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Unjust Woodhead wrecked our lives

On the evening of May 2, 1997, amid the euphoria of a Labour election victory at the polls, it was my painful duty to tell the staff of Islington Green School the devastating news of inspection failure. A hush fell across the staffroom before cries of disbelief.

I did not believe Islington Green was failing nor did they.

We had one hope. The recommendation that we were to go into special measures had to be confirmed by a visit from an HMI inspection team.

When the second team came the rules did not permit them to tell us how the inspection had gone. But one senior colleague reported overhearing the remark, "This is not a failing school", suggesting they disagreed with the decision of the original team.

Within a few days we were told that Chris Woodhead, the then chief inspector, had confirmed the need for special measures. The school was failing.

This Saturday, I relived the emotions of despair and anger that surrounded that time in my life. A memo has come to light that makes it clear that the HMI team did not truly believe that the school was failing.

Mr Woodhead has said that he was within his rights not to take note of an HMI recommendation. This cannot be disputed. The question is why Mr Woodhead took no notice of his colleagues' opinions when he had not himself visited the school? Why bother to have an HMI visit at all?

At the time there were accusations that the decision was politically motivated. Islington Council was an easy and popular target. Woodhead, supposedly impartial, clearly favoured particular models of education and did not always see the need for evidence to back up his assertions.

I wrote to David Blunkett, then the new Education Secretary, to ask for the findings of the HMI visit to be made available. I never received a reply.

It may have been that "letting an Islington comprehensive off the hook" within weeks of the election victory was incompatible with the tough image the new government wanted. Or perhaps documents relating to the inspection were destroyed.

The consequences were catastrophic. It has taken years for Islington Green to recover. Many colleagues who worked at Islington Green suffered in their careers because of this unjust decision.

However, the greatest victims have been the children of Islington. At least former pupils will now know that they did not go to a rubbish school and their teachers were not incompetent. But for this fateful decision, children could have had the benefit of a school continuing to improve and to serve their needs over the past eight years.

Ken Muller, the school's National Union of teachers rep., whose diligent work uncovered this information, deserves credit for never doubting his school. I add my voice to his call for Education Secretary Ruth Kelly to overturn the decision.

I shall myself be writing to Ms Kelly and the Prime Minister. The least that these politicians can now do is to annul this manifestly unjust decision.

Tony Garwood Former head, Islington Green School 1996-1998 Address supplied

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