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Headteacher killed herself after news of low Ofsted rating, family says

A headteacher killed herself after she was told her school would be given the lowest possible Ofsted rating, her family has said.

Ruth Perry, who had worked at Caversham primary school in Reading for 13 years, took her own life in January after she was informed the school was being downgraded from outstanding to inadequate.

Her sister, Julia Waters, said the 53-year-old had described the inspection on 15 and 16 November last year as the worst day of her life. She added that Perry had been “an absolute shadow of her former self” while waiting for the report’s publication.

Matt Rodda, the Labour MP for Reading East, said Ofsted must take action after Perry’s “devastating” death. “Ofsted must now ask themselves some tough questions about their role and how we prevent further tragedies in the future,” he said.

Rodda said he had met the schools minister, Nick Gibb, adding: “I think it’s fair to say there are local concerns about the way the inspection was carried out, also about the way the Ofsted framework and other regulations affecting Ofsted effectively work, and the wider pressure on headteachers.”

Waters told BBC South that Perry was informed that the school’s rating would be downgraded on the first day of the inspection, which was the first she had faced as headteacher.

She said inspectors reported that a boy doing a flossing dance move, from the video game Fortnite, was evidence of the sexualisation of children at the school. She added that inspectors told staff they had seen child-on-child abuse, which turned out to be a playground fight.

Waters said: “Ruth took her own life on January 8, all during that process, every time I spoke to her she would talk about the countdown.

“I remember her clearly one day saying ‘52 days and counting’, every day she had this weight on her shoulders hanging over her and she wasn’t officially allowed to talk to her family.

“I remember the very first day I saw her, rather than just speaking to her on the phone, a couple of days after the end of the Ofsted inspection, she came, she was an absolute shadow of her former self.”

The report, which was published this week, found the school to be good in every category apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be inadequate, the lowest rating. It meant the entire school dropped to the lowest rating.

Waters said the rating had “destroyed” the vocation of her sister, who had once been a pupil at the school. “This one-word judgment is just destroying 32 years of her vocation, education was her vocation, 32 years summed up in one word – inadequate,” she said. “It just preyed on her mind until she couldn’t take it any more.”

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The Ofsted report said the school leaders did not have the “required knowledge to keep pupils safe from harm”.

In response to the report, Caversham primary school said in a letter: “The school, led by Ruth, responded immediately after the inspection visit, to take action to resolve the issues raised.

“Following the heartbreaking loss of Ruth, we have continued her work to ensure that the school is an effective, safe and happy place for children to learn and achieve.”

Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s regional director for the south-east, said: “We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death.

“Our thoughts remain with Mrs Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham primary school community.”

In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 988 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counselor. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found at befrienders.org

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