‘I was proud to be Ruth’s husband’: Ruth Perry’s widow says ‘marrying her was the best thing I’ve ever done’ as her family warn ‘lessons must be learnt’ after inquest ruled headteacher took her own life following ‘callous and inhumane’ Ofsted inspection
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Ruth Perry’s family have warned lessons ‘must be learnt’ after an inquest ruled she took her own life following a ‘callous and inhumane’ Ofsted inspection.
Her widow, Jonathan Perry, said marrying the headteacher was ‘the best thing I’ve ever done’ as her heartbroken sister said the family ‘miss her every day’.
A coroner today ruled Mrs Perry, 53, took her own life after the watchdog downgraded her primary school from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’.
The headteacher was left ‘completely devastated’ in the weeks following the watchdog’s ‘intimidating’ inspection into Caversham Primary School in Reading last year, following safeguarding concerns.
Her heartbroken husband revealed she worried about the impact of the downgrading on the local community, while Mrs Perry’s GP Tom Back told the inquest he believed there was a ‘link’ between the inspection and the headteacher’s mental health deterioration and death two months later.
Turning to Mrs Perry’s emotional family at today’s hearing, the coroner added: ‘The composure and dignity you have displayed throughout is remarkable. She is your Ruth, not our Ruth.’
Ruth Perry, 53, took her own life less than two months after an Ofsted inspection downgraded her school from Outstanding to Inadequate
Ruth Perry’s tearful parents join her sister, Professor Julia Waters and her husband, Jonathan Perry as a family statement was read after the inquest
Her sister, Professor Julia Waters (pictured), told the inquest that Mrs Perry had experienced the ‘worst day of her life’ after inspectors reviewed the school
Speaking on behalf of Mrs Perry’s family after the verdict, sister Professor Julia Waters said: ‘Ruth was more than a victim of an inhumane schools inspection system. She was more than a headteacher. Ruth was a wonderful human being.
‘Ruth’s death has left a deep void in our lives. We all miss her deeply. We miss her every day.’
She continued: ‘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 into Ruth’s death has shown the brutal inhumanity of the system of Ofsted inspections. Ofsted likes to judge people with single-word labels. We could judge the current Ofsted system with our own labels: callous, perverse and inhumane.
‘Ruth’s death, and this inquest, have laid bare the imbalance of power that exists in our education system.’
Professor Waters added: ‘There are now urgent lessons that must be learnt from Ruth’s death. Ofsted has made some changes but these changes do not go anywhere near far enough.
‘We have no confidence that Ofsted, under its current leadership and management, is either willing or able to make the widespread, root-and-branch reforms to its system and culture that are so urgently needed.’
Her husband Jonathan said Ruth was the ‘best thing in his life’. Paying tribute, he said: ‘Ruth was a wife. I first met Ruth when I was 12. I said to myself, one day I will marry that girl. And many years later I did.
‘I was proud to be Ruth’s husband. Marrying Ruth was the best thing I have ever done. She was the best thing in my life.’
Concluding her inquest in Reading, senior coroner Heidi Connor said: ‘The evidence is clear in this respect, and I find that Ruth’s mental health deterioration and death was likely contributed to by the Ofsted inspection’
Mrs Perry’s family have said lessons ‘must be learnt’ and Ofsted must change
Mrs Perry’s sister said: ‘Ruth’s death has left a deep void in our lives. We all miss her deeply. We miss her every day’
Ruth Perry ‘s family say she took her own life after a report from the schools watchdog Ofsted downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading
Mrs Perry (right) with her sister, who has previously slammed Ofsted and blamed the inspection for her death
Her sister, Professor Julia Waters, told the inquest that Mrs Perry had experienced the ‘worst day of her life’ after inspectors reviewed the school
Ruth Perry’s family statement in full
Here is the statement in full from Ruth Perry’s family following the conclusion of her inquest, read by Professor Julia Waters at Reading Town Hall:
‘Ruth was a head teacher, and also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister and a dear friend to so many people. She died 11 months ago tomorrow. Her death has left an unfillable hole in all our lives.
‘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 into Ruth’s death has shown the brutal inhumanity of the system of Ofsted inspections. Ofsted likes to judge people with single word labels. We could judge the current Ofsted system with our own labels. Callous, perverse and inhumane.
‘Ruth’s death, and this inquest, have laid bare the imbalance of power that exists in our education system. Schools and teachers should be accountable to the families and communities they serve. Ruth of all people understood this. She was let down by an Ofsted system that was beset with glaring gaps, inconsistencies, and blind spots, yet held the power to destroy her career, and put an end to her school as she knew it.
‘There are now urgent lessons that must be learnt from Ruth’s death. Ofsted has made some changes. But these changes do not go anywhere near far enough.
‘We have no confidence that Ofsted, under its current leadership and management, is either willing or able to make the widespread, root-and-branch reforms to its system and culture that are so urgently needed.
‘The new Chief Inspector of Schools faces a massive challenge to put these failings right.
‘We would like to thank the coroner, Mrs Heidi Connor, for her integrity, rigour and humanity throughout the inquest.
‘We hope that the coroner’s recommendations will be followed in full and will help to prevent future deaths. What happened to Ruth must never be allowed to happen again. We remain determined that there should be radical change, and quickly.
‘We would like to thank Ruth’s friends, fellow Reading headteachers, the families of Caversham Primary, and the wider community who have shown incredible love and kindness to us and to each other. I should like to thank in particular Lisa Telling, Edmund Barnett-Ward for their unstinting support, and Pete Castle from the Reading University Press Office for his expert guidance.
‘This inquest has also exposed another systemic imbalance of power – that is, the injustice of a legal aid system which refuses to support a bereaved family, even when facing three public bodies whose substantial legal costs are paid for by the taxpayer.
‘I should like to thank the thousands of kind and generous members of the public who responded to our crowdfunding campaign, after we learnt, just days before the start of the inquest, that our application for legal aid had been refused.
‘We could not have done this without legal representation, and I hope lessons can be learnt about the way the legal aid system should change to support bereaved families facing public bodies.
‘Finally – one of the terrible features of the school inspection system is the public focus on a named individual, the headteacher, and the potentially harmful consequences of being publicly named and shamed.
‘We are very grateful for the responsible way the media have reported Ruth’s death and the inquest. My family are concerned however about the sometimes very pointed, personalised focus on other individuals – including the inspectors who carried out the Ofsted inspection at Caversham Primary. Our concern has never been with individuals, but with Ofsted’s inhumane system.
‘Please be conscious of this in your reporting, and in discussions on social media. As fellow human beings, we all owe each other a duty of care. As Ruth used to say, ‘There is nothing more important in life than kindness. Be kind always’.’
Caversham Primary School said Mrs Perry will ‘ever be in our hearts’.
Neil Walne, chairman of the school’s board of governors, read out a statement: ‘We continue to grieve her loss and to struggle to come to terms with her untimely death, and the circumstances surrounding it,’ he said.
‘For the sake of our school community, and in tribute to Ruth and her legacy, we must ensure that Caversham Primary School continues to be a place where our vision of educating children to be successful, confident, responsible, and caring citizens is realised.
‘The clock in our school playground is our memorial to Ruth. It reminds us every day of her presence and the impact she had on all our lives. She will ever be in our hearts.’
Concluding her inquest, Senior Coroner Heidi Connor said: ‘The evidence is clear in this respect, and I find that Ruth’s mental health deterioration and death was likely contributed to by the Ofsted inspection.’
She criticised Mr Derry’s behaviour and said the inspection ‘lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity’.
Mrs Connor added: ‘The contribution of the Ofsted inspection is a central issue in this case. Ruth Perry was a headteacher at Cavendish Primary School in Reading Berkshire.
‘She had no relevant mental health history until after this inspection. She took her own life on 8th January. She was declared dead at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.’
The inspection report, published on Ofsted’s website in March, found Mrs Perry’s school to be ‘good’ in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be ‘inadequate’.
Inspectors said the school leaders did not have the ‘required knowledge to keep pupils safe from harm’, did not take ‘prompt and proper actions’ and had not ensured safeguarding was ‘effective’. Her school has since been recategorised as outstanding.
After Mrs Perry’s death there were widespread calls for Ofsted to revamp its school ratings system, with headteachers leading the backlash.
The inquest explored the impact of the inspection on Mrs Perry’s mental health.
Her sister told the inquest that Mrs Perry had experienced the ‘worst day of her life’ after inspectors reviewed the school.
The coroner asked Mrs Perry’s GP and her colleagues whether there was a ‘direct link’ between the Ofsted inspection and her death.
All those questioned replied: ‘Yes’.
Mr Derry, who led the review of the popular primary school, told the court that Mrs Perry had been ‘tearful’ and kept saying ‘it’s not looking good, is it?’, during his meetings with the headteacher.
Mr Perry told the court his wife felt the Ofsted inspector was a ‘bully’ with an ‘agenda’. He said she feared that the lowest Ofsted grading would signal the end of her career.
Mrs Perry (right) and her sister during a holiday in Italy in 1996
Coroner Mrs Connor said: ‘Ruth Perry committed suicide contributed to by an Ofsted inspection carried out in November 2022’
Mrs Connor highlighted the behaviour of the lead Ofsted inspector in causing Mrs Perry distress.
She said: ‘I find the evidence of [deputy headteacher] Ms Jones-King more convincing than the evidence of [the lead inspector] Mr Derry. I find that the Ofsted inspection was carried out in a manner that lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity.
READ MORE: Headteacher Ruth Perry’s husband tells inquest she took her own life because she worried neighbours would be ‘angry’ with her if their house prices fell as a result of Ofsted inspection and felt she ‘let everyone down’
‘It was at times rude and intimidating. Part of the inspection was done to rather than with this school.’
The coroner also criticised the whole structure of an Ofsted inspection. She questioned the need for the the ‘conduct’ of the inspectors, single word judgement, the need for ‘confidentiality’ and the ‘delay’ of publication.
Mrs Connor said that Mrs Perry sought support for her mental health from her GP and local hospital following the inspection.
She said: ‘This makes it clear that the Ofsted inspection was the reason for the sudden mental health deterioration [of Ruth Perry].’
He told the inquest his wife had had ‘dark thoughts’ about ending her life following the Ofsted inspection.
The headteacher felt she had ‘let everyone down’ when the watchdog downgraded her school from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’, Mr Perry said in a statement.
He added that she worried about the impact on the wider community, fearing it would cause her neighbours’ house prices to plummet and that locals would be angry with her as a result.
The Perrys were due to exchange contracts on a new house on the first date of the inspection, the court was told.
Mrs Perry’s GP, Dr Tom Black said the Ofsted inspection of her school had contributed to her death.
He told the court she became worried that she would lose her job and the family ruined financially following the Ofsted inspection, as she was the ‘main breadwinner’.
Reading Borough Council told the inquest it will more ‘proactive’ in challenging Ofsted inspections and ‘advocate for school leaders’ from now on.
Education chief Brian Grady told the court he had spent ‘a lot of time’ considering the events surrounding Mrs Perry’s death after the inspection.
Mrs Perry’s sister arriving at court on Thursday to hear the inquest’s conclusion
Reading Coroner’s Court was told previously that an Ofsted school inspection could not be paused even if it is causing extreme stress and anxiety to the teachers under review (Pictured: Ruth Perry)
Mrs Perry began writing a diary on November 14 last year, the day before the Ofsted inspection, and made her last entry on 6th January this year, 48 hours before killing herself, one of the police officers who found her told the court.
READ MORE: Headteacher Ruth Perry started a diary the day before Ofsted began their school inspection and stopped making entries just 48 hours before she killed herself, inquest hears
Reading Coroner’s Court was told previously that an Ofsted school inspection could not be paused even if it is causing extreme stress and anxiety to the teachers under review.
The coroner said a claim made by Ofsted during the inquest, that school inspections can be paused if the distress of a headteacher is a concern, was ‘a mythical creature’.
Asked by Berkshire Heidi Connor why Reading Borough Council had not challenged Ofsted’s ‘inadequate’ grading of the popular primary, the Director of Education Brian Grady replied: ‘This is something that I have thought about a lot over this past year.
‘We are going to make a stronger, more proactive and robust role to challenge complaints about Ofsted inspections.
‘We are going to support school leaders about their rights and we are going to advocate for school leaders.
‘This is an area of significant difference and learning [from last year].’
Mr Grady said he was unaware that a school had the option to ask for a ‘pause’ in an Ofsted inspection.
But he added: ‘[Now] We will support any request to suspend an inspection.’
It emerged this month that more than seven in ten teachers say the pressure of an inspection causes them to have poor mental health.
New research by Education Support, a charity which offers people in the profession therapy, showed that 71 per cent of those who took part in the questionnaire blamed the pressure of an inspection on poor mental health.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders trade union, said the ruling must be a ‘catalyst for change’.
He said: ‘Ofsted must immediately improve its policies and training for inspectors to ensure that inspections are handled sensitively and compassionately, particularly when a headteacher or other staff are traumatised.
‘It is also imperative that the inspection system is reformed to reduce stakes which are currently far too high because of the application of one-word or phrase judgments which reduce everything a school or college does to a label.
‘The evidence in this inquest has been heartbreaking. The impact of an Ofsted inspection on a woman who dedicated her life to education and who was the much-respected head of a much-valued school is harrowingly clear. This must never happen again.’
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