Rehabilitation for Romeo row head

31st May 1996 at 01:00
The rehabilitation of the woman who was once the nation's most notorious headteacher appears to be complete.

Jane Brown - the London head who apparently turned down an offer of subsidised tickets to the ballet Romeo and Juliet on the grounds that it was "a blatantly heterosexual love story" and became the darling of the Left, has now been supported in her appointment as a school inspector by Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector and current darling of the Right.

Writing in the Daily Express, Mr Woodhead said Ms Brown's decision two years ago as head of Kingsmead Primary School in Hackney had been "both morally wrong and logically absurd". However, her appointment to the post of additional inspector - short-term contracts help make up the shortfall in primary inspectors - was appropriate because she now realised her error.

"Ms Brown may once have made a very serious error of judgment; she is, however, an extremely effective leader who, in the time she has been headteacher at Kingsmead, has raised standards significantly," he wrote. Mr Woodhead insisted that he approved of the appointment, even though he did not know that Ms Brown was one of the 174 new inspectors appointed until news broke at the weekend.

He added: "Education is a deeply-contested activity and some of our inspectors, I am sure, approach their job with values and beliefs which I, personally, could not accept. But given that we employ several thousand inspectors, this is perhaps inevitable." Had it not been for the Romeo and Juliet row - which even earned the opprobrium of Prime Minister John Major - Ms Brown's career might have been considered exemplary.

When she took over Kingsmead it was on the register of schools at risk of failing to provide an acceptable education, yet it earned a glowing OFSTED report two years later while still embroiled in the tickets row. Inspectors found standards of achievement met or exceeded national expectations in almost three-quarters of lessons, and were good in all areas of the national curriculum, with many pupils achieving high levels for their ability. The report particularly singled out "strong and supportive" and "committed" leadership by Ms Brown.

She maintained she refused the subsidised tickets primarily because they still cost Pounds 7 each, without the cost of transporting the children to the Royal Opera House and arranging supply cover, but an official apology was issued anyway.

However, the suggestion that she had refused the offer because the play was "entirely about heterosexual love" surfaced some four months later in a diary column, leading to what supporters described as a "media witch-hunt" centring on her private life. Some observers detected a determination by Hackney decisively to lose its "loony-left London borough" tag.

Hackney's director of education, Gus John, recommended to the school's governors that Ms Brown should be suspended, saying there was "prima facie evidence of gross misconduct". This related both to the tickets incident and allegations of irregularities surrounding her appointment as headteacher in 1992. Mr John wanted to know whether there was a conflict of interest in her appointment, since there were claims that there was a relationship between Ms Brown and a former chair of governors, Ms Nicki Thorogood, at the time of the decision.

The governors' inquiry dragged on for 18 months, before concluding that the allegations were not substantiated. The investigating panel found her action on the tickets was in line with Hackney's equal opportunities policy, and it could not substantiate claims of a relationship with Ms Thorogood before her appointment.

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