Non-teaching head 'not given enough time'

27th March 2009 at 00:00
The man who replaced ousted federation boss says there was too much official pressure on him to merge two schools too quickly

The first person to be put in charge of a state school despite having no teaching experience was forced out of his job too quickly following a damning Ofsted report, according to his successor.

Peter Noble, a former NHS manager, left the role of chief executive at the Richard Rose Federation in Carlisle at the end of January. His departure came after Richard Rose Central Academy, one of two schools in the federation, was overwhelmed by problems and put into special measures by inspectors.

But Mike Gibbons, the new chief executive of the federation, told The TES that Mr Noble was given insufficient time to make improvements. He said that many of the problems at the academy were caused by the Government's impatience to get it opened as quickly as possible.

"Planning is all and giving people time to win hearts and minds is important too," said Mr Gibbons. "There was not sufficient time given. The planning was necessarily rushed and it would have been a lifetime achievement for any chief executive to have the academies open and successful within four months."

Richard Rose Central Academy, which opened last September, became only the second academy to be put into special measures after being heavily criticised by inspectors. Mr Noble and Mark Yearsley, the school's headteacher, both left immediately.

Mr Gibbons, who took over last month, said that the decision to bring forward the opening date of Richard Rose Central Academy, which was a merger of two former schools, had caused difficulties.

"Government was ambitious to get this up and running as fast as possible so there was an acceleration," said Mr Gibbons. "As a result, 1,600 kids had to be shipped on to the least suitable of the three original sites. There are 1,600 children on a site designed for 800."

As revealed in The TES earlier this month, the numbers of school leaders being forced from their jobs has risen five-fold in the past four years as pressure has increased to deliver results quickly.

Mr Gibbons defended the idea of appointing people with no teaching experience as school leaders.

But he said it was wrong to "scapegoat" individuals when schools faced problems.

"No headteacher, however good, can solve huge problems completely on their own," said Mr Gibbons. "We need to escape the individual blame culture."

Concerns had been raised about proposals put forward by Mr Noble. These would have meant some experienced teachers facing pay cuts of up to Pounds 10,000 a year and the possibility of 49 staff being made redundant.

Mr Gibbons, who has a successful track record as a headteacher and was most recently chief executive of the Government's innovation unit in Whitehall, has suspended the plans.

"We need all hands to the pump to get out of special measures," he said. "To ask people to take you out of special measures when telling them they might not have jobs is not good psychology."

He said his main priorities were to win back the confidence of parents and to emphasise to pupils their responsibility in helping to turn the school around. Attendance has already improved in the past four weeks, Mr Gibbons said, and there has been high take-up of Saturday morning revision classes.

There are also plans to build new facilities for pupils and to spend Pounds 1.5m improving the school's temporary site until a new building is completed in 2011.

"A cold Ofsted report never shows that there are groups of staff working their socks off to try and make a difference," said Mr Gibbons. "I am confident that the academies are going to be jewels in the educational crown."

WHY THE ROSE WILTED

Richard Rose Central Academy, part of a two-school federation in Carlisle, was beset by problems after opening last September.

There were repeated reports of poor pupil behaviour and threats of industrial action by staff over proposals to change their pay and conditions radically.

Inspectors carried out an emergency inspection in December, the first of its kind in an academy, after complaints. Their report said the leadership team had not appreciated the scale of the challenge facing them in merging two schools.

The quality of teaching at the school was also criticised. Action to improve it had been too slow, inspectors said.

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