Ofsted says inspection not to blame for headteacher’s death

Topics covered: coroner, inquest, inquests, ofsted, ofsted inspection

On 8 January 2023, Ruth Perry, the headteacher of Caversham Primary School in Reading, took her own life after being told that the school had been downgraded from Outstanding to Inadequate following an Ofsted inspection. Ms Perry’s family has previously blamed the Ofsted inspection for her death, and they are calling for an inquiry into the safety of the Ofsted inspection regime. Ms Perry’s family hope the Inquest will prevent further avoidable deaths.

What will the Inquest hear evidence on?

At a pre-inquest review, coroner Ms Heidi Connor said that she would hear evidence about Ms Perry’s interactions with the Ofsted team, but that she would not be investigating the “minutiae” of Ofsted’s inspection process. Instead wider issues about the safety of the inspection regime would be left to an inquiry by the Commons Education Select Committee. Lawyers for Ms Perry’s family have asked the coroner to consider nine other deaths that may have been linked to Ofsted inspections, but the coroner has said that she is unlikely to do so. The inquest is currently scheduled for 28 November 2023, with the coroner expecting to deliver her conclusions on 7 December 2023.

Concerns raised with Ofsted

The Inquest will likely discuss some of the systemic issues that have been raised with Ofsted in the wake of Ms Perry’s death. This includes the use of one-word grades, the time lag between inspections and the publication of reports, and the confidentiality agreements that are signed by inspectors. Ofsted has previously defended its one-word grades, which are not being scrapped. The inquest is also likely to shed light on the factors that contributed to Ms Perry’s death, and it may also lead to changes in the way that Ofsted conducts future inspections.

What has been said?

Bilal Rawat, representing Ofsted, said:

“The position of Ofsted is that the inspection that was conducted revealed serious safeguarding concerns and that informed the judgment. We want to be very clear about we don’t accept the suggestion that it was the fact of the inspection that contributed to or affected Ms Perry’s mental health or the manner in which done, it was what was found.”

Ruth Perry’s sister Professor Julia Waters said:

“Ofsted are definitely an interested party in inquest terms. The coroner has expressed her wish to think about those kind of systemic issues – some of those concerns we’ve raised about single word judgements, the time lag between the inspection and the report coming out, the confidentiality agreement – they’re all in scope for the inquest.”

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