The Ofsted inspection that condemned a headteacher who later killed herself: Watchdog claimed pupil’s flossing dance was ‘evidence of sexualisation’ and accused staff of ‘failing to keep kids safe’ – as report downgraded school
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An Ofsted report for a school where the headteacher killed herself after hearing it would be ranked ‘inadequate’ accused staff of failing to keep children safe.
Ruth Perry, 53, who led the Caversham Primary school in Reading, took her own life two months ago after being told it was being downgraded from ‘outstanding’.
Her family say she described the inspection last November as the ‘worst day of her life’ and revealed the stress she was under while waiting for the report saying she was a ‘shadow of her former self’.
The Ofsted report – which the school disputes and wants rewritten – praised many aspects of the school but raised a number of criticisms, including that staff were failing to keep children safe.
Inspectors identified a ‘weak understanding of safeguarding requirements’ among staff and suggested this could leave pupils at risk.
Ofsted inspectors made a number of criticisms in their report about Caversham Primary school in Reading
The report described pupils’ behaviour in lessons as ‘exemplary’ but said that during playtimes ‘some older pupils make poor behaviour choices which go unnoticed and can put others at risk of harm’.
And while inspectors praised teachers for their ‘determination to strengthen the quality of education’, they suggested some teachers required ‘further training and support’ when it came to delivering the maths curriculum.
In addition, they suggested staff ‘expectations’ for pupils with special needs were not high enough and could lead to them underachieving.
In a letter to parents, Neil Walne, chair of governors, said he would be asking for a reinspection by Ofsted to highlight the school’s hard work and improvement in areas that were criticised.
He added: ‘All staff and governors are disappointed with the overall Ofsted rating received despite there being so many positives in the report.
‘The inspection was carried out in November 2022. Ofsted delayed publication due to the death of our head teacher, Ruth Perry, in January.
Ruth Perry, 53, who led the Caversham Primary school, took her own life two months ago after being told it was being downgraded from ‘outstanding’
In a letter to parents, Neil Walne, chair of governors, said he would be asking for a reinspection by Ofsted to highlight the school’s hard work and improvement in areas that were criticised
‘The school, led by Ruth, responded immediately after the inspection visit, to take action to resolve the issues raised.
‘Following the heart-breaking loss of Ruth, we have continued her work to ensure that the school is an effective, safe and happy place for children to learn and achieve.
‘When inspectors visited, they found that the school’s safeguarding recording procedures did not meet the latest statutory guidance, which led to an ‘Inadequate’ rating for Leadership and Management.
‘Whenever safeguarding is found to be ineffective, the overall judgement is automatically limited to inadequate, regardless of what else is found in the inspection.
‘The word inadequate does not reflect or describe our vibrant school, and especially Ruth’s excellent leadership and management over her many years as Headteacher.
‘We wish to stress that during feedback to the school, inspectors clearly stated that children had not been put at harm.’
Ms Perry had been headteacher of Caversham Primary School (pictured) for more than a decade when Ofsted decided to downgrade it from Outstanding to Inadequate
Ms Perry’s sister, Julia (pictured), told BBC South the headteacher was left a ‘shadow of her former self’ by the Ofsted inspection
Mr Walne said action had been taken to ensure the school was compliant in safeguarding and highlighted how the school was judged ‘good’ in all other areas of the inspection.
He said these included ‘pupils enjoy coming to this warm and vibrant school and feel confident they will get the help they need if they have a worry or a problem’.
The letter ended with Mr Walne saying: ‘A summary of our action plan will shortly be available on the school’s website and we will be asking Ofsted to re-inspect our school as soon as possible.’
What is ‘flossing’? And is it a ‘sexualised’ dance?
Flossing is a dance craze that swept the globe in recent years.
The dance move involves swinging your hips and arms in different directions as if there is a piece of invisible dental floss between your legs.
At the same time the hips must move to the beat while your arms are held in two fists.
It was invented by 16-year-old social media star Russell Horning, who posted a video which went viral of him performing the dance to Katie Perry’s hit Swish Swish.
It was further popularised in the game Fortnite – but there is no evidence it is sexual.
Ms Perry was a former pupil at the school and joined as deputy head in 2006 before becoming head four years later.
Earlier this week her sister Julia Waters had told BBC South that inspectors said a boy doing a flossing dance move, from the video game Fortnite, was used as unfounded claims of the sexualisation of children at the school.
Ms Waters said: ‘Ruth took her own life on January 8, all during that process every time I spoke to her, she would talk about the countdown.
‘I remember her clearly one day saying ’52 days and counting’, every day she had this weight on her shoulders hanging over her and she wasn’t officially allowed to talk to her family.
‘I remember the very first day I saw her, rather than just speaking to her on the phone, a couple of days after the end of the Ofsted inspection, she came, she was an absolute shadow of her former self.’
She said the inspection destroyed 32 years of her vocation and ‘preyed on her mind until she couldn’t take it any more’.
The report, which was published this week, found the school to be Good in every category, apart from leadership and management, where it was judged to be Inadequate, the lowest rating.
Inspectors said school leaders did not have the ‘required knowledge to keep pupils safe from harm’, did not take ‘prompt and proper actions’ and had not ensured safeguarding was ‘effective’.
Matthew Purves, Ofsted’s regional director for the South East, said: ‘We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death.
‘Our thoughts remain with Mrs Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham Primary School community.’
The report criticised the school for poor record keeping, with gaps in employment checks potentially putting children at risk. This dropped the entire school to an Inadequate rating, the lowest possible.
Julia says her sister (pictured together) ‘was a huge loss’ and ‘had so much more still to give’
Inspectors said that ‘most pupils behave sensibly and rise to the staff’s high expectations’, adding: ‘Pupils know who to turn to if they have a worry or a problem, feeling confident that they will get the help they need. Relationships between staff and pupils are warm and supportive. Incidents of bullying are rare.’
But they added: ‘Leaders do not have the required knowledge to keep pupils safe from harm. They have not taken prompt and proper actions when pupils are at risk. They have not ensured that safeguarding is effective throughout the school.’
The report states: ‘Governors have an ambitious vision for pupils and staff. However, they have not ensured that they fulfil their statutory safeguarding responsibilities. Until the inspection, they were unaware of significant weaknesses in the school’s arrangements to keep pupils safe.’
READ MORE HERE: Interactive map reveals England’s best primary schools, according to Ofsted – is there one near YOU?
It added the school doesn’t have ‘robust processes’ to combat persistent absenteeism from some pupils and that leaders have a ‘weak understanding of safeguarding requirements and procedures’.
Matt Rodda, a Labour MP for Reading East, said: ‘I’ve had a meeting with the schools minister and I’ve also raised this with the regional director of Ofsted.
‘I think it’s fair to say that there are local concerns about the way that the inspection was carried out.
‘Also about the way that the Ofsted framework and other regulations affecting Ofsted effectively work, and the wider pressure on headteachers.’
In a statement to BBC South, Ofsted said: ‘We were deeply saddened by Ruth Perry’s tragic death. Our thoughts remain with Mrs Perry’s family, friends and everyone in the Caversham Primary School community.’
Ms Perry was formerly a pupil at the school, before returning in 2006 as deputy headteacher and being promoted to principal in 2010.
In a statement released after her death, her family said: ‘We are left devastated by the sudden loss of a lovely mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, niece, sister-in-law and friend.
‘She leaves a huge, aching gap in all our lives and, we know, in the lives of so many others who were lucky enough to know her.
‘We are grateful to all our friends for their thoughts and support now and in the difficult years ahead. Ruth will be remembered as the kind, funny, confident, vivacious, caring person she was and for all that she achieved in life.
‘We also ask those who did not know Ruth please to respect our privacy, as we come to terms with our unfathomable grief, and to consider carefully how their words and actions might impact on others.’
Inspectors from Ofsted said leadership and management at Caversham Primary School was Inadequate
‘As the many tributes to her from the broader school and Caversham community attest, Ruth cared deeply not just about academic results, but also about the general well-being and happiness of the pupils and staff whom she taught and led.
‘Caversham Primary was a very happy school under Ruth’s leadership and, despite the many challenges that always go with the role of Head, she was happy there too.
‘Ruth was a dedicated headteacher and an excellent teacher. She loved the pupils and the staff of Caversham Primary School and was very proud to have been its headteacher for 12 years and previously deputy headteacher for four years.
‘Ruth was a force for good in her life, and we want her to be a force for positive change after her death too.
‘We would urge anyone who has been affected by her death to talk about their feelings and know that help is available. Local and national helplines, advice and support can be found on the Reading Family Information Service website.’
- For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details
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