The coroner in the inquest into the death of headteacher Ruth Perry has warned there is a “risk of future deaths if there is only lip service paid to learning from tragedies like this”.
Heidi Connor, who concluded Perry died in January by suicide, contributed to by an Ofsted inspection, plans to issue a “regulation 28” report aimed at preventing future deaths, and urged education secretary Gillian Keegan not to ignore its findings.
She said she hoped her conclusions and report “will be used by the parliamentary inquiry process to review how school inspection should work going forward”.
Keegan said government would “consider further changes to make sure we have an inspection system that supports schools and teachers, and ultimately secure Ruth’s legacy”.
Perry was headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Berkshire when it was rated ‘inadequate’ by inspectors following the visit last autumn.
Under regulation 28, coroners have a “duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority or government department or agency where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths”.
Connor said she wanted to “consider the statistics about responses to these reports by government departments”.
But she told Perry’s family “Ruth is not a statistic to me, so please forgive me for mentioning this point briefly”.
She pointed to a “preventable deaths tracker”, created by an Oxford epidemiologist, which “shows a tendency for some secretaries of state to ignore coroners’ regulation 28 reports”.
“I very much hope that will not be the case here.”
System ‘not weighed against teacher welfare’
The report will highlight seven areas of concern for Ofsted and the Department for Education, including the “impact on school leader welfare that this system will continue to have”.
Connor said “any form of inspection or review will always be inherently stressful”, and that she had “taken that into account in reaching my conclusions”. She added that “nobody would dispute that safeguarding is important”.
But she warned transparency and “ease of message to parents” was “not currently weighed against teacher welfare. The benefits are focused on without taking account of the risks.”
She also noted an “almost complete absence” of Ofsted training or published policies on dealing with signs of distress in school leaders during inspections.
Ofsted has been repeatedly criticised for its response to Perry’s death. Last month, chief inspector Amanda Spielman claimed critics had used the tragedy “as a pivot to try and discredit” Ofsted’s work.
Connor said Ofsted’s “approach has been to make public statements in court, setting out their view on whether Ruth’s death was linked to the inspection and how it was carried out”.
“They have publicly described this tragedy as a pivot, used to try and discredit what Ofsted does. This is without any attempt to analyse the evidence more carefully. There is a risk of future deaths if there is only lip service paid to learning from tragedies like this.”
Keegan will consider ‘further changes’
Keegan 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.”
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