Calls for probe into work-related suicides after headteacher’s death

Ruth Perry took her own life in January. Credit: PA

Two academics have called for investigations into every work-related suicide after the death of a headteacher in Reading.

Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and University of Leeds professor Sarah Waters made the call to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the British Medical Journal in the wake of headteacher Ruth Perry taking her own life in January.

Her family believes stress associated with an Ofsted inspection contributed to her death.

Caversham Primary School in Reading, where she worked, was waiting for a report to be published downgrading it from Outstanding to Inadequate when she died.

“Even though the link between adverse working conditions and suicide is well established, regulations requiring reporting of work-related deaths to the Health and Safety Executive in Great Britain specifically exclude suicides,” the article said.

People gathered at the gates to John Rankin Schools in Newbury to protest. Credit: PA

“While the almost complete loss of confidence in Ofsted is a matter for those in the education sector to address, the health community has a duty to demand action to tackle the burden of mental ill health associated with the way it operates.

“We argue that three bodies need to act now.

“The first is Ofsted itself. It should publicly accept that it has a duty of care to teachers (and to its inspectors, some of whom are also traumatised by the events we have described).”

The two academics believe the HSE should follow the system in France where all work-related suicides are investigated.

“In France, for example, if there is even a suggestion of a link between suicide and working conditions, the burden of proof falls on the employer to show otherwise,” they said.

People attend a vigil for Ruth Perry outside the offices of Ofsted in Victoria, London. Credit: PA

“In the UK we do not even know with certainty how many teachers have killed themselves in circumstances linked to Ofsted inspections, but we are aware of at least eight others.”

A survey conducted in 2022 by the Teacher Wellbeing Index showed 78% of more than 3,000 teachers reported mental health symptoms they attributed to their work.

“Finally, as Ofsted says that it reports to ‘Parliament, parents, carers, and commissioners’, the Commons education select committee should conduct an urgent inquiry into its impact on the welfare of teaching staff,” the article said.

Simon Kidwell, the vice-president of the National Association of Head Teachers said last month he believes “the framework that underpins the inspection needs redesigning”, declaring that it is “not fit for purpose and it’s not working”.

A memorial for Ms Perry was held in Reading on Saturday, where hundreds gathered to pay tribute.

Protests have also taken place outside schools and Ofsted's office in London following her death.

Do you or someone you know need help?

  • CALM, the Campaign Against Living Miserably, runs a free and confidential helpline and webchat. It also supports those bereaved by suicide, through the Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP). Call 0800 585858 (daily, 5pm to midnight).

  • Mind is a mental health charity which promotes the views and needs of people with mental health issues. It provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Call 0300 123 3393 or email

  • Samaritans is an organisation offering confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Phone 116 123 (a free 24 hour helpline) or email

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