Adventist head 'hounded out'

21st November 2008 at 00:00
Supporters claim she was sacked by Haringey children's services for refusing to massage exam tables

Supporters of a sacked headteacher say she has been hounded from her post for refusing to offer qualifications that "massage" school league tables.

June Alexis has been dismissed from the Seventh Day Adventist John Loughborough School in Haringey, north London, following a protracted battle with officials.

Dr Alexis, who is appealing against the decision, is understood to be angry with her treatment at the hands of Sharon Shoesmith, the director of children's services, criticised for her actions in the wake of the death of 17-month-old Baby P.

Backers of Dr Alexis say she was targeted after scrapping GNVQs in favour of traditional GCSEs.

Overall results deteriorated, but supporters of Dr Alexis, who started at the school in September 2005, said the change was needed to focus on numeracy and literacy and give pupils more highly respected qualifications.

In 2006, 44 per cent of pupils got the equivalent of five good GCSEs, but that figure fell to 13 per cent when English and maths are included. In 2007, only 32 per cent of pupils achieved five good GCSEs, but the proportion including English and maths rose to 20 per cent.

Keith Davidson, the director of education for the Seventh Day Adventist Church, said: "The school took a strategic decision to focus on more conventional exams instead of what some schools do, which is to massage results with vocational qualifications.

"The council has painted a picture of a school that is failing, but that is wrong. To force the headteacher out is gravely unjust."

The criticism of the council and Mrs Shoesmith comes in the same week that other heads in the borough defended her.

The council's decision to suspend Dr Alexis in February followed visits from Ofsted inspectors who said the school was inadequate and issued it with a notice to improve. In February 2007, inspectors said the leadership team was bringing about change. But a monitoring visit in October said it was failing to make sufficient progress in raising standards. The council also criticised Dr Alexis for failing to carry out a risk assessment when a protest was staged on school grounds by parents and church elders who wanted her to stay.

It was this incident that the council ultimately used as the basis for Dr Alexis's sacking.

Since February, an interim executive board has been imposed at the school and a new headteacher has been appointed who is not an Adventist.

"We have to have leadership that reflects the faith values of the church," said Dr Davidson. "We feel aggrieved that the new head is in the school and strongly urge the Secretary of State to re-examine this situation."

John Loughborough School joined the state sector in 1998, having been independent. It serves a deprived inner-city area, with most pupils from black African and Caribbean backgrounds.

Dr Davidson commissioned a report into the situation at the school by Gus John, an expert on equality and diversity. Professor John said targeting Dr Alexis was unjustified and that the council had exploited divisions among some school staff.

In a further move that has angered the Adventist community, Haringey council took out an injunction against members of its parent teacher association to stop them from staging further protests in support of Dr Alexis.

A spokesman for Haringey Council said: "We have been supporting the school since early 2007 in order to help it achieve significant improvement. A recovery programme was put in place resulting in outstanding progress."

SCHOOLS SUPPORT `OUR CHAMPION'

Haringey headteachers joined forces to write a letter in support of Sharon Shoesmith, left, director of Haringey's children and young people's service.

Ms Shoesmith was the subject of intense press criticism after the trial last week into the death of Baby P.

But the letter from the heads of 61 state primaries and seven secondaries said Mrs Shoesmith was "an outstanding public servant".

"Should the Child P case result in her loss from the borough, then our children and young people will lose one of their most effective, determined and committed champions," they said.

"Initially, in her role as director of education, Ms Shoesmith transformed a demoralised education service derided by many headteachers into one with which we are now proud to be associated. The exceptional rate of improvement of many of the borough's schools would not have been possible without the support of the service that Ms Shoesmith rebuilt, revitalised and led."

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