Ruth Perry felt ‘inadequate’ grade was ‘end of career’, husband says

Headteacher was 'distraught and distressed' after Ofsted visit, inquest hears

Headteacher was 'distraught and distressed' after Ofsted visit, inquest hears

29 Nov 2023, 17:50

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Ruth Perry thought the ‘inadequate’ grade her school was given by Ofsted “was the end of her job and her career”, an inquest into the headteacher’s death has heard.

It came during emotional testimony from her husband Jonathan Perry, read out by senior coroner Heidi Connor, in which he described her as “resilient” and wanting to “promote the many strengths” of Caversham Primary School before its inspection last November.

Berkshire Coroners’ Office also heard today that Perry told colleagues she had thought about “taking her own life” in the days after the Ofsted visit. Members of the senior leadership team had relayed the comments to school governors and the local authority.

In a written statement, Jonathan said the couple had been in the process of buying his childhood house as their “forever home” at the time of the inspection, and Ruth was “very excited at the prospect”.

He added that she “loved her job” as a headteacher, and while it was “very demanding” and “could be stressful…Ruth was very resilient and didn’t generally let things get to her”.

After receiving a pre-inspection phone call from lead inspector Alan Derry, Ruth was “understandably anxious”, her husband said, but seemed “happy to finally have the opportunity to promote the many strengths of the school”.

The school had not been inspected for 13 years, before Ruth took over as head, due to an exemption for previously outstanding schools.

But by the morning on the first day of the inspection, she sounded “really upset” and “traumatised” during a phone call with her husband because it was “going really badly”.

The inquest heard yesterday that safeguarding issues, which eventually led to Caversham’s ‘inadequate’ judgment, were identified on day one of the Ofsted visit.

Perry said inspector was a ‘bully’

“She said she’d had a horrendous first meeting with the inspector … she said it felt like he’d come in with an agenda,” Mr Perry said.

When she came home she was “distraught and distressed” and felt Derry was a “bully”.

Jonathan said he had “never seen Ruth so deflated and humiliated”. He added that: “She felt the grade of inadequate was the end of her job and her career”.

The hearing also heard from Caversham’s school business manager Nicola Leroy, who said she saw Ruth “extremely distressed and visibly shaking” after a meeting with Derry about safeguarding issues at the school.

Ruth “couldn’t really talk clearly” and said she wanted to “leave the school”, Leroy said.

She added that Ruth’s description of the meeting was that she felt “bombarded with questions” and did not have the “opportunity to breathe”.

Earlier in the day, Derry told the inquest that Ruth’s mental state had been a “concern” for him and he was “mindful of [her] heightened state of anxiety”.

But he added that it was only after the safeguarding meeting that he felt she “wasn’t able to carry on” and that at other points in the visit, she was “definitely cognisant enough to be reasoned” and presented as “someone who was an active part of the inspection process”.

Leroy said that during the inspection, she noticed a “complete change” in Ruth’s behaviour that was different “to the Ruth that I’d ever seen before”.

In another meeting, Leroy said Ruth was “exceptionally downcast” and “subdued”.

The inspection took place on a Wednesday and Thursday. Leroy said that the week after, Perry told both her and the school’s deputy headteacher that she had “thought about taking her own life”.

Tears ‘more times than not’ in inspections

The pair advised her to phone her GP “immediately” and contacted a representative from Reading Borough Council as well as the school’s chair of governors with “permission” from Ruth.

But the two other Ofsted inspectors who conducted the visit at Caversham said they perceived Ruth’s behaviour during the inspection to be “normal”.

Clare Wilkins, who is also a school leader, said “at the time the distress seemed like the distress you’d expect from a person who’s just been told that what they’re doing is not ok”.

Gavin Evans, also a school leader, said it was “normal behaviour for somebody who was finding an inspection challenging”.

He added that he had witnessed “members of staff who’ve cried, put their heads down” during inspections as a headteacher.

“I would say that there are tears more times than there are not,” said Evans, adding that sometimes this was because of positive outcomes.

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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  1. Who inspects OFSTED? It’s been failing since it was invented, the only way it’s been able to carry on is because government has so constructed the goal posts and slanted the playing field that in whatever direction OFSTED kicks the schools OFSTED can claim a success and the government use this “evidence” to justify their policies. This has maintained Victorian standards akin to those at DotheBoys “Gradgrind” Hall run on a factory batch production model with truly terminal assessment. After about 4 decades of OFSTED and going in the wrong direction we are where we are. Students and teachers are voting with their feet and a workforce so under educated that to keep the country running even a government that’s isolationist and against immigration has the greatest number of migrants entering the country ever to fill the skills gap.

  2. Chris Byrne

    While the inquest reveals a personal family tragedy which is heart breaking, perhaps the most shocking revelations from a system viewpoint are the comments by the inspectors. Apparently it is “normal” for hard working public servants to cry during inspections. In what world can it be “normal” to expect senior leaders to behave in this way? If you need any further proof of the harm that inspections have and are doing, then these comments provide it. We need an inspection system, just not this one.

  3. Joshua Rowe

    We also had a poor experience with Ofsted. In 2019 [just before Covid], inspectors downgraded the school from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’. However, they were wrong on every count and after months of arguing and following the complaints procedure, which yielded absolutely nothing, we commenced proceedings for Judicial Review. As a result, under a Court Order, the report was quashed in its entirety, the school’s ‘outstanding’ rating was reinstated and Ofsted had to pay our costs – with the cheque signed personally by Ms Spielman.
    At a following inspection in November 2021 [immediately after Covid] a team of no less than 5 HMIs [an ‘assassination squad’] came with what appeared to be a clear agenda – to avenge their defeat.
    Within two hours of their arrival, pupils and staff reported that they were not interested in anything positive or good. They were only looking for fault. Some teachers were brought to tears by the inspectors’ aggressive and negative attitude.
    As was mentioned in another comment, we do need an inspection system, just not this one. It cannot be that appeals go to Ofsted itself [the cat guards the cream….]