One step back, two steps forward

14th April 2000 at 01:00
A headteacher describes what happened when he realised his governors wanted to get rid of him.

Twenty months ago, after 22 years teaching in the maintained sector, I left the headship of a large voluntary-aided church school. I was 51.

There was no question of impropriety. The school had remained massively oversubscribed; Ofsted inspectors said it gave good value for money; and the GCSE results later that year showed a 10 per cent increase in the number of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs. No major concerns about its running had ever been raised during my half-termly meetings with the local education authority link inspector. In fact, at the suggestion of the authority, the school was to be used as a model of good practice for the induction of primary pupils. But at the end of August 1998 I was wondering if I would ever want to teach again.

Towards my second year of headship, a few weeks after our Ofsted inspection, I had been aware of straws in the wind after - despite the good report - the inspectors had suggested that a better sense of direction was required from governors and head.

As I finished drafting a response to the report, three members of the governing body told me that the then chairman was looking for adverse criticism of me. I did not know why. But any problem seemed to disappear when he was replaced at the start of the autumn term. Later that term, in November, the diocesan director of education wrote to me: "Things look good for the school - it must feel so much more positive for you now."

Three months later, as a "professional adviser", this same man became involved in procedures concerning my competence at the behest of the new chairman - who himself had written of me 17 months previously: "I believe that we have a first-class headteacher, but I think this a critical time to help and support him in taking key decisions as to how the school is to be run."

I was bewildered. At a preliminary meeting with this new chairman, the diocesan director and the authority's senior inspector, I was informed that three senior governors no longer had confidence in me and that the chairman of governors had sought "professional advice" and had decided to instigate competence proceedings.

Exhausted, I had forgotten those two written tributes from two of my antagonists. Five targets were set and a date arranged for a further meeting.

Before this second meeting I was assured by my school's link inspector that I had met all these targets, but at the meeting itself this was changed: only one-and-a-half targets - involving the role and function of a headteacher and communication and administration - had been met. I was offered a short sabbatical and a term's severance pay.

The fiel officer of my professional association was direct and practical: whatever my views and feelings about the injustice of the proceedings and the soundness or otherwise of the conclusions, I should accept the package.

There was no question of resistance. It had been made plain to him, as it had to me, that should I not do so, matters could become particularly unpleasant and possibly public. I confirmed my decision to leave the next morning.

Why did I agree to this?

First, I was exhausted which, with the sense of isolation which is part of a headteacher's lot and my sense of betrayal by people who had invited and encouraged my trust, made me dependent on the advice of a professional association. Second, although I was very much aware of what I had achieved at the school, I felt that there had to be a better way to live my life.

I have been asked what might have been done to avoid this situation. Clearly I should have set a lot less store by the new chairman and his apparent determination to support me before his election, and struck out independently in my dealings with the two other governors who insisted on having their way in respect of certain aspects of school management. Support for me would have been more forthcoming from senior colleagues, parents and other, less involved governors - but it is incredibly difficult for a head under the sort of pressure that I experienced to approach such people.

All this is easy with hindsight. I am pleased about much that I did as a head, the quality of the staff I appointed, improvements to buildings, the continued oversubscription of the school and the great improvement in GCSE results.

I am proud that the religious body responsible for inspecting the school declared us to be "a good church school" and that a black governor told a meeting of clergy that the black children were well integrated into the school and suffered none of the disadvantages such children suffered elsewhere. I was a teaching head, an enthusiastic and hard-working one who always found time for people.

Since September 1998 I have taught in a prep school, at two public schools and on an intensive Easter revision course. I have marked A-level and international baccalaureate scripts for the first time and spent a month running a summer school for overseas students. In September last year, I took up a senior post in an international boarding school. I suppose, in a strange sort of way, I ought to be grateful to the people who went to such pains to set me off on the next stage of my career: for me the change of direction is becoming more and more rewarding. I would like to believe that this is what those who diverted me intended.

The author wishes to remain anonymous

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