Suspension sparks teacher rebellion

22nd September 2006 at 01:00
Parents told 'school is in chaos' as union rep faces disciplinary action over alleged critical comments

Teachers at an inner-city primary school once rated one of the best in the country have caused a revolt by writing to parents warning that it is in "chaos".

Eleven members of staff at Quarry Mount primary, Leeds, signed a statement criticising senior management and working relationships in the school. The letter, which was distributed to parents at a meeting last term, followed the suspension of Andrew Howdle, the school's National Union of Teachers representative for allegedly criticising the headteacher Jan Tootill.

The NUT rep, who has taught at the school for almost 20 years, was due to appear before a disciplinary hearing at the school today charged with professional misconduct. He faces the sack.

Mrs Tootill wrote to staff complaining that the teachers' statement had a "very negative impact on the school", which was judged as "outstanding" by Ofsted in 2004, despite serving a deprived area of north-west Leeds.

In a separate letter to parents, she maintained that Quarry Mount was still an "excellent school" but said education consultants would carry out a review this term in an attempt to address any alleged problems.

The protest letter signed by teachers and classroom assistants, was handed to parents of some 200 pupils shortly before the summer holidays.

The letter said: "From the team who helped the school gain an 'outstanding'

from Ofsted, one is off on suspension, one is off with stress, one is leaving for a position elsewhere and the rest are looking. Two recently appointed members of staff and staff no longer here have chosen to leave because of the unpleasant working relationships within the school."

It also alleged that pupil behaviour had worsened and exclusions had increased. It ended: "The staff can see no way forward under the present leadership and management team. The school is in chaos and we must add our voice to the parents' concern."

Mrs Tootill, who has joined the school within the past two years and was described by Ofsted as an "excellent" head during her last post at another Leeds primary, declined to comment.

A spokesman for Education Leeds, the public-private consortium running schools in the city, said: "Quarry Mount has had a very successful start to the school year thanks to an excellent and professional response to recent difficulties by leadership and staff.

"We are offering support to ensure that this is maintained and the children at this fantastic school continue to receive the best possible education."

Patrick Murphy, Leeds NUT secretary, said the union rep was suspended last term after a staff meeting about teaching and learning responsibility payments, the new pay regime which has led to strikes at schools elsewhere in the country.

Mr Murphy said: "Our belief is that he has been victimised for carrying out his valid role as a union representative. It is not as if he was doing anything outlandish, he was merely asking questions about the pay structure." The protest letter was sent to parents in July, shortly after the suspension.

The fall-out follows the sacking of another NUT rep at a secondary school in Birmingham last year. Eileen Hunter was dismissed from the International school after publicly criticising the leadership of Sir Dexter Hutt, the executive headteacher.

Some parents of children at Quarry Mount said they had sympathy for complaints made by the teachers.

Karen Iveson, whose sons aged 10 and eight, attend the school, said: "I received the letter and agreed with every word of it."

Angela King, who also has two children at the school, said a deterioration in teacher morale had been detected among the parents. "It is clear the teachers are not happy because they wrote the letter and it was read out at one of the meetings," she said.

"We're not happy with a few of the changes that have been made at the school recently, but feel our concerns are not really being listened to."

A school governor, who asked not to be named, said: "The children can't learn in the climate at the moment and some are being taken out by parents.

My boy was in a class of 30 last year, now that is down to 19."

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