`Climate of fear' eats the soul

More than half of secondary school leaders are considering leaving the profession, according to a TES survey out today, with most blaming government policies

Stephen Exley

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At the end of next week, Carol Mason will call time on her career as a head. After spending a quarter of a century at Brentwood County High School in Essex, holding the job of principal for the past decade, she is understandably sad about her departure. "I will hugely miss the staff and the kids in the school; I have some very close friendships here. The school is very much a part of my life, and I am very much part of it," she says.

But there is one big reason why she is upset about leaving the school: she doesn't really want to go. "Until recently, I hadn't thought about not being here at all, but things have changed. It's not the job I originally came in to do."

Mason says her decision to take early retirement was prompted by the bombardment of policy changes since the coalition came to power in 2010. She has simply had enough.

She is sick of having to teach to the test, at the expense of individual pupils' needs. "I don't like what I am being asked to do," she explains. And, under new Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw, the pressure to impress the inspectors is more acute than ever. Throw in the ill-feeling still festering about plans to reform teachers' pensions and you have a potent cocktail of reasons for any school leader to feel disillusioned.

If that weren't enough to contend with, come September, Brentwood County High will have to compete with a new free school opening in the town. "The school that was on that site closed, because there were too many empty places," Mason fumes. "It's absolutely ludicrous - it's immoral. It's a waste of taxpayers' money."

But, even more than all this, what she is really sick of is the abuse. And she doesn't mean from the pupils. It's the ministers who are the problem.

She is far from being alone in holding this view. A joint TESAssociation of School and College Leaders survey reveals the extent of the anger and frustration among secondary school leaders, with many complaining of "bully-boy tactics" from the government and a "climate of fear" brought on by both the Department for Education and Ofsted.

You can read the full article in the March 23 issue of TES.

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Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley

Stephen Exley is a freelance writer, director of external affairs at Villiers Park Educational Trust and former FE editor at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @stephenexley

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