Ex-Ofsted boss to lead review into watchdog’s response to Ruth Perry’s death

A coroner concluded an Ofsted inspection in November 2022 ‘likely contributed’ to Mrs Perry’s death.

Former Ofsted boss Dame Christine Gilbert will lead a review into the school’s watchdog’s response to the death of teacher Ruth Perry
Former Ofsted boss Dame Christine Gilbert will lead a review into the school’s watchdog’s response to the death of teacher Ruth Perry (PA/PA)

A review into the education watchdog’s response to the death of headteacher Ruth Perry will begin this month, led by a former Ofsted chief inspector.

Dame Christine Gilbert will lead the independent learning review, which was announced in January, in response to the Coroner’s Prevention of Future Deaths report from Ms Perry’s inquest.

The headteacher 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.

Ruth Perry took her own life after an Ofsted inspection of her school
Ruth Perry took her own life after an Ofsted inspection of her school (Andrew Matthews/PA)

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

On Monday, announcing Dame Christine’s appointment, Ofsted said the review would not examine the inspection of Caversham Primary School or the judgments made.

Dame Christine, who was a teacher for 18 years, served as chief inspector at Ofsted from 2006 until 2011.

School leaders’ union the NAHT said the review must be independent and impartial, noting a concern some might have that it is being led by a former Ofsted chief.

Dame Christine said she will take a “detailed and thorough” look at events from the end of the school inspection to the conclusion of the inquest, and will speak with Ms Perry’s family.

She said: “The death of Ruth Perry was a deeply sad and shocking event. Ofsted has accepted that it is vitally important for it to learn from this tragedy and has asked me to help them do that.

“I intend to take a very detailed and thorough look at all areas of Ofsted’s work – from the moment the Caversham inspection ended, through to the conclusion of the Coroner’s inquest.

“I will scrutinise the approach taken and advise on future actions and revisions needed to improve Ofsted’s policies and processes for dealing with any tragic incident.

“Importantly, I will hear first-hand from the family of Ruth Perry to gain a better understanding of the impact of Ofsted’s work. I would like to thank them in advance for agreeing to engage with my review.”

Current chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Martyn Oliver, said: “I am very grateful to Dame Christine for agreeing to lend her valuable experience and expertise to leading this important review.

“She has a wealth of experience in schools, in inspection, and in undertaking a range of reviews. I have no doubt that her insights will help us to reflect on, and learn from, our response to Ruth Perry’s death.

“I look forward to receiving her recommendations for improving our policies and practice. Her review will complement the findings from our Big Listen and help us build an Ofsted that is trusted by the professionals we inspect and regulate, as well as the children, parents and carers we are here to serve.”

NAHT general secretary Paul Whiteman said: “NAHT knows Christine Gilbert well and she is a widely respected and knowledgeable figure in education. We believe that she will have the insight and determination to carry out a comprehensive review of Ofsted’s response to the tragic death of Ruth Perry.

“However, it is important to confront head-on the concern that some might express about a former chief inspector reviewing the work of Ofsted. It is therefore crucial that the review demonstrates a robust level of independence and impartiality.

“This is even more important on the back of the Big Listen exercise which has disappointed many within the profession. Ofsted must demonstrate that it is serious about making the changes that are long overdue.”

The Big Listen public consultation, seeking views about Ofsted, was launched last month.

Tom Middlehurst, inspection specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), welcomed Dame Christine’s appointment, saying “it is vital that lessons are learned to ensure this tragedy is never repeated”.

But he added: “Our concern remains that neither the review nor the Big Listen tackle the key issue of single-phrase judgments – the very feature of the system which makes inspections so high stakes and drives stress and anxiety.

“We recognise that reforming single-phrase judgments is not in the power of Ofsted and must come from the Government. However, that should not have prevented Ofsted from asking that question in the consultation and it undermines the exercise that this is not the case.”

Dame Christine, who has taken part in previous education reviews as well as Baroness Casey’s report into the Metropolitan Police last year, will start her review this month and produce a written report on her findings later this year, Ofsted said.

It added that she will have access to relevant internal records and be able to speak with any member of Ofsted staff.

Her final report will include any recommendations for changes to Ofsted’s internal policies and processes for responding to “tragic incidents”, the watchdog said, adding that it will respond to its recommendations as part of the wider response to the Big Listen.