Ofsted inspection likely contributed to death of headteacher Ruth Perry, coroner concludes

UK

An Ofsted inspection “likely contributed” to the death of headteacher Ruth Perry, a senior coroner has concluded at an inquest in Reading.

Ms Perry’s family say she took her own life in January after her school in Berkshire went from “outstanding” – the highest rating – to “inadequate” due to safeguarding concerns.

Staff at the school said the headteacher was left tearful and incoherent after the inspection on 15 and 16 November last year.

Her sister, Julia Waters, previously said Ms Perry had experienced the “worst day of her life” after inspectors reviewed the school.

In the aftermath of her death, there were calls from headteachers across the country for a review of the way Ofsted operated.

An inquest, which has explored the impact of the inspection on Ms Perry, finished today, with senior coroner Heidi Connor delivering her findings at Berkshire Coroner’s Office.

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

Jonathan Perry, Ms Perry’s husband, told the inquest his wife felt “completely devastated” in the weeks following the inspection, and that she worried about the impact of the school’s downgrading on the local community.

He said she was concerned that failing on child safeguarding would be the end of her career.

Ms Perry’s GP, Dr Tom Back, said there was “a link” between the Ofsted inspection and the headteacher’s mental health deterioration and death, adding it contributed “in a more than minimal way”.

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March 2023: ‘They had a dedicated, caring and expert headteacher’

An inspection report, published on Ofsted’s website in March, found Ms Perry’s school to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate”.

Inspectors said school leaders did not have the “required knowledge to keep pupils safe from harm”, did not take “prompt and proper actions” and had not ensured safeguarding was “effective”.

Ms Perry’s family believes stress associated with the inspection was a major factor in her death.

She had been waiting for the Ofsted report to be published when she took her own life in January this year.

Ms Perry’s body was found by police at an address in Reading – and her diary with entries ranging from 14 November 2022 to 6 January.

Her family described her as a “highly regarded” headteacher who had taught for 32 years.

They said they did not blame the inspectors themselves for her death, but said the inspection process required “massive reform”.

The school was reinspected on 21 and 22 June and assessed as “good” in all categories, the second-best rating.

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The education regulator has come under scrutiny since the tragedy, with calls from unions to scrap the single-word judgements.

Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman has said the current one-word system should stay.

However, changes have been announced – such as giving schools more information on when inspections will happen and a consultation on reforms to the complaints system.

Schools where safeguarding concerns prompt an overall ‘inadequate’ rating, but where other measures are rated good or better, will also now be revisited within three months.

For mental health support, contact the Samaritans on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

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