Protest head vows to stay on

Berry Hill boss promises to hold surgeries to give pupils and parents more say

RUTH POPPLETON, head of the school where pupils staged a walk-out and demonstrated with placards calling for her resignation, has told The TES she intends to stay and insisted that most of the children there are happy.

Around 60 pupils took the action last week, brandishing banners declaring "Poppleton Out!" and saying they were angry about the number of supply teachers and strict uniform policies.

The demonstration became national news, under such headlines as "Pupil Power!" and led to the suspension of 11 ringleaders.

This week, Mrs Poppleton defended the reputation of Berryhill high in Bucknall, Stoke-on-Trent, which received a "satisfactory" rating in all categories of its 2005 Ofsted report, although it is second from bottom in the area's league tables. The 45-year-old head was described by inspectors as "providing clear direction".

She said: "I feel I have been well supported by the LEA and governors and the vast majority of pupils were not involved in the protest. A lot of the pupils are very happy.

"We have to be positive. We have to celebrate the good things about the school and make pupils and parents aware of what is going on. I see my future at the school. We have a strong leadership team and I hope we can go from strength to strength."

She admitted the school has had its troubles.

"There are a variety of issues that the pupils have raised as a result of the protest, " she said. "We need to look closely at how the school council connects with the pupils." Berryhill is in a tough area, where two-thirds of pupils come from deprived backgrounds.

Pupil behaviour at the school is known to be an issue and staff retention is also bad: 28 teachers are believed to have left in the past three years.

Terry Crowe, chairman of Berry Hill's governing body, admitted problems in recruiting appropriate teachers. Two full-time maths teachers left at Christmas and another is off long-term sick. Two English teachers have also left the school.

He said: "It is a fact with some of the supply teachers you don't get what you pay for. Sometimes you are paying for specialists but you are not getting them.

"It's a general problem that has always existed, but with students doing their exams the stakes are higher."

Richard Sidley, secretary for the Stoke-on-Trent Association of the NASUWT said the headteacher's well-intentioned interpretation of workforce reform had contributed to a rise in poor behaviour and the "flight" of teachers.

Last year, its head-of-year positions, dealing with discipline issues, were opened up to non-teaching staff.

"The system has backfired," Mr Sidley said. "She wanted to free up the teachers for teaching, but it's a question of credibility. Pupils'

relationships with teaching assistants are more informal and it is not clear if a non-teacher can gain the respect they need in this role.

"This has contributed to the behaviour problem in the school and teachers have voted with their feet."

Mrs Poppleton has said the school will now hold regular surgeries with pupils and parents so they can have more of a voice in their education and flag up problems.

Parents who supported the school protest have said it had been worthwhile.

Elsa Haldane, who has two children at the school, said: "We feel the school has finally started listening."

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