Above is an image of the late Ruth Perry. She was the headteacher of Caversham Primary school in the suburbs of Reading. She had worked there for thirteen years. Married with children of her own, she was very anxious about her school's forthcoming OFSTED report.
OFSTED is a quango, spawned and funded by the Conservative government. It stands for Office for Standards in Education. The quango's main function is to visit schools and make intensive inspections over a week. A report is made and then the inspection team disappears from that school, never to be seen again. They make an overall judgement on the school that can be either: Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement or Inadequate. "Satisfactory" disappeared a few years back.
In my opinion that end judgement is far too simplistic. You might have a school that has a fine reputation for say practical science and music education but if the inspection team are concerned about breaktime supervision then that school might still be judged to be "Inadequate". And that is exactly what happened at Caversham. In its previous inspection, the school was judged to be "Outstanding" but now because the new OFSTED team spotted some issues with breaktime supervision, the school was judged to be "Inadequate".
Ruth Perry was mortified and that is why she killed herself in January . Her sister Julia said her death was the "direct result" of the pressure put on her by the "deeply harmful" inspection.
In the week that the tragic news broke, the leader of OFSTED appeared on the BBC's Sunday morning political show. Dressed in a dark and austere outfit, the sympathy she declared with regard to Mrs Perry's death was platitudinous. She went on to defend OFSTED's judgement of the school and remarked, without evidence for saying this, that parents appreciate the headline judgements that OFSTED dish out after inspections
The leader of OFSTED is called Amanda Spielman. It is worth noting that she has never been a teacher and has never had to deal directly with the challenges that teaching can present. A couple of years ago I saw her captaining her old university team - Clare College, Cambridge - in a Christmas edition of "University Challenge". She was quite frankly "Inadequate" in spite of her jovial captaincy. She knew much less than one might have expected from a Chief Inspector.
Surely someone who leads an organisation that inspects and judges schools should herself have some experience of working in classrooms. Without that you are hardly qualified to make those judgements. Needless to say, she was appointed by the Tory government, members of which tend to send their children to fee-paying private schools which are bypassed by OFSTED.
The death of Ruth Perry should ignite a searching inquiry into OFSTED's methods, the way it judges schools and how it should have evolved now that we are in different times. Sadly, Spielman's instinct has been to pull up the drawbridge, admit no fault and signal "There's nothing wrong here". It's good to know that she will have left her lucrative position by the end of this year.