Heavy mob drove me out of teaching;Talkback

8th January 1999 at 00:00
And the name of the ruffians who made Toby Wood quit his headship? OFSTED, of course.

I have just resigned as a primary head. The 1997-98 academic year was my own annus horribilis and had a profound effect on how I viewed myself and my capabilities.

In September 1997 I was standing in the school office, chatting to my secretary and contemplating the year ahead. We noticed a group of lads - most of whom I recognised -surveying one of the empty houses opposite. Some suddenly rushed into the house.

We watched and, a few minutes later, smoke billowed from the roof of the house, quickly spreading along the block. We telephoned the police and the fire service, then rushed out and alerted neighbours.

I gave the police a statement. The following day one of the local blokes, the spider tattoo on his neck bristling, came in and told me that "grassing to the filth" was not the done thing. He told me to expect trouble. A month later my car's back door was smashed in. A week after that, my wife's car had paint stripper poured over it at home.

I felt angry, frustrated and vulnerable...but that was nothing compared to the effect that another group was to have a few months later. In March 1998 we received our first OFSTED inspection.

The school has the highest percentage of children on free school meals in the locality and is recognised as a school in a "deprived area". In December 1997 I spent 35 hours (roughly equivalent to a contact week with children) attending social services child protection meetings. This is an inevitable consequence of working with families who need a high level of support, and it was a role I did not resent.

As a staff, we had spent many hours over previous years ensuring that the children and buildings were safe and secure, while always promoting self-esteem. Our efforts had paid off. The school is welcoming and calm. The staff are professional, caring, motivated and dedicated. Indeed, the inspectors only saw one instance of disruptive behaviour during their week.

Unfortunately our SATs results, although improving, had undoubtedly been poor. I could, however, explain the reasons for underperformance. We took children from the local women's refuge as well as difficult children from other schools. The problem was that they had not hit the magic level 4 at the end of key stage 2.

I have one abiding memory of the inspection. I had a Year 5 boy in my office. We were waiting for the police and social services to arrive as the lad had been caught the previous evening taking cocaine and cannabis. He was still high and was spending his time writing a story on my computer until the child protection investigation could begin. One of the inspectors saw this and informed me that she was not happy because the child wasn't receiving equal access to the national curriculum.

So it was no great surprise when, on Friday, March 13, I was informed that the school required special measures.

I felt numb. My arms and legs were like lead and I felt like a youngster who had opened an envelope with disastrous GCSE results. My professional life flashed before me. I was told not to take the decision personally.

Although I disagreed little with the inspectors' observations, the system hadn't made sufficient allowances for our achievements. And in five days, inspectors had achieved what my tattooed friend and others had failed to do in 14 years - destroyed my confidence and self-belief.

I struggled on for a while but eventually, having taught a complete week due to staff absences, I was told by my chairman of governors and a fellow head to go home. I had clearly had enough.

Home is where I have been ever since.

I resigned my post against union advice. I knew that I had done my best and it was now down to someone else to take over. I now have no job, just the possibility of some supply work.

I believe I did a reasonable job. In fact, in November 1997, I was telephoned by an organisation trying to recruit a head for "failing" schools in Leicester and London. My name had been given to them as being someone who could cope with a tough area. The organisation that contacted me was the same one that, just a few brief months later, inspected my school.

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