Parent's vicious attack may force head to quit

21st September 2001 at 01:00
A headteacher who suffered a fractured skull in a vicious and unprovoked attack by a parent is considering quitting education.

Michael Iliffe has spoken for the first time about his ordeal, just days after Andrew Altham, his attacker, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after he admitted causing grievous bodily harm.

Mr Iliffe was becoming disillusioned with teaching before the assault, at Foxborough middle school in Lowestoft, on June 29.

"This may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, despite the excellent support from Suffolk County Council. I haven't made a firm decision about my future yet.

"Although I have recovered physically I have had psychological problems. I feel anxiety about the future and the idea of meeting and mixing with parents," he said.

Even before the attack, Mr Iliffe said, he had been threatened by parents at the school.

Mr Iliffe, 54, had been a teacher for 15 years before the assault. When he arrived in Suffolk from the Isle of Wight six years ago, it was as the head of a new school.

"I opened up Foxborough. It was a very exciting and stimulating time," he said. "But the increased demands and the number of changes every year meant it became increasingly stressful."

Altham arrived to pick up a pupil and her friend half an hour after a school disco had finished, leaving the teachers waiting to lock up. Mr Iliffe's deputy, Sheila Kett, made a remark about Altham's lateness.

"It was an innocuous comment. But it proved enough to provoke Altham, who had been drinking and smoking cannabis," said Mr Iliffe.

"Just moments after my deputy had left, he came storming down the path. He was shouting and swearing. He wanted to know where my deputy lived - which obviously I did not tell him."

Altham then punched Mr Iliffe in the face. The CCTV cameras were still running, and this part of the attack was caught on videotape.

Mr Iliffe was pursued by Altham inside the school, where he was kicked in the head and his nose was broken. He also suffered fractures to his cheekbone and eye socket, and cuts and bruises.

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, revealed there were 88 cases of physical assault against heads in the past 12 months - double last year's total. "It is vital that the courts crack down on all those who think that teachers are fair game when it comes to perpetrating violence on school premises."

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