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Friday, 26 November 2021 19:23

'The Secret Headteacher' is no More

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Once upon a time there was a Kent headteacher who sought to justify her failure after running her school into the ground through a 'Tough Love' approach. She did this by first of all publicly verbally abusing the parents, especially the 'white working class', which must have been an embarrassment to all at the school, then making a variety of false claims about it as I have demonstrated in several articles, most recently here. This was presumably her revenge on the school which, under her leadership had become one of the most unpopular in Kent. She then joined what she claimed in an article in a national newspaper was a ' flood of UK teachers leaving state education for private schools abroad', although over two years later I have seen no evidence of this. 

During her headship, I received more concerns expressed about the way she led the school than any other in Kent,  including too many calls for help from parents trying to find their children alternative schools. Surely uniquely, I also received concerns expressed from staff and ex staff at the school she then joined, in Mallorca. To complete her revenge she wrote a book, The Secret Headteacher, whose proposed publishers claimed had an anonymous author, which was about 'Turning around one of Britain's toughest schools (completely untrue), 'An unputdownable true account of how one tenacious headteacher led one of the worst schools in the country to excellence' (completely untrue). After several delays in producing this fictional account, it has now finally been junked by the publishers and so thankfully  won't see the light of day. 

Not to be confused with a blogpost from someone completely different, at secretheadteacher.org

Over a year after the Secret Headteacher had left her post, she wrote as if she were still in charge: I see myself as the conductor of an orchestra. It’s my job to attract great staff, develop them professionally and value them relentlessly, while also nourishing, nurturing and looking after them. ...I frequently tell my staff that I don’t want them to feel sorry for any children, because our sympathy will serve no purpose.....In schools with sky-high expectations there are never any excuses....The staff will dress smartly, speak well, love children and see their job for the joyous privilege that it is. Classrooms will brim with energy and exude professionalism. Sadly, the pupils at the school she ran saw few benefits from this,  the most unpopular school in the county with parents removing children every year, and the level of staff departures still being a third of the complement even in her final year. The 'no excuses' model,  adopted in Kent by several other schools over the years, also proved a failure for the children in every one of these case as I have demonstrated elsewhere on this website. A second article I wrote on The Secret Headteacher, continues the story in both countries, up to the end of last year. 

The advertising puff for the now rejected book begins:

An unputdownable true account of how one tenacious headteacher led one of the worst schools in the country to excellence. The Secret Headteacher charts an extraordinary principal’s journey in diary form from the moment they took over at a failing secondary school in a deprived area of the country, where less than a quarter of children attained 5 or more A*-C GCSEs, and how they set about the gruelling task of transforming its reputation using their zero-tolerance, tough-love approach.

Just one problem; the school described here appears to be a complete fiction, a fantasy I have completely demolished here.  The book was due to be published in August 2020, but the date was put back several times most recently to January 2022, until at last HarperCollins has quietly decided to cancel its production, although it is still advertised on its website.  

The good news for the school is that now under a more stable headteacher, confidence is slowly being restored, parents are no longer removing their children on a regular basis, and I have received not a single criticism about it. Sadly, its bad reputation lingers and continues to discourage applications. More good news is that the dreadful Academy Trust which allowed all this to happen has effectively been closed down and the school transferred to a reputable Trust. 

In December 2020, an education website called Teachwire, published its own article by  The Secret Headteacher, complete with a plug for her book. In it, she appears to be claiming to be still running this 'high performing school', although she left in the summer of 2019.  She writes splendidly about schools with 'sky high expectations', noting that in them, 'there are never any excuses – not for poor behaviour, not for missing school, not for lack of effort or for low standards of work....The biggest challenge of my role by far is finding teachers with sky-high expectations for children and an intolerance of mediocrity. Among these teachers, there’ll be no coffee cups lurking on desks where they spend most of the lesson; instead, they’ll be on their feet, the sage on the stage, inspiring and igniting. Union activism and militancy won’t be found in these schools. Staff won’t count the hours they put in because they’ll love their job, be well looked after by leadership, feel valued as part of a team and recognise their contributions to the school’s greater mission. Sadly, the enthusiasm of these sages to working for the Secret Headteacher appeared to be very low.  

Back in August 2015, at a brief high point for the school, she was reported to be one of 10 'behaviour experts' requested to attend a meeting with education minister Nick Gibb as he looked to drive up classroom standards, having apparently been influenced by the article in a national newspaper 'about how it had turned around its reputation as one of the country’s worst performing schools'. However, when the 'experts' were announced the next month she was no longer listed, perhaps because it was realised the article was also describing a fiction.  

Observation 1: For some reason parts of the media have also started to feature other school leaders  who glory in the title of 'the strictest headteacher in the country. One of these was the Secret Headteacher's Deputy at her school, who briefly became Principal of Pimlico Academy in London, one of the Future Academies schools, covered here, who also lost his job. Another popped up in Faversham earlier this year.

Yes, there is one such school that enjoys a very high profile and an 'Outstanding' Ofsted, Michaela Community School in London, run by a friend of the Secret Headteacher, Ms Katharine Birbalsingh,  mentioned in the Teachwire article and who is also called 'the country's strictest headteacher', with a flavour described here. Her ideas are favoured by the DfE and fit in with those described in my previous article. She has now been appointed as chair of the government's Social Mobility Commission, and so, with Dr Jo Saxton as the new Regulator of Ofqual, we can anticipate such ideas becoming more central in government policy. It is perhaps strange that there appear to be no others of the same ilk making headlines, unless one counts Pimlico Academy (above).

Observation 2: The Secret Headteacher continues to tweet from Mallorca on what a wonderful place that is (not what some of her staff say!) and how awful England and its education system are. Is she still trying to justify herself?  

 

Read 558 times Last modified on Friday, 03 December 2021 18:20

2 comments

  • Comment Link Sunday, 28 November 2021 20:25 posted by I was at Deptford Green

    See article above and comment below. Another link is with Seamus Murphy, current CEO of Turner Schools, appointed by Jo Saxton. He had an even closer relationship with Alison Colwell when they were both at Deptford Green, although, a very unhappy period for the school as you have suggested: https://www.kentadvice.co.uk/peters-blog/item/1350-the-secret-headteacher-second-article-denigrating-white-working-class-parents.html.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 27 November 2021 23:14 posted by Observer

    Why don't you mention the disgraced political figure, Toby Young, who appears in both this story and the one in your previous article. Peter: because whilst he is interesting in the circles in which both moved, he is not central to the stories. According to wikipedia: Young has been at the centre of several controversies. In 2015, he wrote an article in advocacy of genetically engineered intelligence, which he described as "progressive eugenics". In early January 2018, he was briefly a non-executive director on the board of the Office for Students, an appointment from which he resigned within a few days after Twitter posts described as "misogynistic and homophobic" were uncovered. In 2020, press regulator IPSO found Young to have promoted misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic in a Daily Telegraph column.

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