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Ofsted inspector 'had mocking tone' as he met with emotional headteacher who took own life after critical report
29 November 2023, 18:29
An Ofsted inspector had a "mocking tone" and "sniggered loudly" when he spoke to headteacher Ruth Perry, who took her own life after a critical report, an inquest has heard.
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She believed Alan Derry was a "bully" who had an agenda, her husband has said.
The head saw Caversham Primary School in Reading get downgraded from outstanding to inadequate after the review in November 2022 raised concerns about the safeguarding of children.
The school was rated "good" in all categories except leadership and management, which was branded "inadequate".
Her death led to calls for Ofsted's inspections to be reformed.
Wednesday's inquest hearing in Reading heard Clare Jones-King, the deputy head, had sat in a meeting with Ms Perry and Mr Derry during the inspection.
Hugh Southey KC, for Ms Perry's family, told Mr Derry: "She referred to you as having sniggered loudly and having a mocking and unpleasant tone."
Mr Derry denied this, and also said he should not have halted the inspection due to Ms Perry's emotional state. Tuesday's hearing was told how she became tearful and stressed over the inspection.
"There was a major safeguarding concern around the safeguarding of children, and this needed to be immediately addressed and safely addressed," he said.
Another inspector, Claire Wilkins, said she had become so worried about Ms Perry she asked school leaders if somebody could take care of her at home.
A statement from Mrs Perry's husband Jonathan was read out at the inquest.
He said his wife had been looking forward to promoting the school despite her nerves.
But in a phone call to him during the inspection, she told him it was going "very badly and that she was traumatised", and when he arrived at the school on an errand for her she seemed "very upset".
"She said she had had a horrendous first meeting with the lead inspector," he said.
"She did not like him. She said it felt like he had come in with an agenda."
The inquest heard Ms Perry told him: "If we fail on safeguarding that is it."
"I know what that means, it is the end of my career. I'm destroyed."
The couple were happy and settled, having bought their dream home together. They were due to exchange contracts for it on the week of the inspection.
But that inspection found that school leaders lacked the "required knowledge to keep pupils safe from harm", did not take "prompt and proper actions" and had not ensured safeguarding was "effective".
Mr Perry said his wife loved her job and she was "dedicated", but the pandemic had taken a toll and the school struggled amid Covid.
She was "close to burnout", he feared.
The inquest continues.