Headteacher killed herself aged 53 over a negative Ofsted report

‘Her career was destroyed by a single word – inadequate’: Heartbroken sister reveals headteacher killed herself after Ofsted inspectors claimed a pupil doing the flossing dance was ‘evidence of sexualisation of children’ at the primary school

  • Ruth Perry had been head of Caversham Primary School in Reading for 13 years
  • She took her own life in January after being told Ofsted would rate it Inadequate 
  • For confidential support call Samaritans on 116123 or visit www.samaritans.org

A headteacher who killed herself aged 53 over an Ofsted report called it ‘the worst day of my life’ and claimed she was downgraded after a child had been seen flossing and an inspector insisted the common dance move was ‘sexual’, it emerged today.

Ruth Perry, who was married with children and had been principal at Caversham Primary School in Reading since 2010, took her own life in January this year believing the result was a ‘complete injustice’.

Ms Perry claimed inspectors told senior staff they had seen a boy ‘flossing’ – a popular dance move with tens of millions of children around the world – and that this was evidence of the sexualisation of pupils at the school.

It’s also alleged inspectors told teachers that they had seen child-on-child abuse – but Ms Perry insisted it was a playground scuffle. Ms Perry had been told the school was being downgraded from Outstanding to Inadequate – and killed herself while waiting for the publication of the report, her family have said. 

Her sister Julia claimed the inspection, which took place on November 15 and 16 last year, devastated Ms Perry, who told her it was ‘the worst day of my life’ and the experience was ‘dreadful’. 

Her beloved sister became ‘an absolute shadow of her former self’, she said, adding: ‘This one word judgement is just destroying 32 years of her vocation, education was her vocation. 32 years summed up in one word, Inadequate. It just preyed on her mind until she couldn’t take it anymore. She was a huge loss, she was my little sister and she was only 53, she had so much more still to give, so much more that she could do.’

Ruth Perry took her own life in January this year while waiting for the publication of an Ofsted report

Ms Perry’s sister, Julia (pictured), told BBC South the headteacher was left a ‘shadow of her former self’ by the Ofsted inspection

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

The headteacher had an extraordinary bond with the school, having been a pupil there. She returned in 2006 as deputy headteacher and being promoted to principal in 2010.

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’s sister said there is a sense of ‘complete injustice’ about the process behind the inspection and the report. The inspection was the primary’s first in 13 years, after rules exempting Outstanding schools from being looked at in-depth by Ofsted were scrapped.

She told BBC South: ‘I said “It can’t be that bad” and she said “yes it is, it’s about as bad as it can be”.

‘All during that process, every time I spoke to her she would talk about the countdown. I remember clearly one day her saying “52 days and counting”. 

‘Everyday 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 time I saw her rather than just speaking on the phone a couple of days after the end of the Ofsted inspection, she was an absolute shadow of her former self.

It is claimed inspectors had decided after the first day of the two-day inspection to downgrade it, as well as making unfounded claims about the sexualisation of children at the school.

Ms Perry took her own life on January 8 this year, just over two months before the report was released, sparking an outpouring of grief from family, friends, colleagues and the school’s community.

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.

Julia says her sister (pictured together) ‘was a huge loss’ and ‘had so much more still to give’

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.

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.’

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, the Labour MP for Reading East, where the school is based, said: ”I’ve had a meeting with the school’s 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.

Inspectors from Ofsted said leadership and management at Caversham Primary School was Inadequate

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. 

READ MORE HERE:  Interactive map reveals England’s best primary schools, according to Ofsted – is there one near YOU?


‘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.’

‘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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