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Suicide is always wrong-headed option, sister of Ruth Perry tells teachers

Professor Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, gave a speech (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Professor Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, gave a speech (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Suicide is always a “terrible wrong-headed option”, the sister of Ruth Perry told school staff.

Professor Julia Waters urged delegates at the annual conference of the National Education Union (NEU) to “get help” and “think again”  if they are having thoughts about ending their lives.

Headteacher Ruth Perry took her own life after an Ofsted report downgraded her Caversham Primary School in Reading from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

Video footage of Mrs Perry, who was an NEU member, was shown at the union’s conference in Bournemouth during a speech by her sister.

In the video, which was recorded during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mrs Perry told her Caversham Primary School pupils: “Talk to the people you love, be kind to each other, be hopeful, take care of yourselves and each other.”

In a speech to NEU conference delegates on Friday, which received a standing ovation, Prof Waters said: “As Ruth said, be kind. Show compassion. Talk to each other. Be hopeful that change is coming.”

Ofsted has come under greater scrutiny in the past year after the suicide of Mrs Perry.

Ruth Perry
Ruth Perry took her own life (Andrew Matthews/PA)

In December, a coroner concluded the Ofsted inspection on November 15-16 in 2022 “contributed” to Mrs Perry’s death.

Addressing teachers and school leaders across the country, Prof Waters said: “If you feel anything like how Ruth felt, I really feel for you.

“She saw everything she had stood for in her career and her community destroyed in a moment by an unfair Ofsted decision. She was offered no way out.

“But let me tell you, suicide is always a terrible, wrong-headed option. Ending her own life was the worst thing Ruth could possibly have done.

“That desperate act devastated our family, her colleagues, the hundreds of her pupils and a whole community in Caversham and beyond. We shall all live with the devastation of Ruth’s appalling, preventable death for the rest of our lives.

“So if you are having thoughts about ending your own life – please, think again. Get help.”

Last month Sir Martyn Oliver, chief inspector of Ofsted, launched the watchdog’s Big Listen public consultation that will seek views about Ofsted.

In his first major speech since becoming chief inspector in January, Sir Martyn said he wanted to “mark a new chapter” with the sector.

But during her speech, Prof Waters suggested there was a lot of “passing the buck going on between government and Ofsted” and “unnecessary delay”.

She said: “How many more children will lose another dedicated headteacher to a forced resignation, a nervous breakdown, or worse?

“Delays and obfuscation put more lives at risk. It’s not acceptable to play politics with people’s wellbeing.”

On Wednesday, delegates at the NEU conference voted for a “public facing” campaign, calling for Ofsted to be abolished, to be launched by the union.

But Prof Waters called on the NEU to stop campaigning to abolish Ofsted and to instead put “considerable energy” into the opportunity for real change by working together to make the inspection system “better and kinder”.

In her speech, Prof Waters said: “Let’s not settle for half-measures. Some changes have already been made.

“But more changes are needed to ensure that no other teacher or headteacher feels pushed to the intolerable depths of despair by a system that is meant to ‘raise standards’ and ‘improve lives’.”

Speaking to the media at the conference after her speech, Prof Waters said she hoped teachers and school leaders now feel “more able and willing to speak out and to complain” about Ofsted.

She added that she hoped her campaigning for reform had helped parents to see the “flaws in the system” and to view Ofsted reports as “highly subjective snapshots” which cannot tell the full story.

When asked whether she was concerned there could be more deaths if action is not taken soon by Ofsted, Prof Waters replied: “Yes.”

She said the coroner could see the issues that “badly affected” Mrs Perry were “baked into the system”.

“A couple of those have been addressed, but most of them are still there. So yes I am concerned,” Prof Waters said.

Ofsted was described as “toxic” and dangerous by NEU conference delegates during a debate on workplace suicides after Prof Waters’ speech.

Delegates voted to call on the NEU to campaign for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Government to agree that Ofsted is “a stressor that has been a considerable factor” in work-related suicides.

David Robinson, from Oxfordshire, who proposed the motion which was passed, said: “It is frankly scandalous that teachers’ lives are put at risk.”

He added: “It is vital that our members are protected from the harmful impact of this toxic inspectorate.”

Delegate Jenny Cooper, from Brent, said: “Ofsted is one of the biggest dangers in our times for our members. How many more suicides, heart attacks, strokes and ill-health retirements do we need until we act on grave danger ourselves?”

At the start of the year, Ofsted inspections were paused in England to ensure inspectors were given mental health awareness training.

The watchdog also published new guidance for schools on how to request an Ofsted inspection be paused if staff show signs of distress.

Sir Martyn said: “Our work keeps children safe and improves their lives. But we are ambitious to improve. That is why we are carrying out a Big Listen.

“We want to hear from everyone we work with, including teachers, social workers, nursery staff and college lecturers. Crucially, we also want to hear from the parents and children we work for.”

A HSE spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with everyone who knew Ruth Perry. Suicide is not reportable to us under current regulations.

“A coroner can refer a case to HSE if they consider there is an ongoing risk to others – that did not happen in this case.”

For mental health support, contact the Samaritans on 116 123, email them at or visit to find your nearest branch.