The sister of a headteacher who took her own life after an Ofsted inspection has said the watchdog’s report was “deeply harmful” in its “implied focus on one individual”.
Ruth Perry, who was head at Caversham Primary School in Reading, killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report which gave her school the lowest possible rating, her family said.
The inspection report found the school to be good in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate”.
Ms Perry’s sister, Professor Julia Waters, said in a statement on behalf of the family that some of the Ofsted inspectors’ conclusions were “sensationalist” and “drawn from scant evidence”, such as gaps in record-keeping and typical childish behaviour.
“In our opinion, the findings of Ofsted were disproportionate, unfair and, as has tragically been proven, deeply harmful in their (implied) focus on one individual,” Ms Waters added.
According to the statement, the family rejects Ofsted’s judgment of Ms Perry’s leadership.
An inquest into the headteacher’s death will take place at Berkshire Coroner’s Court later this year.
Ms Waters went on: “Nevertheless, we are in no doubt that Ruth’s death was a direct result of the pressure put on her by the process and outcome of an Ofsted inspection at her school.”
She said her sister took her own life “under intolerable pressure from external scrutiny”.
Ms Waters added that there was “no doubt” the Ofsted inspectors did not mean to cause any harm and said it is the “fatally flawed system” which is at fault.
“Our only hope is that Ruth’s sudden, appalling death will be the last to occur as a result of the intolerable pressures caused by the Ofsted system,” she continued.
The family are calling for the system to be reviewed and changed to focus on the welfare of teaching staff as well as schoolchildren.
“We support anyone who cares about education in this country and wishes to drive forward rapid, far-reaching change to Ofsted’s punitive regime,” Ms Waters said.
“School inspections should be a welcome and positive contribution to improve standards in education. But for this to happen, they need massive reform.
“They need to be genuinely supportive and so to safeguard the health and wellbeing of hard-working, talented, altruistic headteachers and staff.”
She described her sister as a kind and “highly regarded” headteacher who taught for 32 years.
“Whatever happens now, those who knew and loved Ruth will be poorer for her absence for the rest of our lives,” she said.
A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspection of Caversham Primary School has more than 66,000 signatures.
A headteacher in nearby Newbury, Berkshire, plans to refuse Ofsted inspectors entry into her school on Tuesday in light of Ms Perry’s death.
Flora Cooper, executive headteacher of the John Rankin Schools, announced the plan on Twitter on Monday and posted: “We have to do this! I’m taking the stand!”.
Three unions representing teachers and school leaders have urged Ofsted to pause inspections this week.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said it is “important” that people listen to what Ms Perry’s family have to say regarding their determination that “something like this should never happen again”.
He added: “Whilst it should never take a tragedy like this to prompt action, this has to be a watershed moment.
“The anger and hurt being expressed currently by school staff is palpable. It is essential that all policymakers, including Ofsted, listen and respond.
“Given the strength of feeling and the need for a period of calm reflection, Ofsted should pause inspections this week.”
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), called it “the height of insensitivity” for Ofsted to inspect schools or colleges this week.
She said: “Ofsted should pause all its inspections and reflect upon the unmanageable and counter-productive stress they cause for school leaders, and the impact on leaders.”
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Ofsted should undertake an immediate review of the impact of inspections on the wellbeing of school and college leaders and staff, and a pause in the inspection cycle would allow for a period in which this could happen.”
Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s regional director for the South East, said: “We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death. Our thoughts remain with Mrs Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham Primary School community.”
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