Sir Cyril toppled as trust loses faith

4th January 2008 at 00:00
Chairman of the SSAT is ousted by his governing council in a unanimous vote as members demonstrate frustration with his controversial media profile.

The reign of one of the most senior figures in education has come to an end with the ousting of Sir Cyril Taylor as chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.

Sir Cyril, 72, had been head of the organisation since it was established 21 years ago as the City Technology Colleges Trust. Since then he has overseen a massive growth of its empire as it expanded to represent Labour's specialist schools and academies - the successors to the Conservatives' business-sponsored technology colleges.

However, in recent months members of the trust, which represents around 90 per cent of secondary schools, have grown increasingly frustrated with Sir Cyril's style of leadership and controversial media profile.

Never shy of speaking his mind, Sir Cyril has grabbed headlines with calls for weak teachers to be sacked and criticism of schools with poor exam results.

Senior trust figures felt he was using the organisation to further his own agenda, instead of representing what it was actually doing.

Headteachers have also tired of Sir Cyril's criticisms as they strive to deliver improved results.

It is understood that Sir Cyril, whose chairmanship was unpaid, strongly resisted moves to replace him, but he lost his job in a unanimous vote of trust directors.

The former governing council of 40 members has been shrunk to a board of 12. Sir Cyril will remain a director, but is replaced as chairman by Sir James Hill, his deputy.

The move marks the end of a unique career, which made Sir Cyril one of the most important figures in British education. Speaking to The TES, he said: "I have been privileged to make a contribution to raising school standards, and the trust will continue to have my wholehearted support. I was chairman for a long time and they felt it was time for a change."

A self-made millionaire, Sir Cyril was first recruited by Conservative Kenneth Baker to drive his policy of opening city technology colleges.

He was a renowned political operator who advised successive prime ministers and secretaries of state from both main parties.

His buccaneering style was used to great effect to deliver the specialist schools and academies movement. But with that transformation almost complete, the trust wanted a lower profile leader.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and one of the trust's board members, said: "After many years as the life and soul of the trust, Sir Cyril's public pronouncements had become more individualistic.

"He often did not represent the views of headteachers who were particularly irritated by the emphasis on failure when SSAT schools have so much to be proud of."

Ministers are not believed to have played any part in what was an internal decision to replace Sir Cyril.

Sir James Hill's history with the trust comes from his involvement with Dixons City Academy in Bradford, where he is chair of governors. A successful businessman in a family textiles company, he inherited his baronetcy from his father. He now devotes much of his time to voluntary and charitable activities.

The world according to Sir Cyril

Why ex-servicemen should be science teachers:

"Someone who has been manning a missile site will certainly know something about physics. And if they have been in charge of a platoon of soldiers, they are going to have natural discipline skills."

On the 500 secondary schools with the lowest exam results:

"Some are so bad they ought to be shut down quickly, and some are struggling and need help."

Why private schools should take on pupils expelled from state schools:

"Behavioural problems often go with high intelligence because children get bored."

On modern languages:

"I want all language colleges to be teaching Mandarin. It is a strategic world language."

On the newspaper investigation that recorded a headteacher suggesting academy sponsors might get knighthoods or peerages:

"It was a KGB-style honey trap."

On tackling extremism:

"Segregation can fuel extremism. It is a radical step but I believe a multi-faith community academy initiative can create new schools in socially deprived areas with a far more balanced intake of pupils."

On school standards:

"We've got 400,000 children attending low-attaining schools, 75,000 leaving school at 16 with hardly any qualifications. That's a serious problem."

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