Former private head quits academy post after staff row

3rd April 2009 at 01:00
Concerns over leadership style and `blame culture'

One of the first private school heads to be put in charge of an academy has left her job following a catalogue of complaints from her teaching staff.

Fiona Cordeaux resigned as principal of Walthamstow Academy in east London after a damning survey of staff attitudes carried out by the conciliation service Acas revealed serious problems at the school.

The confidential report, seen by The TES, included complaints of a "blame culture" where teachers were unable to raise legitimate concerns without fear of recrimination.

One former member of the support staff said experienced staff, both men and women, had been reduced to tears by the head's leadership style.

In the survey, a new head was among teachers' top three recommendations of ways to improve the school.

Mrs Cordeaux joined the academy, sponsored by Christian charity United Learning Trust (ULT), in September 2007 from the Pounds 12,000-a-year St Dunstan's College in Lewisham, south-east London.

Sources at Walthamstow Academy have questioned Mrs Cordeaux's suitability for running a state school with pupils from relatively poor homes.

"The idea that people who run schools in the private sector can walk into schools in deprived areas and be best suited to run them is a mistake," one source said.

Mrs Cordeaux is believed to be one of only two academy heads recruited directly from the independent sector.

Nick O'Sullivan, head of Havelock Academy in Grimsby, took up his position from St Columba's College in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

Peter Hullah, head of the ULT-sponsored Northampton Academy, was formerly the head of the private Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, but between the two jobs he took up post as Bishop of Ramsbury in Wiltshire.

ULT, a subsidiary of the United Church School Trust chain of private schools, has encountered problems recruiting independent sector heads at schools other than Walthamstow.

Tim Hastie-Smith, who had been in line to take over at Kettering Academy, withdrew after it emerged that he gave a job to a teacher despite knowing that he had filmed a pupil having sex (see box).

Stephen Patriarca, former head of William Hulme's Grammar School, a private school that became a ULT academy in 2007, was criticised for describing some pupils with behavioural problems as "social misfits".

The NUT was involved in long-running discussions with the ULT about its concerns at Walthamstow. The two sides went to Acas and agreed to a survey of school staff being conducted.

When the results found serious concerns, the NUT demanded action and had been due to ballot for strike action. But Christine Blower, acting general secretary of the NUT, said the ballot had now been called off.

"It is time to ensure that a good environment for both teaching and learning is maintained at the school," she said.

Charlotte Rendle-Short, deputy chief executive of ULT, said: "We would like to thank Mrs Cordeaux for her hard work and commitment as principal."

School-trip sex filmed

Tim Hastie-Smith, former head of the independent Dean Close School in Cheltenham, had been due to become the principal of Kettering Academy this year.

However, he pulled out of the job after it emerged that he had employed a teacher who had filmed a 17-year-old pupil having sex on a school trip. The teacher, Michael Clarkson, was subsequently struck off.

Mr Hastie-Smith knew about the case hanging over Mr Clarkson, but gave him the job because he said he believed in giving people "second chances".

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