Sister of headteacher Ruth Perry who took own life says Ofsted report was ‘deeply harmful’

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

Ruth Perry took her own life after an Ofsted inspection informed her the school was being downgraded

The sister of a headteacher who took her own life after a negative Ofsted inspection says the 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 the watchdog’s report which gave her school the lowest possible rating, her family said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Her sister Professor Julia Waters said Ms Perry had experienced the “worst day of her life” after the school was reviewed on 15 and 16 November last year, and was told it was being downgraded from ‘Outstanding’ to ‘Inadequate’.

The inspection report found the school to be good in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate” - the lowest rating. It 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”.

Ruth Perry was the headteacher at Caversham Primary School (Photo: Brighter Futures for Children)Ruth Perry was the headteacher at Caversham Primary School (Photo: Brighter Futures for Children)
Ruth Perry was the headteacher at Caversham Primary School (Photo: Brighter Futures for Children) | Brighter Futures for Children

Ms Waters said the inspection destroyed 32 years of her sister’s vocation and “preyed on her mind until she couldn’t take it any more”. In a statement on behalf of the family, she claimed that some of the Ofsted inspectors’ conclusions were “sensationalist” and “drawn from scant evidence”, such as gaps in record-keeping and typical childish behaviour.

She added: “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.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

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”, adding 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.

Two teachers, Ellen and Liz, outside John Rankin School after a headteacher told Ofsted inspectors they are not going to be allowed in (Photo: SWNS)Two teachers, Ellen and Liz, outside John Rankin School after a headteacher told Ofsted inspectors they are not going to be allowed in (Photo: SWNS)
Two teachers, Ellen and Liz, outside John Rankin School after a headteacher told Ofsted inspectors they are not going to be allowed in (Photo: SWNS) | SWNS

‘Ofsted’s punitive regime needs to change’

The family of Ms Perry are now calling for the system to be reviewed and changed to focus on the welfare of teaching staff as well as schoolchildren. Ms Waters said: “We support anyone who cares about education in this country and wishes to drive forward rapid, far-reaching change to Ofsted’s punitive regime.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“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, adding: “Whatever happens now, those who knew and loved Ruth will be poorer for her absence for the rest of our lives.”

A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspection of Caversham Primary School has now more than 66,000 signatures.

John Rankin School headteacher Flora Cooper “refused entry” to Ofsted inspectors in solidarity with the late Ruth Perry (Photo: SWNS)John Rankin School headteacher Flora Cooper “refused entry” to Ofsted inspectors in solidarity with the late Ruth Perry (Photo: SWNS)
John Rankin School headteacher Flora Cooper “refused entry” to Ofsted inspectors in solidarity with the late Ruth Perry (Photo: SWNS) | SWNS

In solidarity with the late Ms Perry, a headteacher in nearby Newbury, Berkshire, initially “refused entry” to Ofsted inspectors visiting her school on Tuesday (21 March) in light of her death. Flora Cooper, executive headteacher of the John Rankin Schools, announced the plan on Twitter on Monday, stating: “We have to do this! I’m taking the stand!”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

She later appeared to have bowed to pressure and allowed officers into the school. At around 9.30am, a man who said he was on the school’s board of governors, told the crowd: "The Ofsted inspection is now going ahead and the school will truly engage in process.

"We are asking everyone to move away from the school entrance and the vicinity to safeguard the family and the children as we start the school day. No further comment at this time."

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 the concerns voiced by Ms Perry’s family to ensure it “never happens again”.

Headteacher Flora Cooper (Image: PA)Headteacher Flora Cooper (Image: PA)
Headteacher Flora Cooper (Image: PA) | PA

He said: “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.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

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 and called for all inspections to be paused to reflect on “the unmanageable and counter-productive stress they cause for school leaders, and the impact on leaders.”

Meanwhile, Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said Ofsted should review of the impact of inspections on the wellbeing of school and college staff, “and a pause in the inspection cycle would allow for a period in which this could happen.”

In a letter responding to the Ofsted report, Caversham Primary School said: “The school, led by Ruth, responded immediately after the inspection visit, to take action to resolve the issues raised. Following the heart-breaking loss of Ruth, we have continued her work to ensure that the school is an effective, safe and happy place for children to learn and achieve.”

Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s regional director for the South East, added: “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.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

For those struggling, there are a variety of places which offer help and support. Anyone can contact Samaritans for free at any time from any phone on 116 123, even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email [email protected] or visit theSamaritans website.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.