A Berkshire headteacher who is expecting a visit from the schools watchdog Ofsted has said she will refuse inspectors entry after the death of Ruth Perry, who took her own life after a negative inspection, according to her family.
Flora Cooper, the executive headteacher at the John Rankin federation of nursery, infant and junior schools in Newbury, said Ofsted inspectors were due to visit on Tuesday morning, but wrote on Twitter that she would not allow them to enter the premises, adding that she was doing it “for #RuthPerry”.
The death of Perry, 53, a mother of two and headteacher at Caversham primary school in Reading, has triggered a storm of protest on social media among teachers and headteachers, many of whom are critical of Ofsted and would like to see it reformed. Labour has pledged to scrap the current ratings system and replace it with a report card.
Cooper wrote on Twitter: “I’ve just had the call. I’ve refused entry. Doing this for everyone for our school staff everywhere!” She called for outside support: “Can I please get everyone here tomorrow? Would you show up? John Rankin School, Newbury.” She added: “Please! We have to do this! I’m taking the stand!”
Perry’s family said she killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report which downgraded her school from outstanding to the lowest possible rating. The inspection report found the school to be good in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged inadequate.
A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspection of Caversham has collected more than 39,000 signatures. Perry’s sister, Julia Waters, told the Times: “Ruth killed herself because of this Ofsted report. Ruth just saw this one word ‘inadequate’ as summing everything she had ever achieved and it was targeted at her. That is how she felt and it just crushed her.”
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the National Education Union (NEU) called on Monday for a pause to all Ofsted inspections. The NAHT general secretary, Paul Whiteman, said: “Ruth Perry’s death is an unspeakable tragedy and it is clear that school leaders across the nation have been deeply affected by the news.
“It is clear that school leaders up and down the country are placed under intolerable pressure by the current approach. It cannot be right that we treat dedicated professionals in this way. Something has to change. Whilst it should never take a tragedy like this to prompt action, this has to be a watershed moment.”
Dr Mary Bousted, the NEU joint general secretary, said: “That they are phoning leaders this week and initiating inspections speaks to the arrogance of Ofsted and their absolute lack of empathy. This is an agency that is completely out of touch, and which is making claims and judgments which are unreliable.”
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), added: “We’ve seen that a headteacher has tweeted their intention to refuse entry to an Ofsted inspection team, and this shows very clearly the strength of feeling following the tragic death of Ms Perry.
“Many school and college leaders and their staff find inspections and Ofsted judgments very traumatic, and this is often damaging to their wellbeing. This case has brought matters to a head and something has to change.”
Katie Kearney and Chris Adams, the co-chairs of the John Rankin governing board, said: “We want to reassure the whole John Rankin community that, as always, we will act in the best interests of the children and the schools.”
Cooper was approached for comment.
A Department for Education spokesperson said it was a legal requirement for schools and nurseries to be inspected by Ofsted. “Inspections are hugely important as they hold schools to account for their educational standards and parents greatly rely on the ratings to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child.
“We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham primary school at this difficult time.”
In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email [email protected] or [email protected]. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 988 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counsellor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org