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I'll sue for bonuses, says head

Absence of achievement award for outstanding school leads to threats of legal action. Michael Shaw reports

A HEADTEACHER is threatening legal action against the Government because his school has never been honoured with an achievement award, even though the chief inspector has said it is outstanding.

Elliot Furneaux is angry that staff at Heathfield community school have missed out on bonuses totalling pound;75,000 because the school has been overlooked for the award three years in a row.

He says the school in Taunton, Somerset, has been penalised because its pupils take fewer exams and do more community service than other award-winners.

Mr Furneaux believes the secondary clearly deserves the honour because it appeared on last year's chief inspector's list of outstanding schools and was praised for providing an "exceptional" education by the Office for Standards in Education.

Value-added tables recently published by the Specialist Schools Trust rank Heathfield as the second strongest performing arts college in the country.

Since 1999, the proportion of its students gaining at least five A* to C grades at GCSE has risen from 54 per cent to 68 per cent.

However, the school was told this improvement was fractionally too small for it to be included among the 7,000 schools to receive an achievement award last week. Each winning secondary school receives around pound;25,000 to share between its staff.

Heathfield also did not fit other criteria; it had not been in special measures, nor did it have a high enough average GCSE points score, because many of its pupils take vocational courses or do community projects instead of sitting additional exams.

Mr Furneaux said: "All my staff should have had a pound;300 bonus three times by now. That is a lot of money, enough for a very decent holiday. I'm particularly annoyed for my non-teaching staff because they are paid a pittance.

"I used to work in publishing, and I thought performance-related pay was a nonsense then, because it is always unfair. In education it is even crazier, because you do not have simple inputs and outputs."

The headteacher is now in talks with lawyers and a range of unions about a legal challenge.

The Secondary Heads Association said it was not confident legal action would succeed, but sympathised with Mr Furneaux's frustration.

John Dunford, general secretary of SHA, said: "The whole system should be scrapped because it serves no useful purpose. There have been many headteachers whose schools have had very good Ofsted reports and cannot understand why they have not received an award."

A Department for Education and Skills spokeswoman said that Heathfield simply did not fit the existing criteria for the award. However, she added that the department was considering introducing a value-added measure which would improve its chances.

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