Headteacher was 'crushed' after Ofsted inspection downgrading
‘Ruth saw this one word ‘inadequate’ as summing everything she had ever achieved’: Sister of headteacher who killed herself after Ofsted inspection says downgrading ‘crushed her’
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The headteacher who killed herself after an Ofsted inspection downgraded her primary school from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ was ‘crushed’ by the ruling despite having an otherwise successful life, her sister has claimed.
Ruth Perry, 53, took her own life in January this year after Caversham Primary School in Reading was downgraded to the watchdog’s lowest rating over safeguarding concerns, a coroner ruled last week.
Mrs Perry was left ‘absolutely panic stricken’ in the weeks following the ‘intimidating’ inspection into the school last year and revealed in a series of notes that the word inadequate was repeatedly ‘flashing behind my eyes’.
Her sister Professor Julia Waters – after the Berkshire coroner ruled the inspection ‘likely’ contributed to Ms Perry’s death – has claimed the downgrading ‘crushed’ the headteacher and somewhat undermined her other successes.
‘Ruth just saw this one word “inadequate” as summing everything she had ever achieved and it was targeted at her,’ Prof Waters told The Sunday Times. ‘That is how she felt and it just crushed her.’
Ruth Perry, 53, (pictured) took her own life in January this year after Caversham Primary School in Reading was downgraded to the watchdog’s lowest rating over safeguarding concerns
Her sister Julia Waters (left), pictured her Mrs Perry (right) on a holiday to Italy in 1996, has claimed the downgrading ‘crushed’ the headteacher and somewhat undermined her other successes
Despite her many successes as head at Caversham Primary School, (pictured) Prof Waters claims that Ofsted’s report caused Mrs Perry’s mental health to go ‘downhill so fast’
Mrs Perry excelled in the world of academia since she herself was a pupil, her sister shared. She studied classics at the University of Exeter and then trained as a maths teacher.
She launched her career in primary school education in the east end of London before returning to her hometown of Caversham, where her husband Jonathan was also from.
Prof Waters says that once Mrs Perry was appointed as head at Caversham Primary School, she threw herself into her ‘tough’ job. She claims her sister ‘loved’ her role and was a ‘workaholic but it was for all the right reasons’.
Mrs Perry’s workload allegedly increased during the coronavirus pandemic, but she still went out of her way to keep up pupils’ morale. She also prioritised giving each student a chance to come back to in-person lessons once restrictions eased.
But despite her many successes within the school, Prof Waters claims that Ofsted’s report caused Mrs Perry’s mental health to go ‘downhill so fast’.
The inspection report found Mrs Perry’s school to be ‘good’ in every category – even hailing it as ‘welcoming and vibrant’ with ‘high expectations’ – apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be ‘inadequate’.
Prof Waters claims that after Ofsted made its judgement, Mrs Perry was consumed by the report.
‘That Christmas all she could talk about was “Ofsted Ofsted Ofsted”. She was like a stuck record,’ the Reading University professor told the newspaper. ‘She went downhill so fast, her skin was matt, her eyes dull.’
Prof Waters, pictured with Mrs Perry in the early 1990s, claims that after Ofsted made its judgement, her sister was consumed by the report. She said: ‘That Christmas all she could talk about was “Ofsted Ofsted Ofsted”. She was like a stuck record. She went downhill so fast, her skin was matt, her eyes dull’
Coroner Mrs Connor ruled last week that ‘Ruth Perry committed suicide contributed to by an Ofsted inspection carried out in November 2022’
Mrs Perry’s sister Julia Waters is pictured arriving at court on Thursday to hear the inquest’s conclusion
Concluding her inquest into Mrs Perry’s death on Thursday, senior coroner Heidi 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 on November 15 and 16 last year, 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.
Ms Connor said last week: ‘I find that parts of the Ofsted inspection were conducted in a way which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity.’
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.’
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.
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.
The Perry family has now demanded change in Ofsted’s inspection process to prevent other teachers from going through similarly ‘traumatic inspections’. Pictured is Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, with other family members speaking in Reading Town Hall at the end of the inquest on Thursday, December 7 this year
The Perry family has now demanded change in Ofsted’s inspection process to prevent other teachers from going through similarly ‘traumatic inspections’.
Following the coroner’s conclusion last week, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman apologised to the family and friends of Mrs Perry.
She said Ofsted has made changes to reduce pressures felt by school leaders and ‘will do more’ to address concerns raised by the coroner.
Mrs Spielman added that the watchdog was delaying next week’s inspections by a day and setting up a hotline for schools that have concerns.
But speaking on BBC Breakfast after the inquest, Prof Waters said ‘pausing the inspections for a day to do some training is not enough’.
‘I receive emails every day from teachers and headteachers and their relatives who’ve been through traumatic inspections. Things absolutely have to change,’ she added.
Prof Waters shared notes handwritten by her sister before she died, one of which read: ‘I wake from restless sleep absolutely panic stricken. 40 days are taking their toll on my skin and my nails, my stomach is wasting away.’
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