Inspiring head quits after MP's onslaught

8th February 2008 at 00:00
He injected new life into troubled primary and community, but is asked to leave over results.

A primary head whose work was praised by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL) has resigned after his MP said the school's results were not good enough.

Bill Ball, 55, has almost total support from parents at New Manton Primary, and has been lauded by the community for breathing new life into the school in the former pit town in Nottinghamshire.

Manton - once the worst-ranked primary in England - has struggled to improve its scores. Last year, its key stage 2 test results were nearly double those of 2004, but the school is still sixth from bottom in the national league tables.

For some, that shows the challenge Mr Ball chose to face when he took the job. Steve Munby, chief executive of the NCSL, praised him in a speech last month for his work rebuilding the community.

But others say the test scores show he has not done enough. John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, said he repeatedly asked the local authority to intervene. When nothing happened, he demanded Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, put pressure on the local authority.

"Maybe it needs a new headteacher, maybe new governors, maybe new funding, maybe all three - but it is not acceptable for a school to consistently underperform," Mr Mann said. "The implications are the same for my constituents' children, who enter high school with insufficient core skills."

Yet Manton parents cannot speak highly enough of Mr Ball: they say he has built up pupils' confidence and reinvigorated a troubled community. He revived the Miners' Gala and opened the school to provide IT and literacy assistance to pupils' families. "If you can't fix the community, you'll never fix the school," he told The TES last year.

In 2001, Mr Ball had inherited a school that ranked among the worst in the country on every possible measure. The chair of governors described the school as a zoo, in which staff were assaulted. A few years earlier, teachers had refused to teach a 10-year-old boy who had attacked staff with a baseball bat.

But now the confidence of the children and their families has improved dramatically, says Richard Edwards, of the Manton Community Alliance. "The school and the children always came first for Bill," he said. "There's a number of people here who feel he has been treated in a very shabby way."

Inspectors rated Mr Ball's leadership as "excellent" when they visited in 2003. But a forthcoming report is not expected to be positive.

Headteachers' associations say members are increasingly vulnerable: one disappointing set of test scores and they can lose their jobs.

Mick Brookes, National Association of Head Teachers' general secretary, said the average retirement age of primary heads is now 57.

"When you look at the history of Manton Primary, Bill and his team have come such a long way - against the odds," Mr Brookes said. "You are only as good as your last set of results, like a football manager. Bill and his team have inspired the school. This guy should be nominated for an award, not driven out of town.

"A businessman would say, 'If you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen'. Well, heads are leaving, and there's no one to replace them."

A Nottinghamshire spokesman said: "The county council is negotiating with the governing bodies of Manton Primary and Ryton Park schools to find an agreed solution that will provide quality primary education at Manton, in partnership with the outstanding headteacher at Ryton Park School."

next week: Football manager syndrome, Leadership section.

It's not a very nice end to what I thought was a reasonable career

In a letter to The TES, Bill Ball said:

I felt we'd reached a point where the general ethos, behaviour and attitudes of pupils, staff and parents was such that tangible improvements were being measured.

Unfortunately the local MP's decision to challenge things at the highest level forced the county into a corner. I was asked to leave from Easter but decided I could not carry on for six weeks knowing I was considered a poor leader. The day I packed my bags, I got the call from Ofsted and decided to stay until the inspection was over. The team was rigorous but determined that what improvements could be seen were too little too late. The report will be damning. I accept the blame.

I don't accept some of the findings, but in the context of the school's continuing low attainment at Year 6, I can't really argue that not enough appears to have been done. I still believe I've left the school secure to make continuous improvement. The staff are committed and the quality of teaching and learning is improving all the time. I am worried that with this intervention, everyone will give up. I pray that does not happen.

It's not a very nice end to what I thought was a reasonably successful career.

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