They're behind you!

19th December 2003 at 00:00
It's panto season and if you're looking for heroes and villains, the staffroom is a good place to start. Adi Bloom reports

Christmas is traditionally a time for booing at villains and cheering on plucky heroes who rise from obscurity to the fairy-tale heights of wish-fulfilment. But it is not only among the tights-wearing protagonists of pantomime that such characters are found.

A number of heroes have also emerged from the obscurity of the staffroom, to triumph over adversity and achieve wealth, fame or Office for Standards in Education success. Choruses of cheers greeted Alistair Falk, who took on the headship of West London Academy this September. Mr Falk was entrusted with the task of introducing a love of learning into a school with only 13 per cent GCSE A*-C passes. And, more significantly, he was entrusted with a pound;120,000 salary. Teachers felt that this pay package, the highest to be offered to a state head, gave new credence to the profession.

Elsewhere, other heads received equally tangible, if less financially satisfying, praise for their work with difficult pupils. Trevor Averre-Beeson was praised by Ofsted inspectors for bringing his school, Islington Green, out of special measures. Inspectors revealed that the north London comprehensive Tony Blair had deemed unsuitable for his children now provided good or excellent teaching in more than half its lessons.

And Paul Keogh, head of modern languages at King James's comprehensive, in North Yorkshire, was named secondary teacher of the year at the national teaching awards, following successful work with bottom-set pupils.

But not all teachers' achievements took place in the classroom. Clare Morrall emerged from a piano lesson at Bluecoat preparatory, in Birmingham, to find that her first published novel, Astonishing Splashes of Colour, had been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize.

Other teachers also staked their claims to artistic fame. Staff at Sir William Borlase's grammar, in Buckinghamshire, grinned and bared all for a nude calendar, their shortcomings covered by subject-relevant props.

But over-exposure did not benefit all teachers. Staff at Westborough primary, in Southend, were cast in the role of villainous hedonists by the tabloid press, when they attended Ascot Ladies' Day, during one of the school's five in-service training days. Similar trial-by-tabloid awaited Alan Mercer, head of South Borough primary, in Kent, when he used different handwriting styles to forge pupils' key stage 2 tests. He was jailed for three months.

And the loudest booing of the year was reserved for arch-villain Colleen McCabe. While other heads battled to keep their schools out of deficit, Ms McCabe, head of St John Rigby comprehensive, in Kent, spent pound;500,000 of her budget on holidays, jewels and shoes. She was jailed for five years.

But, possibly unsatisfied by the fodder thrown up by real staffrooms, the media also provided its own villains. Teachers working in the 1950s boarding school recreated for the Channel 4 series, That'll Teach 'Em, earned the hatred of the nation, when they fed pupils spam fritters and inflicted harsh punishments on rule-breaking miscreants - which, many teachers believe, merely reveals how thin the line is between hero and villain.

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