Headteacher Ruth Perry felt that the lead Ofsted inspector was a “bully” who had an agenda during a damning review of her school which left her “destroyed and humiliated”, her husband has revealed.
Ms Perry, 53, took her own life months after Caversham Primary School in Reading was downgraded from “outstanding” to “inadequate” after safeguarding concerns were raised during an inspection by the school’s watchdog in November last year.
In a statement read to her inquest at Berkshire Coroner’s Court by senior coroner Heidi Connor, Jonathan Perry described his wife of 21 years as “resilient and positive” but said “all that changed from the start of the inspection”.
When she received the call from Ofsted on 14 November announcing the inspection the following day she was not “overly stressed”, despite the school not having been inspected for 13 years, and she seemed happy to promote the many strengths of the school to inspectors.
But in a call to her husband on day one of the inspection “she sounded very upset” and said it was going “really badly and she was traumatised”.
“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.’”
At home later she appeared “distraught and distressed”, he said. “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 was destroyed and humiliated.”
The week after the inspection, Ms Perry confided to her colleagues that she was feeling suicidal and they urged her to contact her GP, while they notified the local authority and school governors.
School business manager Nicola Leroy told the inquest that Ms Perry felt intimidated by lead inspector Alan Derry. A different school colleague described him as “mocking and unpleasant”, claiming he “sniggered” in a meeting with school leaders during the two-day inspection.
However, Mr Derry insisted he has a “good understanding of mental health” after experiencing his own significant mental health issues. He denied that he had left it up to Ms Perry to take care of her own wellbeing after he admitted he had not informed the local authority of her distress. He said he had previously told Ofsted’s duty desk that the headteacher was “blaming herself”.
Another inspector told the inquest that it was “normal” for a headteacher to cry during an inspection. The court previously heard that Ms Perry broke down in tears and looked in “physical pain” after she learned her school would be downgraded in a meeting with Mr Derry and his team.
A lawyer for Ms Perry’s devastated family asked inspector Claire Wilkins if her team had considered suspending or slowing down the “fast-paced” inspection in light of the headteacher’s distress.
She told the court: “The distress was like what we would expect from somebody who had been told that there was a possibility that what they were doing wasn’t OK.
“There was no suggestion that it was anything other than a difficult situation for everybody to be in and upset would be expected.”
Her colleague Gavin Evans added: “It was normal behaviour for somebody who was finding an inspection challenging.
“I have witnessed this before as a headteacher with other members of staff who have cried and put their heads down. When you know the grade is going to change and there’s going to be a drastic change to school grading I knew why Ms Perry was behaving like they were.”
Although this was the first inspection he had carried out as a newly trained Ofsted inspector, he said he had seen tears, embarrassment, and frustration in previous inspections, adding: “There are tears more times than there aren’t.”
Ms Perry’s sister Professor Julia Waters previously described the headteacher’s experience with the school’s watchdog as the “worst day of her life”.
Her death in the following January later sparked an outcry among headteachers across the country and led to widespread calls for Ofsted to revamp its one-word school ratings system.
Caversham Primary was graded as “good” in all areas apart from leadership and management after inspectors spotted safeguarding issues with the school’s record keeping. This led to an overall grading of “inadequate” and would likely have led to the maintained primary school being forced to become an academy.
Mr Derry previously said the safeguarding concerns could have been addressed within 30 days, but insisted they were “significant”.
The inquest, scheduled to last six days, continues.