'Friendly' village bays for blood

LANGTREE is typical of many villages in North Devon - not picture-postcard but described by residents as a "friendly little environment". Set in rolling farmland it straddles a minor road just outside the small market town of Torrington. It has a pub, post office, church and a primary school.

Until recently, most people - even in Devon - had never heard of it.Then Rebekah Marshall, head of its 74-pupil primary, said she wanted to return to her job part-time following the birth of her fourth child, Joseph, in July 1999.

The ensuing row plunged the school and its close-knit community into tribunals, parent boycotts and acrimony. Parents opposed Mrs Marshall's return from the start. Their spokesman Anne Tatersall said: "Children only get one chance so it was something we just had to do." They said they wanted their head to be accessible and available, especially as inspectors found "serious weaknesses" in the school's leadership and management.

Mrs Marshall, 44, asked to go part-time last February after being told she should continue breast-feeding Joseph until he was 18 months old because of his allergy to formula dairy products. But the governors, backed by the education authority, said they wanted unambiguous leadership to remedy problems at the school. But Mrs Marshall pursued her wish to return for just three days a week, intending that acting head, Helen Melody, would cover the remaining two days.

An employment tribunal in Exeter last September ruled that Devon County Council's opposition to Mrs Marshall was "discriminatory and unjustifiable". But unable to resolve the finer details, the case dragged on until February 9 this year, when agreement was reached. Mrs Marshall, who has been head of Langtree since 1995, was se to return, three days a week, after half-term.

In the event, she returned for just a few hours before governors suspended her after a boycott by all but two of the 47 parents following a ballot at a public meeting. The meeting was described as "particularly blood-thirsty"by Kerry George of the National Association of Head Teachers representing Mrs Marshall.

Devon said suspension was a neutral act and she would receive her full part-time pay. But Ms George questioned whether governors had followed proper suspension procedures and said the case could go back to a tribunal.

WHO RULES SCHOOLS?

Some key responsibilities of...

HEADS

* Children's education

* 'Day to day' management

* Advising on and implementing governing body strategy

* Teaching standards

* Exclusions

* Curriculum management

GOVERNORS

* Overall education standards

* Strategic framework (aims, policies and targets)

* Reviewing progress

* Investigating financial irregularities

* Appointment, suspension or dismissal of head

* Reinstatement of excluded pupils

HEADS AND GOVERNORS

* Annual budget

* Staff appointments, pay awards, suspensions,

dismissals

* Special needs

* Curriculum, sex education and discipline policies

* Performance management

* Post-inspection action plan

* Annual meeting with, and report to, parents

EDUCATION AUTHORITIES

* Promoting high standards

* Special needs (particularly statementing)

* School places and access

* Employing teachers

* School improvement and tackling failure

* Educating excluded pupils and pupil welfare (truancy)

* Strategic management

* Home-school transport


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