Ruth Perry's husband says she felt 'bullied' by Ofsted inspector

Ruth Perry’s heartbroken husband tells her inquest that she felt ‘bullied’ by Ofsted inspector who left her feeling ‘humiliated’

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Headteacher Ruth Perry felt ‘bullied’ by the Ofsted inspector who lead the review of Cavendish Primary School and felt he had ‘an agenda’ against her, her heart-broken husband told the inquest into her death.

Ms Perry’s family say she took her own life following a report that downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest, over safeguarding concerns.

Her sister, Professor Julia Waters, previously said Ms Perry had experienced the ‘worst day of her life’ after inspectors reviewed the school on November 15 and 16 last year.

And speaking out today, Mrs Perry’s husband Jonathan said in a statement read out at Reading Coroners Court that the school was a large ‘part of her life’ but she had felt ‘powerless’ and ‘humiliated’ by the Ofsted inspection.

He added: ‘She said; “I’m destroyed. I think I’m going to lose my job.”’

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

The John Rankin School in Newbury, where headteacher Flora Cooper told Ofsted they would not be allowed inside in solidarity with the late Mrs Perry

Teachers, friends and supporters of Mrs Perry gather outside the inquest centre in Reading

Mr Perry told how he had lived with Ruth in London before the couple decided to return to Cavendish so she could take up a job at the primary school and to start a family.

He wrote: ‘Ruth and I were happily married for over 21 years and had been together for several years before our wedding in July 2002.

‘We had both grown up in Caversham, had many friends in common. We made a good team.

‘We lived together in London for a while, before deciding to move back to our hometown in 1999.

‘In due course, we started a family – Ruth absolutely doted on our two children and was a very loving, attentive mother.

‘Ruth was appointed deputy head and then headteacher of Caversham Primary School, where she had been a pupil herself.

‘We had a happy, settled life in the heart of the local community, close to our family and many friends.

‘Both my parents died and we decided to buy their house. Ruth was keen to take on a project. It was to be our forever home. I’m a self-employed gardener so Ruth was the main bread-winner.

‘We were due to exchange contracts in the week commencing 14 November 2022 – the week of the Ofsted inspection.

‘Ruth loved her job as head teacher at a school that had been very much part of her life.

‘Covid-19 and its aftermath had been very difficult.’

Describing the effect of the Ofsted Inspection he wrote:

‘On 14.11.22 Ruth called me from work, saying she would be home late because she had received ‘the call’ from Ofsted, who were due to arrive at Caversham Primary the following morning for a two-day inspection.

‘She was understandably anxious, as the school had not been inspected for thirteen years. She seemed happy finally to have the opportunity to promote the many strengths of her school to the inspectors.

‘All that changed from the very start of the inspection.

‘I was not expecting to hear from Ruth during the inspection, as I knew she would be very busy.

But she did phone me during the morning, asking me to come and collect some paperwork about the house move for the solicitors, as there had been a mistake, and it needed to be revised and delivered promptly.

‘She sounded very upset and said that the inspection was going really badly and she was ‘traumatised.’

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

‘When I went to collect the paperwork, Ruth came to meet me at the school gate. She looked pale and stressed. She said she couldn’t talk for long, as she had to go back into the inspection.

‘She said she’d had a horrendous first meeting with the lead inspector. She did not like him.

‘She said it felt like he’d come in with an agenda.

‘I tried to reassure her that he couldn’t have made up his mind already and that she shouldn’t worry too much.

‘I remember her saying, ‘I think I’m going to lose my job.’ I tried to reassure her, but she said, ‘If we fail on safeguarding, that’s it. I know what that means. It’s the end of my career. I’m destroyed.’

‘I’ve never seen Ruth like that before.

‘I tried to reassure her what a brilliant headteacher she was, but she was in a terrible state and couldn’t be comforted.

‘When Ruth came home from school she was distraught and distressed.

‘She repeated that she felt the Lead Inspector had an agenda, she felt he was a bully and that if she disagreed with his interpretation of something he’d accused her of being ‘in denial.’

‘She said she felt powerless.

READ MORE – Coroner slams ‘insensitive’ comments made by Ofsted chiefs ahead of inquest 

‘I’d never seen Ruth so deflated and defeatist.

‘She was destroyed and humiliated.’

He added: ‘I remember Ruth saying that at one point, the inspectors were hesitating over whether to judge the school ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ but ultimately they had gone for the worst possible judgement.

‘She said it felt unfair, but she didn’t feel able to fight it.

‘She felt that the grade of inadequate was the end of her job and her career.

‘She believed she would lose her job.’

Deputy Headteacher Nicola Leroy told how Mrs Perry had revealed she was suffering from suicidal thoughts following the Ofsted Inspection.

Ms Leroy told the inquest: ‘[In the days after the Ofsted inspection] Ruth said she had thoughts about taking her own life.’

She added that the Mrs Perry appeared broken after the inspection.

Ms Leroy said: Ruth had always been well-known as a tough cookie. She had had to stand her ground. When these difficult conversations needed to be had I admired her.

‘I had never seen the way that Ruth behaved from the start of the inspection.

‘This was a very different Ruth than I had ever seen before.’

The inquest into Mrs Perry’s death today also heard an Ofsted inspector ‘sniggered loudly’ and had a ‘mocking tone’ during a meeting with headteacher after they had reviewed her school.

Ofsted inspector Alan Derry led the inspection at the school. Today he continued giving evidence at the inquest at Berkshire Coroner’s Office in Reading.

Hugh Southey KC, on behalf of the family, quoted from a witness statement from deputy headteacher Clare Jones-King, who attended a meeting between Mr Derry and Ms Perry on the afternoon of November 15. 

‘She referred to you as having sniggered loudly and having a mocking and unpleasant tone,’ he said.

Mr Derry denied that he behaved in that way.

The inquest also heard evidence that Ms Perry became tearful during meetings with Ofsted inspectors.

Mr Derry was asked if he should have paused the inspection, given Ms Perry’s mental state.

Ms Perry’s family say she took her own life after a report from the watchdog downgraded Caversham Primary School (pictured) in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest 

‘No, not at all,’ he said.

‘There was a major safeguarding concern around the safeguarding of children, and this needed to be immediately addressed and safely addressed.’

Mr Derry told the court that he could have paused the inspection by ‘proactively’ ringing a senior colleague, or that senior colleague could have asked him to pause the inspection after reading his notes.

‘That is what I believe to be the system,’ he said. ‘I have never had to do it.’

He was asked why he did not speak to the school leaders about Ms Perry.

‘Ms Perry suggested to me that that was what she was doing,’ he said. ‘That she had the support of her senior leadership team and that she was doing that.’

Jonathan Auburn, on behalf of Reading Borough Council, asked Mr Derry if school leaders could have raised concerns about Ms Perry’s welfare with him, given the description of his tone in one of the meetings as ‘mocking’.

‘Yes, I think they could have,’ he said.

Mr Auburn also read from Mr Derry’s meeting notes in which Ms Perry was described as ‘non verbal’, ‘crestfallen’ and ‘tearful’.

Mr Auburn told the Lead Ofsted Inspector: ‘It is very clear that you didn’t feel the need to raise with Ms Alice Boon [a representative of the local authority] the fact that Ruth was tearful or emotional during those meetings.

‘What that means is that you are leaving it up to Ruth to take care of her own well-being.’

Mr Derry denied this claim, replying: ‘No, that’s not correct. I was very mindful of it.’

The court also heard evidence from Claire Wilkins, one of the other Ofsted inspectors who attended Caversham Primary School.

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

She said that she became so concerned about Ms Perry’s welfare after the final team meeting on November 16 that she asked school leaders if there was someone at home who could look after the headteacher.

‘I could see how hard Ruth was taking this,’ she said.

An inspection report published on Ofsted’s website in March found Ms Perry’s school to be ‘good’ in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be ‘inadequate’.

Inspectors said 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’.

The inquest also heard how Ofsted inspectors were forced to ‘intervene’ to stop children fighting during the first day of the inspection of Caversham Primary School.

Lead Inspector Alan Derry told the court that it was highly unusual for Ofsted staff to intervene during the inspection of a school, but he said he was forced to act because of a fight had broken out between pupils.

Mr Derry told the inquest: ‘Children were fighting.’

Senior Coroner for Berkshire Heidi Connor instantly intervened in proceedings and ordered Ofsted Counsel Bilal Rawat to ‘drop this line of questioning’ as she believed this would lead to the ‘identification of the children’.

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