'I know I can never go back to teaching'

A 'requires improvement' Ofsted rating and anonymous complaints letters led this former headteacher to leave the profession for good


Since the start of the 2018-19 academic year, eight college principals have quit

In December, a few years ago, I resigned from my executive headship.

I’d been teaching since 1991 and for years was passionate and dedicated to teaching.

What went wrong? It was the perfect storm.

I was happily leading two successful rural schools. Both of them had been rated "good" by Ofsted for seven years.

The summer holidays before we were expecting our next inspection, I got married and had two weeks "off grid" in Dorset for my honeymoon.

During that time, it escaped my notice that the DfE published a draft version of the new safeguarding guidance.

September came around and I had meetings with my school improvement adviser, and the Safeguarding Children Board as the headteacher rep. Nobody mentioned any new guidance. Four weeks into the term the "draft" was made official. I was still unaware, busy ensuring that everything was up to date for Ofsted.

In November, the inspector called. The first question was: ‘So, you think you are good at safeguarding do you?” Surprised, I answered yes.

Approaching our "safeguarding board" the inspector pointed to the DfE guidance and said: “Well, if you’re so good, why is this information out of date?” Bemused, I asked if there had been an update, to be informed that it had happened in August.

To cut a long story short the inspection found our safeguarding to be "good", as was every other aspect of the children’s experiences of our school.

However, because I missed the guidance update, I was deemed to be overworked and therefore my governors inadequate. We were given “requires improvement”.

My staff were devastated. I queried my own standards and berated myself for missing such an important document.

It wasn’t long before an ex-parent (who had not left the school on the best of terms) got hold of the Ofsted report.

The letters

In January, the borough received a complaint, and I was questioned about choices I’d made regarding the school. While this was going on, I was working all hours to get all our policies in line with the new guidance.

The eight-week deadline for a re-visit came and went: Ofsted did not appear.

In February, Ofsted sent a copy of a letter of complaint they had received about me and my school to the borough. I was questioned about all the aspects of this letter but I wasn’t allowed to see it. The borough wrote back to Ofsted answering all accusations.

More letters were sent. Each one was "investigated". I was brought into the borough hall and questioned. In every governors' meeting they were read out. I started feeling the strain of trying to address Ofsted, run the schools and being constantly accused by both signed and anonymous letter writers.

By April there were five letters. I arranged a meeting with my union rep and the borough.

They agreed that the letters were malicious and referred the case to the police. I was assured by my union rep that because the letters were a police investigation, when Ofsted did return they wouldn’t be able to refer to them.

Ofsted returned in the July. The inspector said: “Right, let’s start with these letters then.”

I was completely thrown. I argued that they were a police matter now and also that, if we started there, I would be emotional. I was told: "You know, you have to fix yourself before you can fix this school!"

Ofsted agreed that we were making enough progress against our targets.

The police said there wasn’t quite enough for a harassment case, but that, as my employer, the borough could take out a civil injunction and prevent any more letters from the known writer.

This never happened.

The final nail

A week before the summer holidays, I received another letter, this time from the local authority.

It was deemed as a “pre-warning, warning letter.” I thought they were only for schools in special measures.

The removal of all members but one of my governing body, and replacing it with an interim executive board (IEB), was the final nail in the coffin for my mental health.

A week into the summer break and I was in school writing a new school development plan for the IEB meeting.

The entire meeting was spent with people allocating themselves positions for themselves in September. At 10pm I pointed out the need to add governors' actions to the SDP. I was told not to worry about it until September. I pointed out that Ofsted wanted the new SDP by the close of July, hence I had been working on it all week.

I was brushed off and told that the chair would email the inspector and explain that we would meet about the school development plan in September.

In August, when driving to work, I had the overwhelming desire to deliberately crash my car into a ditch. Shocked, I pulled over. I rang my husband, who told me to go home. I was diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety disorder and was signed off work and told to have absolutely no contact with the school.

I was pushed into a meeting with the chair of IEB, who sat opposite me in my kitchen stating repeatedly: “But it’s only me!” as I wept. In my head I was screaming, “You could be Father F****** Christmas, and I would still be a mess.”

I was offered counselling by occupational health. But this is held in Borough Hall and I can’t bare to go back there.

By October, I'd referred myself to the NHS wellbeing service and had two group training lessons on cognitive behaviour therapy. It took an hour-long assessment to be added to the long waiting list for one to one therapy. I kept taking the drugs and hoped for the best.

In December, my union rep called me. He said there’d been another letter. My reply was simple: “Get me out of here.”

A year and a bit later, I’m receiving therapy for my PTSD. I’m on daily drugs. I’m in the process of applying for ill health retirement from teaching, knowing I can never go back.

Please, no matter what role you have, remember, it’s a job and you need to work to live not live to work. Look after your mental health.

The writer is a former executive head in England

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