Ofsted chief says watchdog not responsible for 'headteacher's welfare'

Ofsted chief tells inquest into Ruth Perry’s death that the watchdog is not responsible for the ‘welfare of headteachers’ – as her family claims she killed herself when school was downgraded to ‘inadequate’

An Ofsted chief told an inquest into the death of headteacher Ruth Perry that the watchdog is not responsible for the ‘welfare of headteachers’ – as her family today claimed she killed herself after an inspection.

Ms Perry was told that her school was being downgraded from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ – the lowest possible rating.

The 53-year-old’s sister Professor Julia Walters said Ms Perry had experienced ‘the worst day of her life’ after inspectors reviewed Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire last November.

She said that the family were in no doubt that she had taken her life as ‘a direct result’ of the pressure placed on her by the inspection.

Opening the inquest into Ms Perry’s death at Berkshire Coroner’s Court in Reading, Coroner Heidi Connor asked Christopher Russell, the national director for education at Ofsted, about the watchdog’s ‘welfare’ responsibilities.

Ruth Perry, 53, was headteacher at Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire, and took her own life before a negative Ofsted inspection on the school was published

Julia Walters, the sister of Ruth Perry, said she had experienced ‘the worst day of her life’ as a result of the inspection

She said: ‘According to Ofsted’s Code of Conduct, an inspector must take steps to minimise a headteacher’s stress and prevent undue anxiety during an inspection. Is that correct?’

Mr Russell responded: ‘Correct. Inspectors are expected to manage an inspection so that it runs smoothly and so that you minimise the stress and anxiety of the headteacher and other members of staff in the school.’

‘So,’ Ms Connor continued, ‘which body or organisation was responsible for Ruth’s welfare during the inspection on November 15 and 16, 2022?’

Mr Russell said: ‘Ofsted’s responsibility is to reduce the pressure on the headteacher, but the responsibility for the welfare of the headteacher lies with other organisations – such as the school’s governing body and the area’s local authority.’

Coroner Connor also asked Mr Russell about the consequences of an Ofsted inspection – particularly if a school is graded ‘inadequate’, as was the case with Caversham prior to Ms Perry’s death.

Mr Russell said: ‘Schools can be turned into academies following ‘inadequate’ reports by Ofsted’.

‘If this is the case,’ Ms Connor said, ‘would the headteacher – and other teachers at the school – be at risk of losing their jobs?’

Mr Russell confirmed: ‘Yes, that can happen. We understand this can cause concern.’

Christopher Russell, the national director for education at Ofsted, told the inquest into Ruth Perry’s death that the watchdog is not responsible for the ‘welfare of headteachers’

 Clarifying the results of Caversham’s inspection by Ofsted, Ms Connor said: ‘Safeguarding was judged to be ineffective – and therefore leadership and management was judged to be ‘inadequate’.’

‘Everything else was judged to be ‘good’, but inspectors concluded there were ‘serious’ weaknesses and therefore the likely result was academisation. Correct?’

‘Correct,’ Mr Russell said. He then concluded his responses to Ms Connor by remarking: ‘I would like to reiterate, as set out in my witness statement, the profound sadness that we at Ofsted felt at Ms Perry’s death.’

The comments come after Ofsted previously denied, whilst speaking at a pre-inquest review in July, that the manner in which the school inspection was carried out had contributed to Ms Perry’s death.

Ms Perry’s family have previously blamed the inspection for her death.

Ms Connor said the inquest would consider Ofsted’s inspection of Caversham – and the ‘matters which flowed from that with regard to Ruth.’ She also warned, without mentioning specifics, that ‘highly insensitive comments have been made by senior officials at Ofsted in the lead-up to this inquest.’

‘I would caution against this,’ she said.

Following Ms Perry’s death, there were widespread calls for Ofsted to update its school ratings system, with headteachers leading the backlash.

In response, the Commons Education Select Committee announced an inquiry into concerns that the one-word ratings that Ofsted hands out to schools may not be conducive to helping schools improve.

Ofsted also announced a series of changes, including launching a consultation on reforms to the complaints system and giving schools more information around the timing of their inspections.

Caversham Primary School was reinspected by Ofsted on June 21 and 22 and a new report, which did not mention Ms Perry, rated it ‘good’ in all categories.

The report said that the school’s work to ‘address previous weaknesses’ had been ‘swift, thorough, and effective’.

The family of Ms Perry have said they hope her inquest will prevent further ‘avoidable’ deaths.

The inquest continues.

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