Coroner concludes Ofsted inspection contributed to Ruth Perry’s death

A coroner has concluded that an Ofsted inspection contributed to the death of Reading Headteacher Ruth Perry. Perry was headteacher at Caversham Primary School when it was rated ‘Inadequate’ by inspectors following a visit last autumn. She died in January this year while waiting for the inspection report to be published. The school has subsequently been re-graded as ‘Good’.

Senior coroner Heidi Connor’s verdict was recorded as ‘suicide: contributed to by an Ofsted inspection carried out in November 2022’. In her remarks Ms Connor noted: ‘Each of the witnesses who knew Ruth said that the inspection did contribute, more than minimally, to her death’, adding, ‘The evidence is clear in this respect, and I find very easily that Ruth’s mental health deterioration and death was likely contributed to by the Ofsted inspection.’

The coroner also said: ‘I find that parts of the Ofsted inspection were conducted in a way which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity. Parts of this inspection were, in my view, very much done ‘to’ rather than ‘with’ this school.’ Ms Connor went on to raise concerns about the Ofsted inspection system overall, and said she would be issuing a ‘regulation 28’ report, which she urged the education secretary not to ignore. Under regulation 28, coroners have a ‘duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority or government department or agency where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths’.

Beyond the conduct of the inspection itself, Ms Connor’s listed her ‘most important areas of concern’ as: The current Ofsted system which allows for the single word judgement of ‘inadequate’ to be applied equally to schools rated otherwise good (and where issues may be remedied by the time the report is published), as to a schools which are inadequate in all respects; The confidentiality requirement in place at the time; The length of time between the inspection and final report, which lengthens the period of the confidentiality requirement. She also found Ofsted had no meaningful guidance in place at the time for inspectors on how to handle staff distress during an inspection, and that the notional ability of inspections to be paused for mental health reasons was in effect ‘mythical’.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Ruth Perry’s sister Julia Walters said ‘Today, the coroner's conclusions validate what our family has known for a long time - that Ruth took her own life as the direct result of the process, outcome and consequences of an Ofsted inspection of the school she led and loved, Caversham Primary School’. The inquest showed the ‘brutal inhumanity of the system of Ofsted inspections’, she added.

In a statement, Caversham Primary School said: ‘Our thoughts remain with Ruth’s family and friends and with our whole school community. When Ruth died, we lost a well-respected colleague, friend and leader. It has been an incredibly difficult time, but our focus has been on supporting staff, pupils and their parents and helping them cope with grief and the ongoing trauma of losing someone so important in all their lives.’. The statement goes on to say that the school will honour Ms Perry’s legacy by continuing to realise the vision of ‘educating children to become successful, confident, responsible and caring citizens’, and concludes: ‘The clock in our school playground, which is our memorial for Ruth, reminds us every day of her presence and the impact she had on all our lives. She will forever be in our hearts.’

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