Ofsted inspections paused following headteacher’s suicide | UK News

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Ofsted inspections have been suspended until later this month as plans are put in place for mental health training following the suicide of a headteacher, the watchdog’s new boss has said.

Sir Martyn Oliver, who took over the role of chief inspector for the education regulator at the start of the new year, said only emergency safeguarding visits would go ahead as pupils return to schools in England this week.

It follows an inquest into the death of headteacher Ruth Perry, who took her own life in January 2023 after Caversham Primary School in Reading was downgraded from the highest rating of “outstanding” to the lowest, “inadequate”, over safeguarding concerns.

Ruth Perry's family said she took her own life after an Ofsted report

At the hearing in December, senior coroner Heidi Connor said parts of the inspection “were conducted in a way which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity” and concluded it “likely contributed” to Ms Perry’s death.

She issued a prevention of further deaths notice saying “action should be taken”, leading the general secretaries of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) to call for inspections to be paused until changes had been implemented.

As he started his new role, Sir Martyn said Ofsted inspections had “come under great scrutiny” following Ms Perry’s death and that he is “determined that we learn from this” and take “tangible” actions.

Next week, inspectors will receive training from Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England ahead of a rolling programme of further mental health awareness training for all assessors, he said.

“A lot has been done already, but a lot more can be done now – starting with a robust programme of mental health awareness training for all our inspectors,” Sir Martyn said. “That begins next week and will become an integral part of how we train and develop our people.”

Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, speaking to members of the media in Reading Town Hall at the end of the inquest for the headteacher where senior coroner Heidi Connor concluded an Ofsted inspection "likely contributed" to her death. Mrs Perry 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. Picture date: Thursday December 7, 2023.
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Julia Waters, sister of Ruth Perry, spoke at the end of the inquest

‘We understand the pressures’

Sir Martyn, a former chief executive of a chain of academy schools, added: “Along with immediate training on mental health awareness, one of the first things I want to do is listen – to parents, to professionals in the sectors we work with, and to people with an interest in our work.

“We are here for children, their parents and carers – and we will serve them best by working constructively, respectfully and empathetically with the experts who are responsible for their education and care.

“Our people come from these sectors. We understand the pressures they are under – and we will make that clear as we go about our work.”

In separate interviews with The Guardian newspaper and Schools Week, Sir Martyn said there would be an internal inquiry into Ofsted’s actions around Ms Perry’s suicide.

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‘Tragedy like this must never happen again’

In the aftermath of Ms Perry’s death, there were calls from headteachers across the country for a review of the way Ofsted operated.

Her sister, Professor Julia Waters, previously said Ms Perry had experienced the “worst day of her life” after inspectors reviewed the school.

Following the coroner’s conclusion, Sir Martyn’s predecessor Amanda Spielman apologised and said Ofsted had made changes to reduce pressures felt by school leaders, and would “do more” to address the concerns raised.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT union, said Ofsted had no choice but to “seriously reflect and make changes to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again”.

Ofsted have until 7 February to respond to the coroner’s report.

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

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