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”.
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.
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