School to refuse Ofsted entry in wake of head teacher suicide and calls for reform

Flora Cooper
Flora Cooper

A headteacher threatened to boycott an Ofsted inspection of her school on Tuesday following the death of another headteacher who took her own life after an inspection.

Flora Cooper, executive headteacher at John Rankin Infant and Nursery School in Berkshire, has said she plans to refuse inspectors entry.

The move follows the death of Ruth Perry, 53, principal at Caversham Primary School in Reading for 13 years, who took her own life after learning that Ofsted planned to downgrade her school from Outstanding to Inadequate.

Writing on social media, Ms Perry’s sister, Julia Waters, has suggested that school leaders should “boycott Ofsted until a thorough, independent review has been conducted and changes implemented”.

Ms Cooper told the website Schools Week she had informed Ofsted of her plans and felt “sorry” for the individual inspector, adding that it was “the system I’m fighting against”.

“I’m going to have the ‘ins and outs’ call with her at 1pm but tomorrow I’ve rallied for headteachers to come and join me and we’re going to refuse entry.

But on Monday evening The Telegraph understood that the inspection would be going ahead as planned.

The Education Act says that a chief inspector has right of entry to a school premises at “all reasonable times” when inspecting a school. Intentionally obstructing this is a crime which carries a maximum fine of £2,500.

John Rankin Infant and Nursery School in Berkshire
John Rankin Infant and Nursery School in Berkshire

Ms Cooper said she had informed Ofsted of her plans and felt “sorry” for the individual inspector, adding that it was “the system I’m fighting against”.

A school leaders’ union has now called for Ofsted to pause inspections in the wake of Ms Perry’s death.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders union NAHT, said that Ms Perry’s death was “an unspeakable tragedy and it is clear that school leaders across the nation have been deeply affected by the news”.

He added that having spoken to Ms Perry’s family, he was aware of their determination that “something like this should never happen again”.

Mr Whiteman said that NAHT had long campaigned for reform of the inspection system, adding that it was “clear that school leaders up and down the country are placed under intolerable pressure by the current approach”.

“The anger and hurt being expressed currently by school staff is palpable. It is essential that all policymakers, including Ofsted, listen and respond,” he said.

“Given the strength of feeling and the need for a period of calm reflection, Ofsted should pause inspections this week.”

Ms Perry’s family told the BBC that the “caring” head was left a “shadow of her former self” following an inspection last November, which she had described as the “worst day of her life”.

On the first day of the inspection on Nov 15, she was told her school would be dropped from the highest grade to the lowest, her family said.

Ruth Perry
Ruth Perry

The Ofsted report, now published, found the school to be Good in every category except leadership and management, where the school was accused of poor record keeping and failings in employment checks which could have put children at risk, leading to the overall rating to be dropped to Inadequate.

Inspectors told staff they had seen a boy doing a dance popularised on social media which they viewed as evidence of the sexualisation of pupils, the BBC reported, while it was also alleged that inspectors reported witnessing child-on-child abuse, despite Ms Perry believing this was merely a playground scuffle.

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.”

A spokesman for West Berkshire Council said: “Earlier today a head teacher announced her intention to refuse access to Ofsted inspectors tomorrow. We were not aware this was going to happen and we are now in conversation with relevant partners to find a way to resolve these issues. These discussions continue and we will provide a further update as soon as we can.

“We understand that the inspection process can be a busy and stressful time for teachers, governors and school staff. As a council, we work closely with all of our schools to support them through the inspection process and address any individual concerns.”