thing in my life”.

“I was proud to be Ruth’s husband,” he said. “Marrying Ruth was the best thing I have ever done.”

Neil Walne, chairman of the school’s board of governors, read out a statement on behalf of Caversham.

“The clock in our school playground is our memorial to Ruth,” he said.

“It reminds us every day of her presence and the impact she had on all our lives. She will ever be in our hearts.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers union, said Ofsted had “no choice” but to “seriously reflect and make changes”.