No short supply of tall stories

Stephen Lucas rounds up the classroom escapees, dodgers and good sports of 2004

Teachers took the Teacher Training Agency at its word in 2004 and used their heads.. to dodge lessons, leave the profession entirely and break into the celebrity circuit.

The tallest story told came from Dawn Fitzsimons, whose head offered to be tested for bone marrow compatibility after Ms Fitzsimons falsely claimed she had leukaemia to get out of an Ofsted inspection at Seaburn Dene primary, Sunderland. Ms Fitzsimons was struck off the teachers' register for four years.

Colleen McCabe, shopaholic former head of St John Rigby school, south London, had also been pondering whether she was cut out for teaching. News came from the former nun's prison cell that she had decided to become a drugs counsellor.

She unveiled her new career plans after her five-year sentence - for spending an alleged pound;500,000 of her school's budget on a lavish lifestyle - was cut by a year at the end of March. Mrs McCabe's solicitor, Tony Marshall, delivered the news: "It's the next stage on from her original vocation - as a nun caring for other people."

Then there was marathon addict Bob Brown, who had his epiphany while munching his way through a truckload of Cornish pasties on a 3,100-mile run across the United States.

Pupils at Stoke Climsland primary, where he had worked as a supply teacher, had helped him to organise flights and accommodation and secure sponsorship. But after the run Mr Brown ruled out a return to teaching, announcing: "A person like me doesn't really fit into the education system". The entire village declined to comment.

But for every teacher who ventures on to pasties new there are those who remain staunchly committed to the profession - even when celebrity beckons.

Sir Robert Dowling, head of George Dixon international school, Birmingham, was less than impressed at making it into Who's Who along with 10 other headteachers, saying: "This is just an upmarket Yellow Pages".

He was joined in the knighthood by Dexter Hutt, the pioneering head at Ninestiles comprehensive, Birmingham, who in the new year honours topped a list of 19 gonged heads, seven teachers, four assistants, four chairs of governors, two lollipop ladies and two janitors.

Soham Village college - the Cambridgeshire school where child murderer Ian Huntley worked as a caretaker - was named one of the best schools in the country by chief inspector David Bell. In response principal Howard Gilbert said: "If you said this would happen in September 2002 when we returned to school after Holly and Jessica died, I would not have believed you".

Jeanette Gibson, the fierce English teacher at fictional 1960s' secondary modern Hope Green in Channel 4's That'll Teach 'Em, returned to her real school, Windsor Boys, to find pupils had affectionately nicknamed her Hitler.

And then there were those who never considered beating a retreat from the classroom even in the harshest of times.

Kym Wilcocks, headteacher at Portsdown primary, Portsmouth, kept her school open while all the pupils and staff were tested for tuberculosis after a Year 6 teacher fell ill with TB in January and three pupils were later diagnosed with the disease.

Hazel Dick fought to hang on to her job. The head of science at Bretton Woods community school wept when she was found not guilty of religiously aggravated assault against 16-year-old Seleena Sabeel at Peterborough crown court in March.

Clearly, not all teachers were using their heads to plot an escape route from the classroom in 2004. In fact, one or two ditched high-flying jobs to go into the profession, albeit briefly.

MP Clare Short's stint as a geography teacher at Southfields community college, south London, for a BBC2 documentary led head teacher Jacqueline Valin to declare: "I wouldn't employ her".

And Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe managed to get even more in touch with her inner schoolmarm when she taught Latin for a week at Derby grammar. The former shadow home secretary earned herself a glowing report from Year 10 pupil Matt Betts, who gushed: "She was all right, actually".

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