Ofsted

Ofsted inspection ‘contributed’ to head Ruth Perry’s death – coroner

7 Dec 2023, 11:58

An Ofsted inspection contributed to the death of headteacher Ruth Perry, a coroner has ruled.

At an inquest in Reading this morning, coroner Heidi Connor recorded a verdict of “suicide, contributed to by an Ofsted inspection carried out in November 2022”.

She will also issue a regulation 28 report, setting out action that should be taken to prevent future deaths.

Conner said she hoped her investigation, conclusions and regulation 28 report “will be used by the parliamentary inquiry process to review how school inspection should work going forward”.

Perry was headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Berkshire when it was rated ‘inadequate’ by inspectors following the visit last autumn.

Connor told Berkshire Coroners’ Court that following the judgment, “Ruth’s mental health deteriorated significantly”.

The coroner said each witness who knew Perry, including her GP and a mental health practitioner, said the inspection “did contribute (more than minimally) to her death”.

“The evidence is clear in this respect, and I find very easily that Ruth’s mental health deterioration and death was likely contributed to by the Ofsted inspection.”

She added that “while the outcome of the inspection was a part of this, it was not the only cause”.

Connor listed her “most important areas of concern” as follows.

  1. The conduct of the inspection itself.
  2. The current Ofsted system which allows for the single word judgement of ‘inadequate’ to be applied equally to a school rated otherwise good, but with issues which could be remedied by the time the report was published, as to a school which is dreadful in all respects.
  3. The confidentiality requirement at the time.
  4. The length of time between the inspection and final report, thus lengthening the period of the confidentiality requirement.

Inspection ‘at times rude and intimidating’

Connor also found that “parts of the Ofsted inspection were conducted in a manner which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity (to quote from Ofsted’s Code of Conduct).

“It was at times rude and intimidating. This likely had an effect on Ruth’s ability to deal fully with the inspection process. Parts of this inspection were, in my view, very much done ‘to’ rather than ‘with’ this school.”

Connor said she was concerned there “seems to have been little, if any, reflection or insight into this issue from the lead inspector” and that his evidence “focused quite heavily on looking at others and the impact of their involvement”.

But she said it was “much more important to consider the system that the lead inspector was working within, and whether adequate focus and training was given”.

The coroner said it “could be argued that there should be no need for training in this respect. An inspector should instinctively know what to do if a teacher becomes upset during an inspection.

“The evidence from this case makes the need for training and policy abundantly clear however.”

The inquest reviewed Ofsted training materials, and found “very little reference to dealing with teacher anxiety”.

Option to pause a ‘mythical creature’

Connor said it was “suggested by Ofsted witnesses that it is an option to pause an ongoing inspection because of reasons of teacher distress”, however, “neither the school nor the local authority was aware of this as a possibility”.

The coroner found that the concept of a pause for mental health reasons was “something of a mythical creature, created and expanded on during the evidence at this inquest”.

Ofsted gave evidence under oath that they had paused inspections before for reasons of headteacher distress.

But Connor said she had “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”.

In a statement to the press after the inquest concluded, Julia Waters, Perry’s sister, read out a statement from her family.

She said Perry was not only a headteacher but a “wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a dear friend to so many people” whose death had “left an unfillable hole in all our lives”.

Family says inquest showed ‘brutal inhumanity’ of Ofsted system

The coroner’s conclusions “validate what our family has known all along,” said Waters, adding that the inquest had shown the “brutal inhumanity” of the inspection system.

“Ofsted likes to judge people with single word labels. We could judge the current Ofsted system with our own labels: callous, perverse, inhumane.”

“The new chief inspector of schools faces a massive challenge to put these failures right,” said Waters.

Neil Walne, chair of governors at Caversham, said it had lost a “well-respected colleague and friend” as well as its head in a statement from the school.

“She will forever be in our hearts,” he added.

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said Ofsted was “fundamental to making sure children are safe and receive the education they deserve”.

“Together we will look closely at the coroner’s recommendations to consider further changes to make sure we have an inspection system that supports schools and teachers, and ultimately secure Ruth’s legacy.”

She added that “my heart goes out to Ruth’s family, friends and the school community. Her death was a tragedy that not only shocked the local community but also the wider sector and beyond.”

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.

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

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One comment

  1. James Elliott

    Alan Derry HMI stated that “safeguarding issues picked up during the inspection could be resolved within 30 working days”, yet he and the inspection team served a transformative judgement that has done nothing positive for our school or community.