Disparity in leadership reports raises concerns

1st December 2006 at 00:00
A primary headteacher was praised by her local authority only months before HMIE criticised her leadership, The TESS has learned.

Amid claims that the headteacher was "hung out to dry" and that there was a "trophy hunt" for her scalp, the disparity has prompted teachers'

representatives to express major concerns.

An HM Inspectorate of Education report last month rated Tomintoul Primary "weak" or "unsatisfactory" in all but one of 14 quality indicators.

At that point it was not widely known that Moray Council had previously carried out an audit at the village school, following concerns raised by headteacher Jane Murray-Smith, who had been seconded to help improve the council's education service - itself criticised in a previous HMIE report - and returned to Tomintoul Primary in January 2005 after a year away.

She raised concerns about staff support; the teaching staff had changed, leaving two probationers and another teacher with two years' experience.

She took time off through serious illness in late 2005, but it was some time before a temporary replacement arrived.

Moray Council published its report in March. A number of problems were identified, but the report said: "The staff should take heart from the recognition that major improvements have already been achieved and that many of the non-curricula (sic) difficulties encountered by the school have been out of their control."

Mrs Murray-Smith's overall leadership was judged "adequate", while some aspects were "good". Staff viewed her as a "very good" classroom practitioner and she was "well respected" by pupils. Parents found her "approachable and understanding".

HMIE's report, published on November 14 after a visit in June, recognised that she had dealt with "a number of challenging and sensitive situations"

but was nevertheless damning: it said that the 64-pupil school had weaknesses in most areas, including leadership.

Following the inspectors' visit, Mrs Murray-Smith requested, and was granted, a move to another post in Moray.

Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, said: "Either the local authority doesn't appreciate what the inspectorate is looking at, or one of them is wrong. It's worrying that the local authority can think, for the most part, that a school is doing fine, and then the inspectors come in and say it's a shambles.

"It appeared to me that the local authority was allowing it all to be put on the head when clearly they knew differently; she'd been asking for help for a long time in terms of staffing, and that was not acted on."

Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said: "There is shared responsibility for how a school is performing; if it's all down to individual schools or teachers, why bother with local authorities? There did seem to be a sort of trophy hunt for this head's scalp, which I thought pretty ugly, and which is not going to encourage people to apply for headships."

Gordon Bittern, a resident and former educational psychologist with Moray Council, said: "If things were as bad as HMIE said, why wasn't more support offered to her? She's been hung out to dry."

Sven Bjarnason, the minister at Tomintoul, felt she had been singled out.

"I think she'll be the first to admit that some things needed improving, but she'd been trying to do that," he said.

HMIE reports use evidence from parents, and Rev Bjarnason stressed that the school had had difficulties with some families. "It's a small community and two or three families can really make a difference," he said.

Mary Hogg, a supply teacher who worked with Mrs Murray-Smith from 2000 to 2003, said: "She's a good teacher, hard-working and welcoming to supply staff. The children liked her very much."

A Moray spokeswoman said:"The education department's quality audit identified the same issues as the HMIE report and evaluated performance at the lower end of the spectrum.

"This confirmed concerns which had already been identified and were being addressed by education officers. The department will continue to support the school in addressing its improvement agenda."

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