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Ofsted chief vows to make changes after death of headteacher Ruth Perry

Ofsted's chief inspector has vowed to make changes to the system in the wake of the tragic death of headteacher Ruth Perry.

Mrs Perry took her own life in January last year after Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berkshire, was downgraded from top grade, "outstanding", to the lowest, "inadequate".

The Ofsted inspection "likely contributed" to her death, an inquest concluded.

Senior coroner Heidi Connor issued a series of recommendations in a Prevention of Future Deaths report, which Ofsted formally responded to on Friday.

Ofsted's chief inspector Sir Martyn Oliver, appointed head of the education watchdog at the start of the year, said he is "determined to do everything in my power to prevent such tragedies in the future".

In a statement, he said he accepted the coroner's findings and pledged to carry out inspections "in a way that is sensitive to the pressures faced by leaders and staff, without losing our focus on our children and learners".

"We intend to re-evaluate our internal policies and procedures in light of these findings, so we can identify where changes need to be made," Sir Martyn said.

What did the coroner recommend?

The Prevention of Future Deaths report identified a number of areas of concern, including the impact the current Ofsted system has on the welfare of school leaders.

There is "an almost complete absence" of Ofsted training when a school leader shows signs of distress during an inspection, taking practical steps and recognising when it is appropriate to pause the inspection.

The report also pointed to the "absence of a clear path" to raise concerns during an Ofsted visit, if they cannot be resolved with the inspector.

There was no formal written policy about any confidentiality requirement after inspections - meaning teachers may fear discussing the outcomes with colleagues outside of the school and mental health professionals.

Ms Connor also raised concerns about how fast Ofsted reports are published and the lack of policy for any "learning review" to be conducted.

Finally, she made reference to Education Secretary Gillian Keegan being quoted in an Ofsted publication last June as saying the department is "significantly expanding wellbeing support for headteachers".

However, a witness during the inquest was unable to clarify what form the additional support had taken place.

What action will Ofsted take?

The education watchdog has already "done much" in the wake of Mrs Perry's death but "there is a lot still to do", Sir Martyn said.

Ofsted will provide mandatory mental health awareness training for all inspectors, due to be completed by the end of March this year, to not only spot signs of distress but also reduce anxiety.

New policies include allowing a rapid return for schools graded "inadequate" solely due to ineffective safeguarding - meaning they have a chance to fix problems and improve their grade before any formal intervention.

Inspectors will also be able to request a pause if, for example, a headteacher needs more support.

Headteachers can now share inspection outcomes with their personal support network.

An independent expert will be appointed to lead a learning review of Ofsted's response to Mrs Perry's death.

In addition, the watchdog will conduct a "comprehensive learning exercise" called The Big Listen, which gives a voice to parents, children, learners and professionals.

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Sir Martyn added: "I would like to express my deepest condolences to Ruth's family and friends and apologise sincerely for the part our inspection of her school played in her death.

"I will do everything in my power to help ensure that inspections are carried out with professionalism, courtesy, empathy and respect, and with consideration for staff welfare.

"Such tragedies should never happen again, and no one should feel as Ruth did."

Mrs Perry's sister, Professor Julia Waters, said she was "disappointed that the government has opted to keep misleading and harmful single-word judgments".

She said: "Whether these brand a school as 'outstanding' or 'inadequate', or the grades in between, these blunt verdicts obscure many of the important details. As the coroner noted, Ruth was devastated by the impact of such language.

"Parents, teachers, governors and others should be encouraged to engage with the details of inspection findings, and not just fixate on one or two words. Simplicity may be convenient for government bureaucrats, but it acts against the true interests of children, parents and teachers."

A teaching union called for Ofsted inspections to be temporarily carried out ungraded to allow the watchdog to focus on longer-term reform.

Inspections were suspended to put mental health training in place but are due to resume on Monday.

An inquiry last November found Ofsted was "not fit for purpose" and had "lost the trust of the teaching profession and increasingly of parents".

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Former Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman apologised to Mrs Perry's friends and family, who blamed her death on the "deeply harmful" pressure of the inspection in November 2022.

The school was upgraded to "good" in July last year.

In a statement, Ms Keegan said: "Ruth Perry's death was a tragedy and the coroner's findings made clear that lessons need to be learned.

"We are working to ensure inspections keep children safe while also prioritising the safety and wellbeing of school leaders serving in our schools, through expanded wellbeing support for leaders."

:: Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.