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Calls for Ruth Perry inquest verdict to be a ‘catalyst for change’

The coroner’s verdict that the suicide of head teacher Ruth Perry was “contributed to by an Ofsted inspection” has prompted calls for an “urgent” revaluation of the inspectorate’s processes.

Perry, had been headteacher at Caversham primary school in Reading for 13 years when it was rated “inadequate” by inspectors was said to be so distressed, that meetings with Ofsted inspectors left her unable to speak.

Senior coroner for Berkshire, Heidi Connor, noted that Perry’s suicide was “contributed to by an Ofsted inspection carried out in November 2022” at the school that she led. She said the inspection “lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity" and was at times "rude and intimidating".

She concluded that “during and after this inspection, Ruth’s mental health deteriorated significantly” before she took her own life on 8 January 2023.

Reacting to the inquest findings Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that Ofsted “must immediately improve its policies and training for inspectors”.

Association of Directors of Children’s Services president, John Pearce commented: “Directors of children’s services, and their teams, understand all too well the heavy burden of inspection on the health and wellbeing of the individuals working in organisations being inspected, from senior leaders through to frontline staff. This has been brought into sharp focus by tragic events earlier this year, and by this verdict.

“ADCS has long maintained that single worded judgements tell a partial and negative story, running the risk of weakening the very services the inspectorates seek to improve. Often, the consequences that follow a poor inspection outcome are disproportionate and have an unintended ripple effect across the workforce. A poor inspection outcome can lead to a high staff turnover making it difficult to address the very issues raised and ultimately improve services for children and families

“There is a clear need for a wider debate about the role and impact of inspection with government, who are responsible for commissioning the framework for inspecting schools, local authorities and other public services, and critically, the interventions and consequences that follow. Meaningful change can only be delivered by government as the ultimate regulator, rather than individual inspectorates and this requires an open dialogue.”

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted’s chief inspector apologised for the “distress that Mrs Perry undoubtedly experienced as a result of our inspection” and promised to “do more” to improve the process for school leaders.

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Published on 12th December 2023