A school has attempted to boycott Ofsted with a protest outside the gates in support of the primary school headteacher Ruth Perry, who took her own life while waiting for the publication of a negative inspection report.

The inspection of John Rankin School in Berkshire is going ahead on Tuesday after discussions yesterday afternoon, but protesters outside the school gates have condemned the “intensely cruel” Ofsted inspections.

Pressure is mounting on Ofsted, the regulatory body, with the National Education Union (NEU), school leaders’ union NAHT and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) all calling for inspections to be halted after Ms Perry’s death.

Her family released a statement saying her death was a “direct result” of the pressure she was under due to the “deeply harmful” Ofsted inspection, which downgraded her school from outstanding to inadequate.

They said: “We are in no doubt that Ruth’s death was a direct result of the pressure put on her by the process and outcome of an Ofsted inspection at her school. We do not for an instant recognise Ofsted’s ‘inadequate’ judgement as a true reflection of Ruth’s exemplary leadership or of the wonderful school she led.”

A photograph of Ruth Perry attached to the fence outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire, where headteacher Flora Cooper is planning to refuse entry to Ofsted inspectors following the death of Ms Perry, who was head at nearby Caversham Primary School in Reading. Ruth killed herself in January while waiting for an Ofsted report which gave her school the lowest possible rating, her family said. Picture date: Tuesday March 21, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story EDUCATION Perry. Photo credit should read: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
A photograph of Ruth Perry outside John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

Mr Perry, 53, took her own life in January while waiting for the assessment of Caversham Primary School in Reading.

The regulatory body gave the school the lowest possible rating after finding leadership and management issues related to “safeguarding”, while every other category was deemed good. The school had previously been rated “outstanding”.

A petition calling for an inquiry into the inspection of Caversham Primary School has more than 110,000 signatures.

Teachers and parents gathered outside the gates of John Rankin School on Tuesday morning, attempting to block Ofsted inspectors in support of Ms Perry.

However, the inspection will go ahead today “following discussions between the parties involved yesterday afternoon”, according to a spokesperson from the West Berkshire Council.

Flora Cooper, its head teacher, previously told Schools Weekly that she wanted to “stand up” for schools, teachers and students, but admitted she was unaware of the “legal implications” of staging a boycott.

Former teachers and parents gathered outside the school gates this morning in support of Ms Perry.

Liz, a former primary school teacher who was mentored by Ms Perry when the school went into special measures, described her as “absolutely brilliant” and said “the stress that she was under was immense”.

Speaking to PA news agency, she said: “It is just unimaginable. There is not a day where I don’t think about Ruth and the loss not only obviously to her family but also the entire teaching community.

“She didn’t just care and dedicate herself to her school and her pupils, she was also a huge support for schools in the Reading area and beyond.”

She called for Ofsted to “go back to its roots” of supporting schools and helping them to improve, rather than the current system of giving “one-word grading over two days of observation where schools are given a day’s notice”.

Jelena, 53, who has a child at John Rankin Junior School in Newbury, Berkshire, said she was backing Ms Cooper against “intensely cruel” Ofsted inspections.

She said: “I just wanted to come out and show my support to Flora, who has bravely come forward. I was surprised because it’s a brave move but I thought it was a bold move and it had to be done and I knew why she was doing it.

“The system is so antiquated and needs a complete reform. To give a school so little notice and put that school and those teachers under pressure when they’re already under pressure is intensely cruel.”

Katherine, a former secondary school teacher whose children used to attend John Rankin School, said she felt “honour-bound” to join the protest.

She said: “I passionately believe that Ofsted is divisive and not something that helps teachers. I’ve been through an Ofsted [inspection] in the last five to 10 years and they come into your classroom and you teach in the way you are told to teach for Ofsted. That’s my problem.”

A spokesman from the Department for Education said: “Inspections are hugely important as they hold schools to account for their educational standards and parents greatly rely on the ratings to give them confidence in choosing the right school for their child.

“We offer our deep condolences to the family and friends of Ruth Perry following her tragic death and are continuing to provide support to Caversham Primary School at this difficult time.”

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.”

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