Normally when you hear about someone being suspended from a school you can probably safely predicate that it is one of the pupil or a teacher. You don’t expect to hear of a head teacher being suspended. And you don’t expect the press release from the council announcing such a fact to have spelling mistakes.
However a head teacher has been suspended. From Darwen Vale High School in Blackburn. You might have heard of the school. It’s the one where the staff went on strike because of the lack of discipline at the school.
This is again a very unusual situation. Most of the time when teachers go on strike it’s because their union has told them and it’s about pay or conditions. But to go on strike because the management of the school aren’t doing their jobs just does not happen. So it must be bad.
The stories about the lack of disciple which led to the teachers going on strike included cases where a teacher would confiscate a mobile phone only for the phone to be handed back to the kid later in the day. There was no support for teachers who were physically and verbally assaulted either. Teachers who had ludicrous and false accusations made against them by pupils who knew how to game the system were also not helped and had to endure unnecessary disciplinary procedures.
Now there have been accusations that the teachers were the ones doing the bullying, bullying the head teacher and ganging up on someone doing a difficult job and making it impossible for her to do her work. The head teacher has support from the governers and the local LibDem MP Simon Huggill, though sometimes it doesn’t sound like they know what’s happening when they blame the problems on the fact that the school is in temporary accommodation as it’s being rebuilt (under the schools for future project) and that it’s cold when they walk between classrooms. She was even invited to Number 10 to meet Gordon Brown by MP Rosie Cooper who thought she was doing a good job.
But when you look into Hilary Torpey’s past it seems that the teachers have a point. Mrs Torpey previously worked at Glenburn Sports College in Skelmersdale where one commentator in a newspaper report presciently wrote in July last year “I feel sorry for anyone with children at Darwen Vale High School, she came to be Headteacher at Glenburn and ruined the school for many. If you like someone who rewards bad behaviour instead of facing it full on then she’s the one for you. Good luck – the only good thing in her favous [sic] is she’s a scouser!”.
Another commentator wrote “The OFSTED report regarding Mrs Torpey does not tally with how the staff from Glenburn College felt. Also, if you back to her previous school, Bootle High School, there were staff there that wanted to give her a vote of no confidence. Torpey was a Deputy Head at that school both she and the Head Teacher sat back and did nothing to stop that school being closed, quite the opposite. Both she and the head went on to other jobs.“
Now you do have to take comments in newspaper with a pinch of salt. You just have to read the comments in CIF in the Guardian to see why. So the comments could have been written by someone with a grudge against Hilary Torpey, but when you read it in context of the latest events it seems to have a ring of truth to it in my opinion.
All this don’t mean that the whole school is overrun with unruly pupils. It is always a tiny minority who spoil the education of the rest of the school. You can never get rid of every single one of these trouble makers and they do deserve to be educated too but it’s how you handle the difficult situations which shows if the teachers are in control or not.
The school now has a new head the teachers and union have given him till the end of the month to sort out the problems.
My advice to the new head? Expel every single one of the trouble makers straight away. Let the rest of the kids start to enjoy school rather than hating. And then slowly bring the expelled children back in. And if there is any further trouble – always believe the teacher and back the teacher up. In just about any case where a pupil claims assault or similar it’s because the pupil did the bad thing. And allow the teachers to have authority in the classroom and not have to second guess what the education authority would do.
I must admit to a slight personal connection to the case. I have a friend who applied for a job there but after having met the head teacher involved decided against taking up a position as a teacher at the school.