Review of 2008 - Comings and goings

Steve Sinnott died and a rear admiral sank out of his depth in a new job

Helen Ward

The year was overshadowed by the sudden death of Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

His death in April came just days after the union had voted for its first national strike for 21 years. Mr Sinnott, 56, had led the union since 2004. Gordon Brown paid tribute to him, saying he had been "inspirational in his devotion to teaching, not just in Britain but around the world".

His absence meant deputy Christine Blower became acting general secretary. The Daily Mail described her as a radical with an "entrenched socialist agenda", but she brushed off accusations, while The Guardian noted that the feminist campaigner seemed "more passionate about hats and flowers than anything else".

In politics, a reshuffle in October saw the departure of the junior schools minister Andrew Adonis to transport. Lord Adonis had been the architect of the academies - and the basis for the "Tony Zoffis" character lampooned by the late Ted Wragg.

Kevin Brennan, the junior children's minister, was moved to the Cabinet Office. Their replacements were respectively Sarah McCarthy-Fry and Baroness Delyth Morgan.

A few weeks later, Sir Bruce Liddington, the senior civil servant responsible for developing the Government's flagship academy schools left to become director-general of Edutrust, a charity which aims to open 20 academies.

At the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, Mick Waters, the inspirational director of curriculum announced he would be leaving in March 2009.

But it was the independent sector that provided the most spectacular rise and falls of the educational year.

Chris Parry was appointed chief executive of the Independent Schools Council in May. The former rear admiral told The TES: "People have said to me, 'How are you going to deal with these heads?'. I say, 'I've sat down with Afghan tribesmen and Balkan warlords - I think I'll be all right with a few headteachers'."

Six weeks later he was out after criticising standards in state schools and telling MPs a "cold war" existed between the private and state sectors.

David Lyscom was appointed the council's new chief executive in September. His former career, happily, was as a diplomat.

In October, it was the turn of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference to announce an unexpected departure. The Rev Tim Hastie-Smith was due to become the first chairman of the organisation to run a state school but instead had to step down as chairman, turn down the academy headship and resign as head of the Pounds 26,000 a year Dean Close School in Cheltenham.

It emerged he had appointed teacher Michael Clarkson who had lost his previous job at a Shropshire school for filming a 17-year-old boy having sex with a girl on a school tennis trip to Portugal in 2006. Parents questioned the Rev Hastie-Smith's judgment when he revealed he had known about the case, but had wanted to give Mr Clarkson a second chance. Dr Bernard Trafford, headteacher of Newcastle's Royal Grammar School, took over the HMC role.

Britain's longest-serving headteacher, Francis Howard, retired after 42 years. He had been appointed to the post at Yateley Manor prep school, which had been established by his grandmother, straight out of teacher training.

And 2009? It may begin with a comeback. Sir Cyril Taylor, one of the most influential figures in British education, was ousted as chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust at the start of the year, then spent 2008 writing a book which should be in the bookshops this January.

The inquiry by Lord Sutherland into the summer's Sats shambles blamed "massive failure" on the QCA and ETS, the private marking contractor. He said pupils, parents, schools and markers had all been badly let down.

This week QCA chief executive Ken Boston was suspended after he offered to resign. It was not accepted for legal reasons.

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Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

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