Top head on leave after pupil walk-out

25th February 2011 at 00:00
Jubilant NUT compares her departure to overthrow of Mubarak regime in Egypt

A high-powered head has agreed to stay away from her school to protect her "health and safety and welfare" after pupil and staff allegations of "bullying" management and the sacking of a popular teacher.

Juliet Strang, who was parachuted in to turn around the then struggling Villiers High School in Southall, west London, in 1997, is taking paid absence while an official investigation takes place.

Unions have complained about management at the school before, but the discontentment at Villiers came to a head when 300 students held a "strike" calling for the reinstatement of maths teacher and NUT rep Amerjit Virdee.

In the days following the protest, on 8 February, Ms Strang is reported to have banned whole year groups from entering the school unless they had signed notes from their parents saying they would not participate in "any protests or disruptive behaviour".

Unions hailed her departure last week - following a 70 per cent vote of no confidence from staff - as a victory, and a press statement from the NUT said the news had been greeted with "joyous relief".

It compared what had happened at the school to recent events in Egypt, where former president Hosni Mubarak has been overthrown after 30 years in power.

Teaching union the ATL said: "Members are to be congratulated for their united stand with their NUT colleagues with the aim of improving both education and work practices at the school. ATL and NUT members have always had at heart the best interest of students and staff but could no longer accept further bullying from management."

Ms Strang's decision comes as increasing numbers of headteachers are challenged by unions over management decisions, bids for academy status and other controversial changes.

When Ms Strang was appointed, the school had seen six changes of head in 10 years. It had a budget deficit and a poor reputation among local parents.

Ms Strang is quoted on the foundation school's website, saying: "I knew I would face challenges but I didn't know what a political minefield it was."

In a letter to staff last week, chair of governors Shahid Khan said Ms Strang had been put on leave for her own "health and safety and welfare".

He added: "A number of concerns have been raised by different parties about matters at the school - these have been raised by the staff, by the trade unions, by the head, by governors, parents, other members of the local community and the local authority. In light of this, I will now commission a thorough investigation into the concerns that have been raised by all the parties."

Although only rated "satisfactory" by Ofsted last summer, the school is well known for its innovative approaches to learning.

A press release from the NUT said the pupil protest that finally triggered Ms Strang's departure was a "united, peaceful and principled act of solidarity with a victimised teacher".

A press statement from the school this week said that the head had agreed to paid leave while a thorough investigation was carried out.

JULIET STRANG CV

EDUCATION

Degree in natural sciences, Cambridge University.

Postgraduate degree and research, King's College London.

TEACHING CAREER

Assistant head, George Abbot comprehensive, Surrey.

Deputy head, Cranford Community School, Hounslow.

1997 - Appointed head of Villiers High School.

Has served as a member of the Royal Society's Education Committee, and Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience;

School Improvement Partner and consultant to Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.

  • Original headline: Top head sent on leave after pupil walk-out

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