Ofsted regime ‘fatally flawed’, says family of headteacher who killed herself

The family of headteacher Ruth Perry who killed herself after an Ofsted inspection have called for urgent review of the schools watchdog, describing its inspection regime as “punitive” and “fatally flawed”.

Perry’s sister, Julia Waters, said her family were in no doubt that her death in January was a “direct result” of the pressure put on her by the process and outcome of the Ofsted inspection, which downgraded her school from outstanding to inadequate.

Waters said some of the conclusions drawn by inspectors in their report were “sensationalist “and based on scant evidence. She went on: “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.”

The death of Perry, 53, a headteacher at Caversham primary school in Reading, has prompted a storm of protest among teachers and headteachers, many of whom are highly critical of Ofsted and would like to see radical reform.

There is particular concern about the headline judgments used by Ofsted in inspection reports – outstanding, good, requires improvement and inadequate – which Labour has promised to scrap, in favour of a report card system.

The inspection report at Perry’s school found it to be good in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be “inadequate”, taking the overall judgment down to the lowest possible category. A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspection has gathered more than 100,000 signatures.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former chief inspector of schools, in England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, defended the inspectorate and the current grading system which he said helped raise standards and inform parents about the quality of a school.

“At the end of the day parents want to know, is this a school that’s good enough for my child to go to?” he said. Challenged about Ofsted’s overall grades, which critics say are unhelpful and can push a school into further decline, Wilshaw said inspectors balanced up everything they saw and made a judgment.

He said parents want a “summary judgment”, rather than a report card system with a list of a school’s strengths or weaknesses. “Ofsted has helped to raise standards over the last 30 years. We should be really proud of what has been achieved.”

In a statement issued on behalf of Perry’s family, Waters, who is professor of contemporary French literature at Reading University, paid tribute to her sister’s work as a headteacher. “Ruth was a kind, dedicated, highly regarded headteacher of a happy, successful, popular primary school.

“Teaching had been her passion and vocation for 32 years. Under intolerable pressure from external scrutiny, she took her own life on 8 January 2023, leaving her family devastated.”

She acknowledged that the Berkshire coroner has yet to conclude an inquest into the circumstances of Perry’s death, and that the reasons behind someone’s taking their own life are never simple. “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.

“We do not for an instant recognise Ofsted’s ‘inadequate’ judgment as a true reflection of Ruth’s exemplary leadership or of the wonderful school she led selflessly for 12 years.

“We think some of the conclusions drawn by Ofsted inspectors were sensationalist and drawn from scant evidence, such as gaps in record-keeping and typical childish behaviour.”

She went on: “No doubt the Ofsted inspectors did not mean to cause any harm. We are sure they were only doing their job as best they could under the appalling system that is in place. It is this 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.

skip past newsletter promotion

Privacy Notice: Newsletters may contain info about charities, online ads, and content funded by outside parties. For more information see our Privacy Policy. We use Google reCaptcha to protect our website and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

“It is the firm view of Ruth’s family, friends and colleagues that the entire Ofsted system must urgently be reviewed and changed, to place the welfare of teaching staff, as well as of schoolchildren, at its heart.”

Waters said that following the inquest the family hoped that recommendations would be made to prevent further tragedies from occurring. “In the meantime, we support anyone who cares about education in this country and wishes to drive forward rapid, far-reaching change to Ofsted’s punitive regime. School inspections should be a welcome and positive contribution to improve standards in education. But for this to happen, they need massive reform.”

She said inspections should be genuinely supportive to safeguard the health and wellbeing of headteachers and staff. “This is a vital part of ensuring the best educational environment for children, who are of course everyone’s priority, as they were for Ruth.”

Waters concluded: “Ruth was a force for good in life, and she had so much more to offer the world. Her death is a tragedy that will never leave us. From our experiences of losing a loved family member to suicide, we can attest that taking your own life is always, always the worst possible option. Whatever happens now, those who knew and loved Ruth will be poorer for her absence for the rest of our lives.”

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.”

Teaching unions, which have long campaigned for Ofsted reform, have called for a pause to inspections following Perry’s death. An inspection is due to go ahead on Tuesday at the John Rankin federation of nursery, infant and junior schools in Newbury – also in Berkshire – where the headteacher said on Monday she wanted to bar entry to inspectors.

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

Source link

Need to find out more? Click Here
To find out about the courses we have on offer: Click Here
Join the Course: Click Here
Scroll to Top