Departing school leader’s warning over ‘pernicious accountability system’

High-profile MAT leader says accountability system and pressure on school finances are factors in his decision to leave

John Roberts

Stephen Tierney

A leading headteacher who is to leave the profession later this year has called on the government to create a new culture across the school system to stop more senior leaders leaving.

Stephen Tierney told Tes that a “pernicious accountability system” and budget pressures had played a part in his decision to step down as multi-academy trust (MAT) chief executive.

He will leave his post at the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi Academy Trust in Blackpool at the end of this year, after almost 20 years working in school leadership in the town.

Quick read: White working class schools more likely to be found to be failing

Background: Why head teachers are leaving

Analysis: Tierney questions new Ofsted framework 

He said: “I am 55 years old, I lost my mum and dad last year, and I am at a stage of life where you know you are not getting any younger and where you start to think about what you want to do next.”

Mr Tierney will also be stepping down as chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable – a group of prominent school leaders who joined forces through social media and now work as a school-based thinktank on education policy.

He added: “I have also thought about the pernicious accountability system we have and the situation on school spending is tough.”

Mr Tierney is a prominent blogger and voice in education. He has been a vocal critic of Ofsted inspection and the impact it has on schools serving white, working-class communities.

Mr Tierney warned that more school leaders his age will be faced with the same decision unless the culture around schools changes.

“At some point, we will need to stop pulling people out of the river and go upstream to find out why they are falling in.

“On recruitment and retention I think the Department for Education needs to go upstream and if they did they would find there is a lot of work needed to be done to bring about a culture change in schools. 

“We were told there would be no changes in exams for schools to deal with but now we hear there is going to be a crackdown on which post-16 BTEC courses get funding. It is just non-stop.”

Mr Tierney said that if he was younger, he may have considered changing career.

“I think there is a real issue with the baby boomers who are now reaching 53, 54, 55, 56,” he said.

"If I was 45, and was faced with the same accountability pressures and financial struggles in schools, then I would have more of a mortgage to pay and I would just have to crack on with it or look to move to a new career. I am now at an age where I can think about retiring and moving on to something new.

“I am not leaving until the end of the year because to recruit to this level can take time. I actually told my chair that I was planning to leave the day the new Ofsted inspection framework was announced but this was just a coincidence.”

Before becoming leader of the Blessed Edward Bamber Catholic Multi Academy Trust in 2014, Mr Tierney was the executive headteacher of St Mary’s Catholic College and Christ the King Catholic Primary School.

The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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