top of page
  • Writer's pictureTimothy Lynch

Digging beneath the surface of Headteacher Ruth Perry Coroner's Report - more suicides unless Ofsted changes approach to education.

Updated: Dec 25, 2023

The Ruth Perry: Prevention of future deaths Coroner report warns that there could be more deaths of this nature unless there is change within the educational approach towards inspections; "In my opinion there is a risk that future deaths could occur unless action is taken" (Courts and Tribunal Judiciary, 2023, p. 2). The Prevention of future deaths report was sent to Ofsted, the Department for Education (DfE) and Reading Borough Council, who have a duty to respond within 56 days.

Heidi Connor, Senior Coroner for Berkshire concluded that the Ofsted inspection contributed to the death of Headteacher Ruth Perry. Seven matters of concern are identified specifically for Ofsted and the Department for Education. The second of these concerns saliently states "There is almost complete absence of Ofsted training or published policy" (2023, p. 2) for inspectors looking for signs of distress in school leaders or how to deal with such concerns, pausing an inspection or having meetings during the inspection process. Subsequently, the third concern states "Parts of the Ofsted inspection were conducted in a manner which lacked fairness, respect and sensitivity" (2023, p. 2).

The inquest findings are supported by research and literature over the last 5 years. Hence, digging beneath the surface of Headteacher Ruth Perry Coroner's Report suggests that more suicides will occur unless Ofsted and DfE changes their approach to education.

Headteacher Ruth Perry Coroner's Report
Ofsted logo

I raised this same concern about school inspector training, experience and qualifications 6 months earlier in the British Education Research Association (BERA) article British international schools: Are teachers and school leaders qualified?

Following the recent death of Headteacher, Ruth Perry, school inspections as a whole have been questioned, including the experience and qualifications of the inspectors. In English maintained schools, His Majesty’s Inspectors are required to have QTS, as well as successful experience (over five years) in school senior leadership. However, unqualified teachers (who are 31 per cent cheaper), can become inspectors in British Schools Overseas (BSO) and do not require any school senior leadership experience – this can have dire consequences (Fazackerley, 2023).

To gain QTS, a teacher would have to have first gained a certified teaching qualification such as a Bachelor of Education, or a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) in addition to their graduate degree. A Master’s in Education does not suffice the practical requirements to qualify someone as a teacher. Outdated condensed qualifications such as a Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP), which was ceased by DfE more than 10 years ago, was never recognised internationally as an equivalent to QTS. The safeguarding policy ‘Keeping children safe in education’ requires that schools check QTS qualifications before employment and records are kept in a single central register. Also ‘these checks are to continue following appointment’ (DfE, 2022, p. 56). In addition, the Teaching Regulation Agency states that ‘headteachers and governing bodies are responsible for managing teacher misconduct’ (TRA, 2022, p. 4) which includes qualification fraud (see for example Morris, 2012).

There is a common theme surrounding the question of training and qualifications of the people regarded as 'experts' and the approach taken by the regulator, Ofsted. This theme was addressed in my research book in 2019 which digs beneath the surface of the coroner's report findings/concerns, suggesting that the approach to education and preparation needs to change. An excerpt is below (Lynch, 2019, pp. 21-25):

A behavioural, top-down governmental approach is currently happening within England, where the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) inspects and regulates. Ofsted set common ideals and expectations for every maintained school to strive for. From 2017, Ofsted has stated that:

• All of their work is evidence-led

• Their evaluation tools and frameworks are valid and reliable

• Their frameworks are fair

• They aim to reduce inspection burdens and make their expectations and findings clear • They target their time and resources where they can lead directly to improvement ( about). This statement does question the educational practice expected by Ofsted before 2017, before practice was evidence based. This is supported by Coffield who concluded from a study on behalf of the British Educational Research Association (BERA) that Ofsted “currently does more harm than good. Its methods, although changed every few years during the 25 years of Ofsted’s existence, are still invalid, unreliable and unjust” (Coffield, 2017). Hence, Moran argues that “the Ofsted hand is fundamentally broken” (2019).

Historically, Ofsted inspections and judgements have weighted heavily on quantitative data, such as Year 2 and Year 6 national curriculum standardized testing (known as SATs). Corbyn speaks of “SATs and the regime of extreme pressure testing giving young children nightmares” (2019). Furthermore, it is argued that since 2010 due to austerity measures, education has been narrowed within the UK and only purpose has to have been for the economy or business (Corbyn, 2019). Quantitative research is “an approach that seeks to determine the relationships between variables and, particularly, cause and effect relationships” (Kervin, Vialle, Herrington, & Okely, 2006, p. 36); hence, such research relates to the behavioural approach. This statement is supported by the Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, who during a speech delivered at The Festival of Education (23 June, 2017) stated:

So I believe we have a vital role in balancing the accountability system. What we measure through inspection can counteract some of the inevitable pressure created by performance tables and floor standards. Rather than just intensifying the focus on data, Ofsted inspections must explore what is behind the data, asking how results have been achieved. Inspections, then, are about looking underneath the bonnet to be sure that a good quality education – one that genuinely meets pupils’ needs – is not being compromised (

When Spielman speaks of data, she is referring to quantitative research data—performance tables and floor standards (e.g. SATs), where “variables of interest are very clearly spelled out, measurement is standardised, and results analysed through statistical means” (Kervin et al., 2006, p. 36). This is surprising in the field of education, as while the strengths of quantitative methods have been well suited to scientific research over the last century (Kervin et al., 2006), it is the richer and more varied insights offered by qualitative research that is commonly used in education and social sciences around the world (Kervin et al., 2006; Lune & Berg, 2017; Merriam, 1998; Moran, 2019; Salkind, 2017). Qualitative research is best suited because, “Curriculum results from social activity. It is designed for both present and emerging purposes. Curriculum is a dynamic field” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2017, p. 1).

The qualitative research approach is inferred to by Spielman; “explores what is behind the data [quantitative], asking how results have been achieved” (2017). Hence it “provides insight into the subtle nuances of educational contexts and allows the exploration of the unexpected that cannot be accommodated in quantitative approaches” (Kervin et al., 2006, p. 37). Furthermore, “reports of qualitative research tend to adopt a narrative form that is more accessible to practitioners… and thus is more likely that the research findings will have an impact on educational practice” (Kervin et al., 2006, p. 37).

The need for qualitative data methods is invoked by Spielman; “interpreting data wisely and placing it in its proper context”. Considering that the success of policy [curriculum] implementation ultimately depends on teachers and students (Gardner & Williamson, 1999), qualitative research methods are most appropriate as they enable the participants to share their stories and valuable insights on how the curriculum is taught and learned within the contexts of their schools. Moreso, a qualitative study approach in education, acknowledges that meanings are socially constructed: “Social realities are constructed by the participants in their social settings” (Glesne, 1999, p. 5).

Qualitative researchers establish credibility and trustworthiness through their data gathering, analysis and reporting—rather than focusing on quantitative terms of validity, reliability and generalisability (Kervin et al., 2006), as adopted by Ofsted. Hence, only relying on quantitative research methods, as Ofsted have traditionally done, limits findings within schools, as it ignores contexts and experiences. This assumes that every school within England, every classroom, every teacher and every child are the same; subsequently, it forms a paradox to the UK curriculum policy titled “Every child matters”. Therefore, to add balance and give a deeper analysis of the school context, Ofsted is required to apply qualitative research methods also. As Kervin et al. (2006) recommend, qualitative research enables the research findings to have an impact on educational practice. Ofsted standards are overseen by the government which “reduce teaching and learning to precise behaviours with corresponding measurable activities” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2017, p. 2), ensuring efficiency in schools. It can be argued that this top-down behavioural approach and associated funding cuts are failing miserably in the UK (Corbyn, 2019; Richardson, 2018a). Reports have included:

• increased teacher workloads, resulting in record numbers of early career teachers leaving the profession (Corbyn, 2019; Coughlan, 2017a);

• record high numbers of teachers suffering from job stress, including depression and anxiety (Brennan & Henton, 2017; Corbyn, 2019; Education Support Partnership, 2017);

• regular strike threats; and frustrated head teachers leaving the profession (Coughlan, 2017b; Richardson, 2018b);

• a shortage of head teachers (Walton, 2014);

• experienced quality teachers being lost to the profession, resulting in reduced teachers in schools; increased number of unqualified teachers; and increased class sizes (Burns, 2018; Corbyn, 2019; Sellgren, 2017).

Due to the shortage of teachers in England, initial teacher education (ITE) is being replaced by quick fix and ad hoc initial teacher training (ITT) programmes, where time involved for UK qualified teacher status (QTS) has been reduced from traditional four-year Bachelor of Education courses to as little as 12 weeks for candidates with recognised prior learning ( Consequently, it can be argued the quality of teacher preparation and quality education has diminished.

Hence, the UK has been described as “lagging behind”, and “flat in a changing world” in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) world rankings based on OECD tests (Coughlan, 2016). The PISA tests are taken by 15-year olds in maths, reading and science every three years from over 70 countries. The UK is ranked 27th in maths, the lowest in the 18-year history of participation, 22nd in reading and 15th in science. Hence, government efforts to produce and control “trained teachers” (behavioural approach) rather than emphasising “educators” (constructivist approach) have emanated limited trust in the profession. This is witnessed by the overemphasis of teachers evidencing class progress, which results in increased workloads and subsequently, deducts from the teacher–student quality learning experience (Corbyn, 2019). As the PISA results suggest, this has been ineffective and even counterproductive compared to quality educators spending quality learning time with students—as seen in countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong (China), Canada, Finland and Ireland (OECD, 2019; PISA, 2015). Corbyn argues that a different approach is needed and has promised that “the next Labour government will scrap SATs tests for seven and 11 year olds and will scrap the plan for new baseline assessment for Reception classes” (2019).

It could be suggested that experience alone does not make one an expert but rather high-quality experience and a deep rich knowledge, especially an understanding of research approaches to education.

Courts and Tribunals Judiciary. (2023, December 19). Ruth Perry: Prevention of future deaths report. Retrieved from Ruth Perry: Prevention of future deaths report - Courts and Tribunals Judiciary

Lynch, T. (2019). Physical education and wellbeing: Global and holistic approaches to child health. Palgrave Macmillan.

Lynch, T. (2023, July 31). British international schools: are teachers and school leaders qualified? British Educational Research Association (BERA) blog post.

bottom of page