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Headteacher Ruth Perry was tearful during Ofsted inspection, inquest told

A photo of Ruth Perry attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (Andrew MAtthews/PA)
A photo of Ruth Perry attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (Andrew MAtthews/PA)

Headteacher Ruth Perry was “tearful” and kept saying “it’s not looking good is it” during Ofsted’s inspection of her school, one of the inspectors has told an inquest into her death.

Ms Perry’s family say she took her own life after a report from the watchdog 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.

Ofsted inspector Alan Derry told the inquest at Berkshire Coroner’s Office in Reading on Tuesday that he led the inspection at the school.

Ofsted protest
People attend a vigil for Ruth Perry outside the offices of Ofsted in Victoria, central London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

He said that he first spoke to Ms Perry on the phone at 1pm the day before the inspection.

He said she came across “very professional” and that she “presented the school and the work that it does very well”.

The inspectors arrived the next day at 8am and were greeted by Ms Perry.

However, Mr Derry said the headteacher seemed less confident in person than she had seemed on the phone.

“This was an exception to how leaders usually present,” he said.

At 10.40am, Mr Derry held a meeting with the headteacher to discuss the school’s safeguarding policies.

He said it was clear that Ms Perry found the meeting challenging and she started to repeatedly say “it is not looking good is it?”

He added that the headteacher was “tearful” and she held a tissue in her hand.

He said he asked Ms Perry if there was someone she could talk to, and if she would like to pause the meeting.

After pausing the meeting, they then ended it.

Senior coroner Heidi Connor quoted from the witness statement of Nicola Leroy, a member of staff at the school, who saw Ms Perry in the immediate aftermath of the meeting.

Ms Leroy said that Ms Perry was “unable to speak coherently” after leaving the meeting.

“She said she needed to leave the school right now,” Ms Leroy said.

She added: “We had never seen Ruth in this way before.”

The court heard that Ms Perry remained in the school, and she met again with the inspector in the afternoon, this time to discuss the behaviour of pupils at the school.

Ms Connor referenced the witness statement of Clare Jones-King, a staff member who attended the meeting.

“She described the meeting as very unpleasant,” she said.

“She described you as mocking and unpleasant.”

Mr Derry said he was “very disappointed” that that was how someone would view him as an inspector or as a person.

The inspection continued, with a number of further meetings held between Ms Perry and Ofsted.

At the end of the following day, a final feedback meeting was held.

Mr Derry said that Ms Perry looked like she was in “physical pain” during the meeting.

“She was very upset,” he said.

“She was very, very tearful. She looked like she was in pain.

“At that point she was saying things like she could not show her face again.”

He was asked by the senior coroner if he had changed the way he conducts inspections since his inspection of Caversham.

“I think that by the nature of what I have been through it has changed me,” he said.

“So it would make sense to think that the way that I have conducted inspections has changed as a result.”

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”.