Head plans to refuse Ofsted inspectors entry following Ruth Perry death

Head tells Schools Week: 'I don't know what I'm doing, and I could lose my job, but I feel like if I don't stand up for this then the system will never change'

Head tells Schools Week: 'I don't know what I'm doing, and I could lose my job, but I feel like if I don't stand up for this then the system will never change'

20 Mar 2023, 12:52

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A head is to boycott a school inspection by Ofsted following the death of headteacher Ruth Perry

A headteacher plans to boycott an Ofsted inspection tomorrow – telling the watchdog this morning that she will refuse their inspectors entry to her school.

Flora Cooper, executive headteacher at John Rankin Infant and Nursery School in Berkshire, has now called on other headteachers who want Ofsted reform to join the protest.

It follows the death of Ruth Perry, headteacher of Caversham primary school, also in Berkshire.

Perry’s family said she took her own life in January before the publication of an inspection report rating the school ‘inadequate’.

Writing on Facebook this weekend, her sister Julia Waters suggested leaders should “boycott Ofsted until a thorough, independent review has been conducted and changes implemented”.

Leaders’ union NAHT has also called for school inspections to be paused this week, “given the strength of feeling and the need for a period of calm reflection”.

‘I could lose my job’

Cooper told Schools Week: “I don’t know what I’m doing and I could lose my job but I feel like if I don’t stand up for every child, every member of staff, every school leader out there the system will never change.”

She said herself, other senior leaders and teachers will stand outside the school gates tomorrow, when the inspector is due to arrive.

“We’re going to stand outside…[I’ve asked] as many headteachers, and as many parents, and as many staff to come support us and stand outside with us,” she added.

“I have no idea what the legal implications of this are…but legally someone can’t come into my school if I’m telling them they’re not allowed in.”

The Education Act states that when inspecting a school, the chief inspector has at “all reasonable times” a right of entry to the premises.

Intentionally obstructing this is an offence that carries a maximum fine of £2,500.

Schools can request Ofsted deferrals, but they are only granted in exceptional circumstances.

Rallying call to other heads

Cooper was informed of the inspection today by Ofsted. But she said she “stopped her [the inspector] before she could say anything and told her what I was planning on doing. 

“I feel sorry for her, it’s the system I’m fighting against. I’m going to have the ‘ins and outs’ call with her at 1pm, but tomorrow I’ve rallied for headteachers to come and join me and we’re going to refuse entry.”

A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspectorate has reached more than 35,000 signatures after a BBC South report into 53-year-old Perry’s death was first published last week.

Waters told the programme Perry “was an absolute shadow of her former self” following the inspection, which took place in November. The school was previously rated ‘outstanding’.

An inquest to establish the facts around the cause and circumstances of Perry’s death opened in January at Berkshire Coroners’ Court. A full hearing date has not yet been set.

Matthew Clements-Wheeler, former chair of the Institute of School Business Leadership, said while he recognised heads are placed under “unique stress before, during and after inspections, we don’t know all the facts of the tragic case people are citing”.

He added: “As educationalists, we can’t call for a ban on school gate protests when we want to protect pupils and then stand together in the same spot.

“School gates should have a precious status in our democratic society and pupils should be able to pass through them freely, rather than having to navigate the physical manifestation of adult debates.”

Unions call for inspection pause

The National Education Union, NAHT school leaders’ union and ASCL have all now called for Ofsted to pause inspections.

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman added this should be a “watershed moment”.

“The anger and hurt being expressed currently by school staff is palpable. It is essential that all policy makers, including Ofsted, listen and respond.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, added given “widespread concerns about leaders’ wellbeing, it’s the height of insensitivity for Ofsted to be going into schools or colleges this week”.

Ofsted has not published the report yet, but the school has shared it with parents.

The report states: “There has been a change of leadership at the school following the death of the headteacher who was in post at the time of the inspection.”

Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association said in an open letter to Ofsted that it would discuss actions to take during school inspections.

“This includes the possibility of displaying a photograph of Ruth Perry at inspections, starting inspections with a minute’s silence and wearing black armbands throughout,” they wrote.

The group are calling for an urgent case review, a suspension of inspections and a pledge that Ofsted will “immediately” launch reforms.

Ofsted inquiry calls

Cooper added: “They have to launch an inquiry into [Caversham’s] Ofsted inspection, but they have to look at the bigger system too.”

She added she had “teachers coming already upset because they know I called them in because Ofsted had called. But I called them to say Ofsted had called but are you guys supporting me because we’ve got to take a stand to change this.

“I don’t get stressed about Ofsted because I’m one of these people who doesn’t do things for Ofsted, I do things for the kids.” 

The school was previously rated ‘good’ by inspectors in 2017.

Ofsted refused to comment on the boycott.

In a separate statement, its regional director for the South East, Matthew Purves, 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.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said it was a legal requirement for schools to be inspected by Ofsted “and they have a legal duty to carry out those inspections”.

“We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham Primary School at this difficult time.”

Samaritans are available 365 days a year. You can reach them on free call number 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

Charity Education Support runs a confidential helpline for education staff and teachers – call 08000 562 561. 

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  1. Paul Miles

    Note that the Department for Education spokesperson said “We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham Primary School at this difficult time.”
    It DOESN’T mention any support offered to Ruth Perry’s family.