Ofsted urged by coroner to act after suicide of Reading headteacher Ruth Perry

Ruth Perry Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Action must be taken to prevent further deaths after the suicide of headteacher Ruth Perry, a coroner has said.

Mrs Perry, 53, took her own life earlier this year after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire, from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

At her inquest, coroner Heidi Connor ruled an Ofsted inspection had “contributed” to her death.

In a prevention of future deaths report sent to Ofsted and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, Ms Connor wrote: “During the course of the investigation my inquiries revealed matters giving rise to concern. In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken.”

Ruth Perry

Among her concerns are the impact on headteacher welfare that the current system may have and “the almost complete absence of Ofsted training” for inspectors looking for signs of distress in school leaders.

Ms Connor also said there was no “clear path” to raise concerns during an inspection.

Following the coroner’s conclusion, Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman apologised on behalf of the schools regulator to the family and friends of Mrs Perry.

Mrs Spielman said Ofsted had made changes to reduce pressures felt by school leaders and “will do more” to address concerns raised by the coroner.

Ruth Perry and Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman Credit: PA

Concluding her inquest in Reading earlier this month, Ms Connor said: “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.”

The inquiry heard Ofsted’s Alan Derry, who led the inspection at the school on November 15-16 last year, said Mrs Perry was “tearful” and kept saying: “It’s not looking good is it?”

Mrs Perry’s husband, Jonathan Perry, told the inquest his wife felt the Ofsted inspector was a “bully” with an “agenda”.

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

After the inquest, Ms Keegan said: “It is clear from the coroner’s findings that lessons need to be learned. We have worked closely with Ruth’s family as well as with Ofsted to introduce key reforms and further support for our school leaders. I am extremely grateful to Ruth’s sister, Julia, and her friends for working so closely with us to introduce these changes.”

Ofsted, the Department for Education, and Reading Borough Council, which was also sent the future deaths report, have 56 days to respond.

Union bosses have warned that Ofsted inspections should be halted.

The general secretaries of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) jointly called for inspections to be suspended until Ofsted implements the changes suggested by the coroner.

The statement from Geoff Barton of the ASCL and Paul Whiteman of the NAHT said: “The coroner has warned that there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken over the inspection system.

“We cannot see how inspections can continue to take place in schools and colleges after such a serious risk to the health and safety of education staff has been highlighted.

“It is our conclusion that Ofsted inspections are now untenable and should be halted until the actions advised by the coroner are undertaken by Ofsted and the Department for Education.

“In our view, Ofsted and the Department for Education must fully address each area of concern and cease inspection activity until this is done.”

They explained that they had contacted Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman and Education Secretary Gillian Keegan calling for an “immediate pause to inspections” and that Ms Spielman had responded, explaining that staff would undergo training in early January.

The statement went on: “We do not believe this goes far enough and that this situation demands a much greater sense of concerted action.”

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