One Monday morning towards the end of 1999, primary head Carole Clayson decided to go for broke. Two particularly annoying letters in the daily mountain of mail persuaded her that, for too long, Wellesley first school in Norwich had been bossed around by politicians with no grasp of the realities of life in a deprived area. So she penned an eight-point letter, had it translated into Braille, and posted it to the then education secretary, David Blunkett.
Two months later, when I spent a day with Carole and her staff, a reply had yet to materialise. But if the DfES was loath to put pen to paper, other teachers were not. When Friday magazine aired the Wellesley teachers' grievances in full (February 18, 2000) messages of support flooded in.
Carole recalls how spirits were lifted by the response. Suddenly, everyone wanted to know about the lot of a hard-pressed primary teacher. BBC East filmed a programme at the school, and Carole was even invited to Windsor Castle to discuss early years education. Eventually, the DfES requested copies of the letters. Friday published a selection of them, too (March 17, 2000). And then things began to improve.
"I wouldn't claim that it was down to us," says Carole. "I think things were changing anyway. But the press coverage did raise awareness of what was going on".
She was pleased when PPA time was introduced, since lesson planning had become an intolerable burden. She also welcomes changes in the style of inspections that redress the balance for schools like Wellesley. "With the introduction of value added," she says, "you can now set out your stall and put your point of view."
In the six years since she fired off her angry letter, she says, school funding has increased, while much of the straitjacketing that so frustrated her staff has gone.
She never did hear from David Blunkett, she says, although David Puttnam dropped in one day, and Charles Clarke (the local MP) visited more than once.
A satisfactory outcome for Wellesley, then? Sadly, there is one cloud on the horizon. A surplus of places locally means that the school will amalgamate with another primary in September 2007.
Carole has yet to make a decision on her professional future. "I'll see what opportunities arise," she says. But her message to teachers who provided moral support six years ago is unequivocal. "We're still battling on," she says, "and we hope they are, too." To contact Carole and update Wellesley staff on how your school has fared since 2000, visit www.flickers.org.uk.