One-word judgements made by Ofsted have been labelled as its "major flaw" as criticism is made by headteachers.

Their words come as the inquest opens into the death of a headteacher who killed herself following an inspection.

Ruth Perry took her own life on January 8 this year at the age of 53, shortly after being told her school was being downgraded from ‘outstanding’ to ‘inadequate’ after an Ofsted inspection.

The Ofsted inspection in Reading - Caversham Primary School's first in 13 years - took place on November 15 and 16 last year with Ms Perry allegedly telling her sister it was "the worst day of her life", describing the experience as "dreadful". 

READ MORE: Car overturns on bridge in 20mph zone

Teachers in Oxfordshire have shared their own experiences of Ofsted while this inquest takes place.

Headteacher of the Headington secondary Cheney School, Rob Pavey, has described the one-word ratings as “patronising, ridiculous and reductive” with “distorting impacts”, adding they cause a “huge amount of unnecessary stress”.

thisisoxfordshire: Rob PaveyRob Pavey (Image: Oxford Mail)Oftsed is required to use the one-word ratings by the government that said they "succinctly summarise" instructions to help parents when picking a school for their child.

The school in Headington was recently inspected receiving a ‘good’ rating in September.

Mr Pavey said: “It is a snapshot taken by a small number of inspectors of a large complicated organisation.

“If they just removed the single-word judgements and had the narrative with nothing else changed it gives a fair impression of what the school is actually like.

“The government always says the parents rely on their grades. It’s fairly patronising. I believe parents can read and read more than one word.“

The headteacher said that the inspectors worked under new guidance following Mrs Perry’s death to come across as “more humane”.

He said: “What was very clear is that the inspectors had been given really clear guidance on making sure they were not having a disproportionate impact on people’s wellbeing.

“My impression was that the organisation has given a lot of thought to the impact of what they do.

"I get the feeling they have been given really specific instructions and training to their inspector team on how to ensure that they came across as humane as possible.

“It does seem like the organisational culture within Ofsted has changed significantly in light of Mrs Perry’s death.

“I can’t speak of personal experience with Mrs Perry but from everything you read, she was very dedicated to her school, the kids and the staff.

“For an inspection result to contribute to her death is awful. It’s a horrible thing.”

The headteacher of Barton Park Primary School, beside the A40 between Headington and Marston, admitted she felt “huge pressure” to get a ‘good’ rating in her school's first-ever inspection in June.

thisisoxfordshire: Headteacher Bryony McCrawHeadteacher Bryony McCraw (Image: Barton Park Primary School)“Whilst I believe that the current inspection model remains too high stakes we did have a surprisingly positive Ofsted experience earlier this year,” Bryony McCraw said.

“The inspectors were thorough yet supportive and keen to hear the opinions of those who knew the school best.

“Parents do look at Ofsted reports and many will, understandably, make decisions based on the grades.

“This can be hugely damaging for a school and the community it serves.

“As a new school in a developing community, I did feel a huge pressure to get a 'good' grading as anything less would have made it harder to attract families to our school and harder to recruit strong staff and therefore harder to get an improved grading at the next inspection.

“This can create a downward spiral for schools and negatively impact the wider community.

“Thankfully we did get a 'good' grading and staff felt rightly valued and rewarded for the hard work they have put into our school.”

Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust run 42 church and community schools across Oxfordshire and Berkshire with six of their schools in the county being inspected over the past year.

Trust bosses noted that inspectors seemed to be more “mindful” of the stress Ofsted caused to headteachers.

Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust chief executive Anne Dellar said: “It feels as though pressures on schools have never been greater, and the constant apprehension when an inspection is due certainly adds to that.

thisisoxfordshire: Anne DellarAnne Dellar (Image: Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust)“As a multi-academy trust, we take the well-being of school leaders extremely seriously and, having experienced inspections in six Oxfordshire schools over the past year, it has been clear that inspectors’ guidelines have been modified to ensure they are more mindful of the stress placed on headteachers during the inspection itself.

“We know Ofsted are considering next steps and hope that they will continue to reflect on what still needs to change to reduce the daily pressure inspection places on schools.”

Cabinet member for children, education and youth services, John Howson said: “All inspections of public services, whether by Ofsted, CQC or the Fire Service Inspectorate can be times of heightened anxiety within an organisation.

“Oxfordshire County Council offers help to the remaining maintained schools around Ofsted visits, but recognises that many schools are now academies, and they may look elsewhere for support both before and after an inspection.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders labelled the one-word ratings as Ofsted's "major flaw" calling for it to be changed to a narrative judgement.

thisisoxfordshire: Geoff Barton Geoff Barton (Image: Archant)He said: “Ofsted has introduced some changes to inspections since the tragic death of Ruth Perry.

“These include inspectors returning more quickly to schools graded ‘inadequate’ where that judgement was based on an assessment of safeguarding but all other elements were good or better.

“This will allow a school to address the safeguarding concern and improve its inspection grade within three months of the first inspection.

“Ofsted has also revised its complaints procedure in a way that is intended to resolve any concerns that a school may have over an inspection more quickly. We welcome these improvements.

“However, they do not address the major flaw with the current inspection system which is that it applies a blunt single-word or phrase judgement to everything that a school does in a way which is intensely demoralising to staff, parents, and pupils and stigmatises schools, making improvement harder to secure.

“This could be addressed simply by replacing graded judgements with narrative judgements that better reflect the breadth of a school’s provision, are more supportive and which provide more useful information to parents.

“Ofsted does not have the power to change this system and it is a decision which must be taken by the government.”

thisisoxfordshire: An inquest into the death of Ruth Perry is taking place this weekAn inquest into the death of Ruth Perry is taking place this week (Image: Andrew Matthews/PA)A Department of Education spokesman said: "We will be paying close attention to the inquest and will carefully consider the outcome when it comes to an end.

"One-word inspection grades succinctly summarise independent evaluations on the quality of education, safeguarding, and leadership which helps to give parents confidence in choosing the right school for their child."

An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “We were deeply saddened by the death of Ruth Perry and our thoughts remain with her loved ones and the community at Caversham Primary School.

“We have listened to the public debate around our inspections this year and we announced measures to improve aspects of our work with schools in the summer.

"We are continuing to support the coroner’s inquest and we will give evidence at the hearing this week.”