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Ofsted left me destroyed, says tearful ex-head

A FORMER head teacher told of how a “politicised” Ofsted had left him suicidal after Ruth Perry’s family encouraged him to speak out.

NASUWT delegate Neil Appleby said he offered his support to her grieving family as he had come close to taking his own life in 2016.

Ms Perry, the head at a Reading primary school, took her own life in 2023 after an Ofsted report downgraded the school from its highest rating to its lowest over safeguarding concerns.

A coroner ruled the inspection “likely contributed” to her death.

Speaking at the NASUWT annual conference in Harrogate, Mr Appleby told the Morning Star that he got in touch with Ms Perry’s sister Professor Julia Walters.

“I just wanted to reach out and tried to give some comfort: that she wasn’t alone, that there were other people, but also, if she wanted that story told, I was willing to tell it,” he said.

“But alongside that, I do think that the message needs to get out that it’s not working if any agency is causing this much mental health and devastation.

“Ruth Perry is not the only one, I was not the only one: but for the grace of God, I would have been in her position and my family would have been the ones picking up the pieces.

“I don’t know how many other heads have done that [whose stories] haven’t reached the public domain.”

Speaking on a motion for the inspectorate to be seen as “a supportive process” and the need for Ofsted to assess mental health and wellbeing in young people and teachers, Mr Appleby told delegates he met his 15-year target to become a head teacher when he joined the profession almost to the day.

“I was so proud,” he said. ”I was a good head, I cared for my staff, I cared for the young people and I cared deeply for the local community.

“In 2016 Ofsted came. I was already in a fragile state after eight months waiting for the call.”

When they did, “the first question asked of me: ‘What are your intentions regarding academisation?’

“Then the team arrived and the lead said to me: ‘We cannot give you ‘good’ for leadership for a third time if your overall is ‘requires improvement’ across the board. That was a lie.”

His school was downgraded to “requires improvement.” 

Mr Appleby said: “I was deeply devastated. A victim of a politicised Ofsted, I fell into a deep depression. I felt like I had let the staff, children, community and local authority down.

“Did I get support from anyone linked to the school? No, just a very clear message that I needed to go. The only support I got was from my union.”

He said the Ofsted report was published shortly before the funeral of a close friend.

Delegates applauded Mr Appleby as he tearfully said he returned to school for a governors’ meeting and was told he needed to go.

“I tried to come in to the school the next day and fell apart; I walked out of school and got into my car and planned how I would commit suicide without losing my death-in-service benefits,” he said.

“I was utterly destroyed, I don’t know what made me, but I phoned my school improvement partner and that day he saved my life.

“He stayed on the line and phoned the doctors for me and talked me down. But for him I would not be here today — and that is on Ofsted.

“I know this is a long time ago, but don’t be fooled they have changed: they haven’t.”

In his first interview after speaking out at conference, he told the Morning Star: “It was tough. After I spoke, 60 to 70 people came up to me. It was incredibly validating.

“I don’t think a root-and-branch reform will work with Ofsted, but I also wanted people to know a couple of things: there are some head teachers out there who care.

“I was one of those old-school head teachers that really wanted a community school where I could serve the local community. I just wanted to be in the community, for the community.

“When your profession is referred to as ‘enemies of promise’ and ‘the blob’ from the very first moment that the Conservative Party got in, that just says everything about what their view of teaching is.

“And that has been very much identified in their whole practice for 14 years.

“I think Labour have got to turn their back on that, very clearly draw a line in the sand and say this is now the time when we need to show our commitment to the profession.

“Education is the most important single thing in any child’s life.”

Delegates unanimously backed a motion for all school leaders to receive suicide prevention training amid a “mental health emergency” among staff, as teachers are turning to antidepressants and alcohol to cope with work pressures.

The Department for Education said: “We recognise the extraordinary work that head teachers, teachers and other staff in schools provide and we take their wellbeing very seriously.”

Ofsted was contacted for comment.

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