'Dangerous' one word school ratings like 'inadequate' should be stopped, says Ruth Perry's sister

Julia Waters, left, and her sister Ruth Perry, right.

The sister of a headteacher who took her own life after her school was downgraded by Ofsted has spoken about the emotional toll caused by the inspection process.

Ruth Perry’s sister, Professor Julia Waters, said the Ofsted changes are “a step in the right direction" but they "don't go anywhere near far enough".

The report found Caversham Primary School in Reading – where Ms Perry was head – to be “good” in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate”.

Her family said having to live with and not being able to share the news with anyone for 54 days while waiting for it to be published left Ruth "traumatised and an absolute shell of her former self".

Julia Waters is calling for their to be further changes made to the way Ofsted carries out inspections.

It comes after reforms, which stop short of banning single-word ratings, were announced on Monday.

  • Ruth Perry's sister, Professor Julia Waters, has spoken about the her fight for radical changes to the school inspection system:

In the five months since the death of her sister, Julia has been pushing for radical changes to the Ofsted inspection system.

She said that although the reform announcement recognises that there needs to be change, they don't address all of the existing problems.

Julia said: "To address the specific changes that are being proposed, I think the one change out of all of those that has been offered that would have made a difference to Ruth is the removal of that completely inhumane confidentiality requirement.

"The fact that through the 55 days that Ruth was waiting, the report still hadn't come out on that 54th day, she wasn't able to share that devastating result with anyone outside a very limited number of people who were in the final inspection meeting. That's one really positive change that will make a difference. But beyond that, the changes are really more tweaking around the edges.

"Clearly there are two areas that are not addressed and I know there is high level resistance to these. The first is the removal of that single word judgement, the summing up of the complexity of the school.

"In Ruth's case, she felt it summing up 32 years of dedication to the teaching profession in one word. It is unacceptable that a whole school and all the contributions of all the staff to that complex organisation of a school is summed up in this misleading, dangerous, reductive, over-simplistic word. If that's not addressed, these other changes really may help a little but are not going to alleviate the main cause of stress.

"Another one is around safeguarding. My belief is safeguarding is too important to be entrusted to Ofsted inspectors, it should be a completely separate annual check done by people who are properly qualified and trained.

"In the interim, what is absolutely crucial, is that the expectations around safeguarding around processes, around record keeping, are made completely and utterly crystal clear. My sister was diligent, she was hard working, she was caring. There's no way she will have fallen foul of safeguarding requirements had they been completely clear. It's there but it's not going far enough for me."

Since the death of Ruth Perry, well over 2,000 Ofsted inspections have been carried out - with Ofsted saying the single word judgements underpin the whole system and give accountability.

  • Julia Waters said the Ofsted inspection process took a toll on Ruth's mental health:

Julia said her sister Ruth had a feeling the two day inspection hadn't gone as planned and that the pressure surrounding left her "traumatised".

She said: "It came as such a devastating shock. I spoke to her at the end of the first day, so even then she said it was the worst day of her life. Already she knew it was not going well. Inspectors were picking up on things that she felt absolutely devastated. They'd already come to their conclusion pretty much at the end of the first day that they were going to mark it 'inadequate' unless she redeemed herself on the second day.

"She was instantly ashen, traumatised, an absolute shell of her former self. I've never seen anything like it and I hope I never have to see it again.

"The changes that have been announced, they're a start. They're an acknowledgement that change needs to come but change needs to be so much more widespread, so much more radical than this to ensure that what happened to my sister doesn't happen again."

A photograph of headteacher Ruth Perry attached to the railings of John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire Credit: Andrew Matthews, PA

The watchdog’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman insisted Ofsted is listening to the concerns raised in the wake of Ms Perry’s death and has been “thinking carefully about how we can revise aspects of our work without losing our clear focus on the needs of children and their parents”.

Ms Spielman said: “Since the sad death of Ruth Perry, there has been considerable debate around Ofsted’s work and I want to reassure people that we are listening to their concerns, and thinking carefully about how we can revise aspects of our work without losing our clear focus on the needs of children and their parents.

“We have listened to many voices in this debate. I’m particularly grateful to union leaders, other sector representatives and the Secretary of State for the constructive discussions we’ve had over the last couple of months, which have helped us with this package of measures.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.