Thursday, 25 October 2012

Whose agenda? Who pays the price?

My wife is a Headteacher. A very good Headteacher. Now, as of last week, an ex-Headteacher unfortunately. Not because of retirement, illness or a desire to get out of the rat race. No! An agenda, get by the current education secretary, to expose so called 'failing' schools, and an agenda delivered by hard nosed, unfeeling hatchet men employed by the local education authority.

I won't name the authority or my wife's school or my wife: we don't share the same surname. She doesn't wish me to make a scene.

In the last few weeks we have had to endure more stresses than we have ever dealt with before. However this experience is sadly shared by a growing number of leading educational professionals, sacrificed at the altar of 'standards', 'progress' and the desire to academise as many schools as possible. 

Months of pressure, snide criticism, and twisted half truths inevitably take their toll on a person's confidence and trust in their own abilities. The same pressures applied to staff through the same source only serves to erode the capability of a teacher to perform in class as they know that they can, particularly under the pressure of the presence of an inspector looking to exploit even the slightest flaw in your teaching.

Let me summarise the situation. An offer to support the school to reach a grade of 'Good' was made some time ago, and an experienced  professional brought in to assist. Nothing unusual there, but the agenda this particular man had was quite revolting. Teaching does attract a number of young female recruits; the last thing they want to experience is a man standing in their room staring at their breasts whilst they are trying to teach a class of impressionable children. Nor do they wish to be brushed against in the corridor, or on the stairs, for what seemed an interminable period of time. The inevitable result of this intimidation, equally meted out to male staff too, not in a sexual way, but through staring matches, unfair comments and behaviour that only served to belittle them. Three were in fact forced from their positions.

A suggestion that the entire staff work through the six week summer holiday was met with derision by the teachers, though my wife was helped by me to write an evaluative report, lifted in part from another school, rated Outstanding by OFSTED.

Eventually, a 'mock' OFSTED was held, in which inspectors were hand in glove with the original hatchet man. The wording of the report was actually taken exactly from another in the same authority- only the names were changed. It actually carries no authority whatsoever, but was sold to the governors as if it did. 

A meeting with the Director of Education in which my wife was asked if she was going to resign took the biscuit completely- it is not the position of the authority to demand something like this- only governors can do so. Lies have been told throughout- the decision was made a while ago, only the evidence to back it was required. Some was justified but most was not. 

The area of weakness identified was poor results from the outgoing year six, but that is explained by the vacancies being filled by the authority, in this case with children with exceptional need who were never going to reach level 4. Comments about poor leadership were inaccurate and quite unfair.

Much is being done well. Good teaching- regardless of what the inspection said, you cannot as a teacher possibly slide from 'Good' to 'Inadequate' in that space of time. Results are above expectations throughout the school. Community cohesion is exceptional, care of and safety of children is of a very high standard, behaviour is very good, especially compared to other schools in similar areas. Substantial work to improve the playgrounds and general environment of the school has been undertaken and highly praised locally.

The previous OFSTED inspection included this statement:

"The school provides a satisfactory education for its pupils. 'The school is a happy and friendly place and has been fantastic in helping my children.' This statement reflects the positive views expressed by pupils and the overwhelming majority of parents. In this welcoming, harmonious community pupils are happy and safe and make sound academic progress."

My wife is of high standing in the local community. The way that parents speak to her, in confidence and in public, the range of issues they discuss with her and the way they regard her as a friend first, ahead of being a headteacher, indicates the respect in which she is held. 

A phone call we received at home recently from the local MP, one of the best community MPs in the Commons, affirmed my wife's standing.

In short, a decision made by and driven by the policy of government, delivered by Directors and hitmen, with no concern about, or indeed a reference to, the needs of children. The authority did  this to keep the Department off their back- as if it justifies their own standing!

Nothing could be done to save my wife's position. There was upset amongst the children on the day she left; parents had already worked out what was happening through reading between the lines of her letter explaining her departure. The words 'stitch-up' have been widely used. There is likely to be some kind of protest, though I know it will be in vain.

What must happen is that this must not be allowed to occur again, to any head teacher. The pressure of teaching often leads to dreadful  depression. I wonder how Mr Gove would respond to a leading educational professional taking the ultimate step because of his policies. 

Postscript:
Since posting this blog originally I have had a massive response from my followers on Twitter, and your messages of outrage and support are greatly appreciated. Between us we have met heads and teachers from around the country, and have received messages through Twitter, confirming that this is going on around the country: a number of London boroughs, education authorities for major cities in the Midlands and the North of England, county authorities where several heads have been dispatched since September alone.