An award-winning headteacher hanged herself shortly after Ofsted downgraded her school, an inquest has been told.
Carol Woodward, the long-serving head of Woodford primary school near Plymouth, suffered a swift decline in her mental health that coincided with an inspection by Ofsted as well as disruptive building work to expand the school.
Police who investigated the death told the inquest in Plymouth that the Ofsted inspection in July was “completed in a fair manner but the timing, without assigning culpability, was wrong”.
DC Peter Riley, the investigating officer, said: “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.”
Ian Arrow, the Plymouth senior coroner, ruled that the cause of death was suicide by hanging. “There is nothing suspicious about Carol’s tragic death,” Arrow said in summing up. “She just felt she was under so much pressure.”
The Ofsted inspectors downgraded the school’s rating to inadequate and placed it in special measures. The school had been rated as good in its last inspection, in 2012.
The school of more than 400 pupils was undergoing extensive building work at the time of the inspection in order to add capacity for a further 200 pupils across all year groups.
Under the terms of Ofsted inspections, schools can delay visits in exceptional circumstances such as building disruption.
The inspectors’ report was critical of the standard of teaching and pupil attainment, after a decline in key stage two results. It also criticised the school’s governors and the local authority for failing to take measures to improve the school.
After the inspection, Woodward contacted her doctor several times to discuss stress and other health problems, the inquest was told.
In late July, the 58-year-old told her GP that the school had failed the Ofsted inspection and that she felt she had let everyone down, the inquest heard. She later complained of being unable to sleep.
Woodward had been headteacher at Woodford infants school since 1996, becoming head of Woodford primary after the merger of the two schools in 2010.
In 2006 Woodward was named a regional primary school headteacher of the year, in an awards programme sponsored by the Department for Education. In 2007 the school’s results were in the top 5% in England, and two years later the school was feted by Ofsted for its results and outstanding teaching.
Debbie Johns, the school’s assistant head and chair of governors, told the Plymouth Herald in August: “Carol was extremely proud of the school and believed in the importance of focusing on the needs of each and every child to ensure they felt confident, happy and safe.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “Like so many others, we offer our sincere condolences to Mrs Woodward’s family, friends, colleagues and pupils at this very difficult time.”