Tragedy strikes at heart of school

4th April 2008 at 01:00
The apparent suicide of a Borders headteacher highlights the pressures on teaching heads

Irene Hogg, the 54-year-old Borders headteacher who apparently took her own life last week after an HMIE inspection, had sought council support to help with the management burdens of being a teaching head.

A very private person, Miss Hogg took what was, for her, the difficult step of approaching education staff in Scottish Borders Council for assistance, even before she knew her school was due to be inspected.

She was involved in discussions with the education department about putting in place the right support for her circumstances. It was, The TESS understands, the challenges of administration and management that she found to be a particular burden, and she was reluctant to spend less time with the composite P6-7 class she taught. It was the teaching side of the job that brought her the greatest satisfaction.

Primary heads have called for councils to improve their support of schools before and after inspections.

There has been intense media speculation that Miss Hogg committed suicide because of the inspection. She had told friends she feared the report would be critical of her leadership of Glendinning Terrace Primary, in Galashiels. Lothian and Borders police have refused to confirm the cause of death.

Miss Hogg is understood to have been troubled by issues outside work for the past six to eight months and to have suffered family bereavements in the past year.

Tributes from fellow heads have described her as "a true professional" who was "held in great esteem and respected by all who knew her". One recalled her "excellent advice". Pupils in her class have been upset and angry about some media reports about their school and the headteacher they loved. They, too, are receiving council support.

HMIE has refused to comment on the speculation surrounding her death. The inspectors' report will not be published until June.

The managing inspector who carried out Miss Hogg's verbal feedback had inspected other schools in exemplary fashion, according to council sources. A quality improvement officer who attended the session with Miss Hogg felt it was handled sensitively, it is understood.

Findlay Ferguson, retired head of Tweedbank Primary, also in Galashiels, claimed not enough account was taken of the time pressures faced by teaching heads.

During an inspection at Glendinning in 2005, when the school's nursery came under the HMIE microscope, Miss Hogg's leadership was described by inspectors as "fair". They commented: "She had limited management time and struggled to support the nursery effectively."

Tom Burnett, president of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes in Scotland, responded to the news of Miss Hogg's death by calling on authorities to support their schools better, so that when inspectors called there were no shocks.

Mr Burnett, head at Holmston Primary, in South Ayrshire, went through his first full inspection in 2002. He admitted he was "apprehensive" - he polished the school windows the night before the inspectors arrived and was in school "every waking hour and at weekends", as was Miss Hogg, reportedly.

Gordon Smith, past president of AHDS and head at Jordanhill Primary, Glasgow, said: "It happens too frequently that a head thinks they are doing a good job, everyone is working as hard as they can and doing the best for the children, and then an inspector walks in and slates them. The authority should already be in and supporting that school."

It was unfair, he added, that heads be held entirely responsible when they do not have full control over how schools are run. "You are not in charge of your team - you do not choose all the players, or the pitch. You can put a training regime in place but then discover your budget has changed."

Obituary page 26.

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