A DEVASTATED daughter of a headteacher who killed herself following a damning Ofsted report has told of her disgust that "no lessons have been learned".
Carol Woodward, 58, who worked at Woodford Primary School in Plymouth, took her life eight years ago after the school received an "inadequate" rating in the wake of an inspection.
Daughter Lucy says the tragic death bears chilling similarities to the suicide of headmistress Ruth Perry, 53, who was found dead in January this year after hearing her primary school was downgraded by the schools watchdog.
Lucy, who turned 18 the day before Carol’s suicide, said: “The death of Ruth and my mum are not isolated incidents.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of headteachers, teachers, and teaching assistants who have felt heightened levels of stress or anxiety from Ofsted inspections.”
Her comments come as a Sun investigation reveals a deepening mental health crisis among teachers who face gruelling inspections every few years.
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Educators from across the country have shared their experiences of feeling pressured by the watchdog – with several claiming they even had to be medicated after an audit.
And our probe has found that in the deaths of five other teachers who died by suicide, Ofsted was referenced by families as a contributing factor.
The family of Ruth, who led the team at Caversham Primary School in Reading, Berks, when they were graded inadequate, has said her death was a "direct result" of Ofsted pressure.
Her sister, Professor Julia Waters, 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.”
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Schools are legally required to be audited by the watchdog but only have to give as little as half a day's notice before arriving.
Educational institutions are called up for inspection within four years or 30 months, depending on how they rank.
But schools marked as 'outstanding' have been exempt from regular reinspection since 2011 due to plans to focus on struggling institutions – meaning many are being examined for the first time in over a decade.
I have no doubt if it wasn’t for the Ofsted inspection she would still be with us
November 2022 figures show that 88 per cent of schools in England were rated either 'outstanding' or 'good'.
Between September 2022 and February 2023, Ofsted visited 359 'outstanding' schools. Half were downgraded to 'good', while 10 per cent were told they required improvement, and another 1.4 per cent rated 'inadequate'.
Carol’s husband Richard tells us he believes his wife would still be here if it wasn’t for the damning rating in 2015.
“I have no doubt if it wasn’t for the Ofsted inspection she would still be with us,” he said.
“I remember telling her if the report wasn’t good enough then walk away and retire, she was 58 and had all the years of service she needed. But she was so passionate about the school and the kids that she wanted to put it right.”
Richard, along with thousands of others, is calling for the reformation of Ofsted to ensure no other family has to endure similar pain.
He said: “I would not dispute Ofsted has a role in any school maintaining and improving the learning outcomes of each pupil but challenge the way this is done.”
Richard proposes a friendly face from the schools watchdog visiting six months prior to an inspection to provide practical advice and support before the official inspectors come.
His concerns and calls for reform are echoed by every teaching practitioner approached by The Sun, who have told of "rude" inspectors increasing the pressures on their staff.
Headteacher turned education consultant Alison Kriel claims she found many of her interactions with Ofsted inspectors demoralising and a box-ticking exercise.
The educator, who steered Northwold Primary School in London from failing to being one of the country’s top-performing institutions, said: “They arrive in an abrupt and official way which can make it feel overwhelming.
“I’ve had it from the moment inspectors arrive. No matter how friendly and nice you are, they’re just rude and aren’t very nice.”
Alison decided to stop using the Ofsted ratings as she felt it didn't necessarily reflect the school well and didn't want it to be the sole marker of how well it was doing.
The former head takes issues with how the routine checks left staff feeling drained and their usual roles hijacked by the fear of what result would be recorded.
“Irrespective of the outcome, everybody is completely spent – emotionally spent, physically spent. And it then takes a good few weeks to recover,” she told The Sun.
"I engaged with the process but I knew it was a skewed view of the school so used our more detailed school development plan to inform the work that we had to do. The work of the school is complex and cannot be captured in one word headlines with a few words in summary."
The experienced education professional claims that around six or seven hours over a few days rarely captures the strengths and weaknesses of a school properly.
Many of the schools Alison helmed during her tenure as headteacher were in seriously deprived areas and required specialist care and management.
A report by The Education Policy Institute and UCL Institute of Education published last year found that schools that were rated poorly by Ofsted and stuck in a cycle of bad reviews tended to have a higher proportion of disadvantaged pupils.
Despite her negative view of Ofsted, Alison believes that schools should be held accountable but it needs to be in a “respectful” way that looks at “opportunities for success”.
'I can feel their anxiety'
Through her current role supporting other headteachers, Alison often sees colleagues at their breaking point before inspections.
“I’ve had people come up and talk to me about Ofsted and you can see the tears and fear in their eyes. I can feel their anxiety,” she said.
“They live with this fear all the time. They’re pushed close to the edge and something will give.
“It’s relentless pressure. It doesn’t surprise me so many teachers take their own life. It deeply saddens me.”
ONS figures released in 2015 revealed that the suicide rate among primary school teachers in England was nearly two times higher than the national average.
Alison claims many teachers she has spoken to believe the stress caused by Ofsted has made them unwell – with some attributing minor strokes to the pressure.
According to a July 2019 report by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, teaching staff and educational professionals report the highest rates of work-related stress, depression, and anxiety in Britain.
It also found that most felt Ofsted contributed to their workplace stress.
The inspection body responded to the findings by saying they would revise their framework.
It left several of the children in our care very upset and my staff completely mortified.”
A nursery owner in Hertfordshire said she was left horrified when an inspection of her site involved the inspector allegedly ridiculing children and leaving staff in tears.
The educator, who has asked not to be named over fears of reprisals, told The Sun that she attempted to escalate issues with Ofsted three times but had little response.
She said: “The inspector turned up an hour and a half late and was rude to my staff – leaving them feeling uncomfortable.
“Then at lunchtime, she made comments about the contents of a child’s lunchbox, leading other kids to mock the child.
“She went even further by commenting on another child’s appearance and then insulted another child’s choice of snack. It was incredibly uncomfortable and unprofessional. It left several of the children in our care very upset and my staff completely mortified.”
The inspection went on to criticise the nursery's safeguarding procedures after it opted not to report a false accusation made by a parent.
The nursery owner consulted the local council and safeguarding body who told her the harmful claim didn’t meet the threshold required to be reported to Ofsted as the parent admitted it was fictitious.
But it led to the nursery being rated 'requires improvement', despite the rest of the report being glowing about the care provided.
Since 1999, at least six teachers have died by suicide and had Ofsted pressures cited by a coroner or their family.
1999 – Janet Watson, 33, who taught religious education at Rudheath Primary School, Northwich, Cheshire, committed suicide. In the inquest, the coroner read statements which claimed Janet suffered a depressive illness and the Ofsted inspection had put her under increased pressure.
2000 – Pamela Relf, 57, a teacher at Middlefield primary school in Eynesbury, Cambs, killed herself after finding the stresses of modern teaching too much. Speaking about Pamela’s issues during an Ofsted inspection, the school’s headteacher told an inquest: “She was tearful, having been told by the inspector that she lacked pace in her lesson.”
2001 – Assistant headteacher Patrick Stack, 45, hanged himself ahead of an impending Ofsted inspection. A Community Mental Health Team report said the teacher, who had a history of depression, claimed shortly before his death the school would fail the Ofsted inspection.
2007 – Keith Waller, 35, a year four teacher at Lawrence Church of England Primary School in Rowledge, near Colchester in Essex. Friends told how he felt singled out by an Ofsted report which claimed his lessons were between “satisfactory and inadequate”. Friend Peter Thornton said in a statement: "He felt he was being bullied and victimised. It seemed nothing was ever good enough."
2013 – Helen Mann, 43, a headteacher at Sytchampton Primary School in Worcestershire, hanged herself in 2013. The inquest heard that she was worried the school would lose its outstanding Ofsted rating following an informal council inspection claiming it would. She had been signed off for four weeks with work-related stress.
2015 – Carol Woodward, 58, the headteacher at Woodford Primary School, took her own life following an Ofsted inspection during a chaotic £2.5million renovation. Detective Constable Peter Riley told the inquest: “The chaotic environment this caused coupled with the pressures of the academic year and the timing of Ofsted’s inspection triggered an immense amount of pressure on Carol.” In the Inquest, GP Dr Rosie Heath told how Carol had claimed she had “let everyone down” following the bad Ofsted grade and expressed suicidal thoughts.
Staff and parents are devastated at the ranking, and the nursery owner told how she struggled to face work for four months.
She said: “I felt humiliated and upset. I didn’t want to show my face at work for months because it left me feeling so low. I was at rock bottom.
“I’ve spent my career giving everything for these children. It felt like I was being told 18 years of my life had been absolutely pointless.”
The Sun has seen letters from Ofsted in response to the nursery complaining about their treatment saying an internal investigation is being launched.
They did not give a comment on any specific allegation made by the nursery.
Little Learners Nursery in North Yorkshire told The Sun how an inspection at the end of last year resulted in senior management being medicated for stress and five staff members resigning within six weeks.
Nursery owner Lesley Johnson spent £3,600 on a lawyer to challenge the report that branded her site 'inadequate' – leading Ofsted to reinspect and raise the grade to 'good'.
“From the minute the inspector walked through the door to inspect the nursery we had the feeling that she was just looking to trip us up in any way possible. I’ve done this job for 25 years and I’ve experienced Ofsted before but this was awful,” Lesley claimed.
“The whole thing made our senior leadership team unwell. We both went to the doctors and Sarah got put on anti-depressants and I was put on tranquillisers.
“I literally couldn’t cope or function. We know we’re good at our job, but this took that away from us.”
It led to the nursery almost being sold and Lesley claims she and senior manager Sarah “struggled to see a future” for weeks after the damming inspection.
They alleged that the inspector spent an hour and a half checking first aid kits were in date.
In a letter seen by The Sun, Ofsted acknowledged the upset the initial inspection had caused staff and senior management.
It said: “I apologise for the clear distress that the inspection process so far has caused both to yourself and your staff.”
It also confirmed that the initial inspection “cannot be relied on fully to provide a fair and accurate view of the provider, in whole or in part.”
Better education system
When asked about the allegations, Ofsted directed The Sun to a statement from their chief inspector.
Amanda Spielman said: "The broader debate about reforming inspections to remove grades is a legitimate one, but it shouldn’t lose sight of how grades are currently used.
"They give parents a simple and accessible summary of a school’s strengths and weaknesses. They are also now used to guide government decisions about when to intervene in struggling schools. Any changes to the current system would have to meet the needs both of parents and of government.
"The right and proper outcome of Ofsted’s work is a better education system for our children. To that end, we aim to do good as we go – and to make inspections as collaborative and constructive as we can.
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"We will keep our focus on how inspections feel for school staff and on how we can further improve the way we work with schools. I am always pleased when we hear from schools that their inspection ‘felt done with, not done to’. That is the kind of feedback I want to hear in every case.
"As teachers, school leaders and inspectors, we all work together in the best interests of children – and I’m sure that principle will frame all discussions about the future of inspection."
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