A headteacher who took her own life felt an Ofsted inspector at her school was a “bully” with an “agenda”, her husband has told an inquest into her death.
The inspector “sniggered loudly” and had a “mocking tone” during a meeting with headteacher Ruth Perry, the hearing was told.
Mrs Perry’s family say she took her own life in January after an Ofsted report downgraded Caversham Primary School in Reading from the watchdog’s highest rating to its lowest, citing concerns around safeguarding.
Her sister, Professor Julia Waters, said her sibling had the “worst day of her life” after the inspection at her school on 15 and 16 November last year.
Alan Derry was the Ofsted inspector who led the inspection and gave evidence at Berkshire’s Coroner’s Office in Reading on Wednesday.
Hugh Southey KC, representing the family, quoted a witness statement from deputy headteacher Clare Jones-King, who was at a meeting between Mr Derry and Mrs Perry on 15 November.
The barrister said Ms Jones-King referred to Mr Derry “as having sniggered loudly and having a mocking and unpleasant tone” – something the inspector denied.
The inquest heard evidence Mrs Perry became tearful during meetings with Ofsted inspectors – and Mr Derry was asked if he should have paused the inspection, given her mental state.
“No, not at all,” he said. “There was a major safeguarding concern around the safeguarding of children, and this needed to be immediately addressed and safely addressed.”
He was asked why he did not speak to the school leaders about Mrs Perry.
“Mrs Perry suggested to me that that was what she was doing,” Mr Derry replied.
“That she had the support of her senior leadership team and that she was doing that.”
The inquest heard a statement from Mrs Perry’s husband Jonathan, who said his wife seemed “understandably anxious” the day before the inspection, but she was looking forward to promoting the school.
On the first day of the inspection, however, his wife called him to ask him to run an errand.
“She said that the inspection was going very badly and that she was traumatised,” he said.
When he arrived at the school, he said she seemed “very upset” and Mrs Perry told him she had a difficult first meeting with Mr Derry.
The inquest heard the school’s failure to keep safeguarding records was raised at the meeting and Mrs Perry had started to repeatedly say to Mr Derry “it is not looking good is it?”
Mr Perry told the inquest: “She said she had had a horrendous first meeting with the lead inspector. She did not like him. She said it felt like he had come in with an agenda.”
“If we fail on safeguarding that is it,” Mr Perry said his wife told him. “I know what that means, it is the end of my career. I’m destroyed.”
He said he also spoke to his wife later that day, and that she told him that she felt like Mr Derry was a bully.
“She repeated that she felt like the lead inspector had an agenda, she felt he was a bully,” he said.
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Mr Perry told the court about his 21-year-long marriage to the headteacher, who he said loved her job.
“We had a happy and settled life in the heart of the local community, close to our family and many friends,” he said.
The inquest heard that the couple had bought their dream home together, and were due to exchange contracts in the week of the Ofsted inspection.
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