Ofsted sorry for its role in Ruth Perry’s suicide

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Ruth Perry was head teacher at Caversham Primary School, in Reading
By Nathan Standley
BBC News

Ofsted has apologised fully for the first time for the role it played in Ruth Perry’s suicide and promised a review of lessons to be learned.

The head teacher killed herself while waiting for an inspection report, in January 2023.

After December’s inquest, coroner Heidi Connor warned of a risk of further deaths “unless action is taken”.

Responding to her report, on Friday, Ofsted also promised a major review of how it handled safeguarding concerns.

The Department for Education (DfE), who also received the coroner’s prevention-of-future-deaths (PFD) notice, promised to work with Ofsted to make changes.

In her report, the coroner said she was worried by “the almost complete absence of Ofsted training” for inspectors looking for signs of distress in school leaders or for pausing an inspection.

And there was also no “clear path” to raise concerns during an inspection.

Mrs Perry had been the head teacher at Caversham Primary School for 13 years and had had no relevant mental-health history, the inquest heard.

Safeguarding concerns saw the school downgraded from “outstanding” to “inadequate”, after Ofsted’s visit in November 2022.

It has since been regraded “good”.

In Ofsted’s response to the PFD report, Sir Martyn Oliver, who became chief inspector on 1 January 2024, said “such tragedies should never happen again – and no-one should feel as Ruth did”.

“As his majesty’s chief inspector (HMCI), I would like to express my deepest condolences to Ruth’s family and friends and apologise sincerely for the part our inspection of her school played in her death,” he added.

In Ofsted’s initial response to the inquest, former chief inspector Amanda Spielman said sorry “for the distress that Mrs Perry undoubtedly experienced” but did not take responsibility for Ofsted playing a direct role.

Since Mrs Perry’s suicide, schools judged inadequate on safeguarding alone are now re-inspected within three months.

Sir Martyn Oliver took over as chief Ofsted inspector on 1 January

Ofsted has also changed its confidentiality rules, to allow head teachers to share the outcome of an inspection before a report is published – including with colleagues, family, friends and medical professionals.

And the DfE has committed to working with Ofsted to review how safeguarding is handled, during its major consultation in the spring, which it is calling its “big listen”.

But it did not mention any plans to change one- or two-word judgments of schools, which only government can do.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said the coroner’s findings “made clear that lessons need to be learned”.

‘Radical overhaul’

Mrs Perry’s sister, Prof Julia Waters, said if the latest reforms had been in place last year “perhaps my beautiful sister Ruth might still be with us today”.

But to prevent other such tragedies, more work was needed towards a “radical overhaul” of the culture of school inspections.

“Sir Martyn Oliver faces a huge challenge to drive through meaningful reform and to restore trust in Ofsted but we have been impressed by his commitment so far,” Prof Waters added.

Education unions also praised Ofsted’s “positive steps” but added they “must be the beginning of a process”.

“We hope that when the HMCI says that ‘nothing is off the table’ when it comes to the future of inspection, that he really means it,” National Association of Head Teachers general secretary Paul Whiteman said.

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