Call for probe into work-related suicides after headteacher’s death

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Two academics have called for investigations by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into every work-related suicide.

Professor Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and University of Leeds professor Sarah Waters made the call in the British Medical Journal in the wake of headteacher Ruth Perry taking her own life in January.

Her family believes stress associated with an Ofsted inspection contributed to her death.

Caversham Primary School in Reading, where she worked, was waiting for a report to be published downgrading it from Outstanding to Inadequate when she died.

“Even though the link between adverse working conditions and suicide is well established, regulations requiring reporting of work-related deaths to the Health and Safety Executive in Great Britain specifically exclude suicides,” the article said.

Ofsted protest
Ellen (left) and Liz (surnames not given) outside the gates to John Rankin Schools in Newbury, Berkshire (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“We argue that three bodies need to act now.

“The first is Ofsted itself. It should publicly accept that it has a duty of care to teachers (and to its inspectors, some of whom are also traumatised by the events we have described).”

The two academics believe the HSE should follow the system in France where all work-related suicides are investigated.

“In France, for example, if there is even a suggestion of a link between suicide and working conditions, the burden of proof falls on the employer to show otherwise,” they said.

Ofsted protest
People attend a vigil in March for Ruth Perry outside the offices of Ofsted in Victoria, central London, after she took her own life while waiting for a negative Ofsted inspection report (Jonathan Brady/PA)

A survey conducted in 2022 by the Teacher Wellbeing Index showed 78% of more than 3,000 teachers reported mental health symptoms they attributed to their work.

“Finally, as Ofsted says that it reports to ‘Parliament, parents, carers, and commissioners’, the Commons education select committee should conduct an urgent inquiry into its impact on the welfare of teaching staff,” the article said.

Simon Kidwell, the vice-president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said last month he believes “the framework that underpins the inspection needs redesigning”, declaring that it is “not fit for purpose and it’s not working”.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “We welcome this powerful intervention and the calls for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate all suicides linked to work, including in schools, and to launch an inquiry into work-related stress in education.

“The outpouring of grief and anger across the profession following the tragic death of Ruth Perry has been accompanied by upsetting evidence of other school leaders who have been left in very dark places due to Ofsted inspections.”

He added: “As well as the suggested involvement of the HSE, we need the government and Ofsted to accept what they are hearing loud and clear from school staff, and work with the profession to agree and deliver root and branch reform to inspection.”

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