Head becomes 'rural sport' in parents' row

A VILLAGE dispute over the future of the head of a Devon primary, has led to allegations that children were taunted as "scabs" when they crossed a picket at the school gate.

Terry West, the head of Lifton School in west Devon, has been off sick since January. Matters came to a head last week, when members of the Lifton parents' support group staged a picket at the school gates demanding that Mr West should not return to his duties.

"The first I heard of it was when my son came home and said he had been called a 'scab' for going through the school gates," said Judith Edgeley. "I was appalled by the shameful behaviour displayed by a few parents - there was even a banner 'Go West Mr West'."

Mrs Edgeley wrote to Devon County Council saying it should not bow to this pressure and should allow Mr West to make a "phased return" to his job.

Mr West has agreed in principle to resign, however negotiations with the council and his union, the National Association of Head Teachers, have stalled.

Martin Clarke, his union official, said: "All bets are off, the support of some parents and the failure of the local authority to come upwith a favourable package for Mr West has hardened his resolve (not to go quietly).

"It is his view that he might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb."

Mr West became head of the 90-pupil school in 1997. The inspection report the following year recorded that the school was "improving" but noted shortcomings in the teaching, including his own.

Since then the story has been further complicated by pupils attaining some of the best national test scores ever achieved at the school, including those in Mr West's class.

"The more you look into it, the murkier it becomes," said Samuel Rush, who has two children at the school. "It feels like Mr West has become a replacement for rural blood sports. This cannot be the right way to go about removing a headteacher."

Sarah Ramplin, a member of the Lifton Parents' Support Group, says more than a third of pupils did not attend the school on June 5 in protest. Last September, 21 children left the school.

"Parents put them in other schools because they had no confidence in the education or the discipline," said Mrs Ramplin.

She denied children were called scabs.

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