Torsten Friedag

11th May 2001 at 01:00
His head was on the block as he burnt out in front of a BBC camera crew. But the first superhead may yet return to the inner city

His claim to fame?

The first "superhead" to be appointed under the Government's Fresh Start programme for failing schools. Became one of the highest-paid heads in the state sector at pound;70,000 a year.

His job?

To turn George Orwell School, a notorious comp in Islington, into an inner-city miracle called Islington arts and media school. Motto: "Today's education for tomorrow's world."

Did he look the part?

Variously described as "a charismatic enthusiast", "gentle giant" and "genial Berliner".

Did he get any help in this mammoth venture?

Some: pound;8 million promised from the council for rebuilding, refurbishment, equipment; Andrew Adonis, Blair's education adviser, was on the board of governors; opening ceremony performed by David Blunkett ... and a BBC2 team.

Did he succeed?

No, as the resulting TV documentary, Head on the Block, revealed. But by then he'd resigned.


A hard core of 300 difficult pupils was left from the old days; fights broke out between Turkish and black pupils forcing him to install CCTV ad guards; building work dragged on and the new Lib-Dem regime cancelled funding for redevelopment. He was working 16-hour days.

What did the pundits say?

"A personal tragedy for a hard-working idealist." "A walking illustration of the dangers of so-called progressive education."

What is he doing now?

Co-founded a company called Education Futures to advise on how to adapt pedagogy for children in the future. (www.efdot. com).

Does he still want to teach?

Oh yes. "I miss it drastically. I would like to find a situation where I feel I can make a significant difference; maybe an inner-city school where I can motivate and create self-confidence in the children."

Diane Spencer


Born, Berlin, 1951, son of a political journalist Educated: Free University, Berlin, studied maths and geography, but failed English so didn't get degree 1972-74: language assistant at Shenfield school, Essex 1974-78: Reading University, BA in German and English, then PGCE 1977-1990: Taught in Midlands and Herts 1990-1995: Vice-principal, BRIT School, Croydon 1995-1999: Head, Great Cornard School, Sudbury, Suffolk 1999-2000: Principal of Islington Arts and Media School

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