"Talking shop"

Former headteacher Gerald Haigh gets to the heart of the issues that concern you


I am a headteacher at a small, successful rural primary. Ofsted says we are "a very good school". We are a happy team and I enjoy my work. My problem is with the parent of two children who left some time ago. The children both presented us with challenging behaviour problems, and although we worked hard to prevent exclusion and keep them on the rails, our relationship with the parent was always difficult - there was shouting, accusatory letters were sent to the authority and eventually the younger child was summarily withdrawn from school after an unpleasant scene.

The real worry is that the parent, a year and a half on and now with no children at the school, is still conducting a campaign against us - advising parents to move children away, making critical remarks about the school in public and making complaints to parents and staff in the street. In a small community this is very worrying. How can I tackle it? Can I take legal action? Although I know we have a very good school, I feel quite threatened by this vendetta.


Sadly, this sort of thing happens, though not always to the degree that you describe. Some might suggest that you ignore it, secure in your knowledge that you're doing a good job. My own view, however, is that it has to be dealt with. I'm not a lawyer, but I'd say this person might be seen as causing you and your colleagues actual damage in the legal sense, so I'd get some good legal advice. You have two routes. I'd take them both. One is to the local authority's legal department. Best approach is through whichever senior education officer is your contact. The other is to your professional association. (You pay a hefty subscription, so don't hesitate to ask for help.) Be assertive - make sure advisers understand that it's not just a matter of your being upset, it's an issue of real damage to professional reputations and to the school's standing in the community. (Colleagues who are directly criticised or approached could also contact their own associations.) They may advise you on what you can write to the person, or they may get more directly involved. Either way, don't carry on without support.

You should also, starting now, keep a log of incidents that you have direct experience of or which are reliably reported to you - that's basic good advice in all sticky headship situations.


I'd like to take time off to see my daughter perform in a special assembly at her nursery. I'd be out of school for just over an hour. I haven't asked yet, because I'm a full-time classroom teacher, and we're all so busy. What's normal in cases like this?


So far as I know there's no official leave for this kind of thing, but there are heads who make every effort to let colleagues go to special events at their children's schools - and other colleagues willingly cover, both out of friendship and because their own turn will come. It works when people are sparing and thoughtful with requests. On the other hand, there are schools where the regime is such that no one asks!

I assume you're in a good team of friends. If you think they're the kind of people who will say, "Of course you must go!" then sort out with them how it might be done, and ask the head. But there's pressure on schools now, and the head may be wondering how many others might want time out, so you shouldn't be surprised or aggrieved if the answer is no.


A parent came to me in high dudgeon last week carrying two well-thumbed semi-pornographic paperbacks which he'd found at the bottom of his son's PE bag. He said the boy had brought them home from school. I went into indignant denial mode, but when I looked into it, I discovered the boy and some friends had picked them out of a box of old books in a teacher's stockroom. Someone had sent them in for the summer fair, and the teacher hadn't got round to sorting them. The parent is threatening all sorts of action.


Let me guess. Some elements in the staffroom are having fun with this, declaiming imaginary tabloid headlines, and you have to keep saying, "It's not funny!" You're right, too. Even if you, or any of your colleagues, feel there's no real harm done, it remains true that a child shouldn't be able to get pornographic books from a class storeroom.

All you can do really is put your hands up, apologise, explain to the parent exactly what happened, and tell him what you've done to make sure it doesn't happen again. If you're sympathetic and frank, the parent might feel that the person who sent the books might have been, at best, a bit thoughtless.

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