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Top of the scale, bottom of the shortlist

Only half the staff from Bridget Patterson's school have found jobs since its forced closure last summer.

In one of his particularly apt articles (TES, April 28) Ted Wragg highlighted the plight of unemployed teachers trying to sell themselves around the country in the hope of landing even a part-time temporary contract.

Last summer the girls' boarding school of which I was head closed. It happened suddenly and was a great shock to all concerned - something I wrote about later (TES, November 18, 1994). Ever since, I have been writing a constant stream of references for colleagues who lost their jobs. It has been an enlightening experience.

Practices vary so much - some heads seem to send requests for references for all aspiring candidates, others bypass this procedure, relying on their own instinct and judgment. Some discuss candidates over the phone but do not always want the conversation confirmed in writing. This works both ways, as I can elucidate aspects of someone's application without putting it on paper.

We all know the roller coaster of emotion teachers go through for each job they apply for. But "in the interests of economy", they rarely receive any acknowledgement or explanation for their rejection. I still think it should be possible say to write to those on an interview short-list telling them why they were unsuccessful.

Since last September, several ex-colleagues have been working in schools covering sickness or maternity leave. Some are coming to the end of one-year contracts. The prospects don't look good for those who are still without a job lined up for this September. There were 29 full-time teaching staff employed at my school and some had given as much as 17 years' service. When the closure was announced, they received only two weeks notice to leave; for many it was like a bereavement.

Recently I've done a poll of what's happened to them.

One has left the profession altogether, six have full-time posts, nine are in part-time jobs, 13 are without anything. These are experienced teachers who have a great deal to offer, but being at the top of the scale appears to be a qualification nobody can afford.

One whose search has come to nothing has just been admitted to hospital with severe depression. I imagine that this small sample is representative of the national picture.

This weekend those who can will meet to mark the first anniversary of the closure announcement. Since that date not a single governor, apart from the chairman, has expressed any interest to me about the staff who gave so much of themselves to a school which parents and pupils tell me they still miss.

Bridget Patterson was head of Felixstowe College in Suffolk and from September will be higher education adviser at Northgate High School, Ipswich, Suffolk

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