Former head reveals pressures that drive some teachers to commit suicide

Exclusive By John Elworthy FORMER head teacher Caroline Barnes says she can understand the pressure that drives teachers to commit suicide following her own experience with OfSTED which led her to quit. Following a one day OfSTED inspection which placed

Exclusive

By John Elworthy

FORMER head teacher Caroline Barnes says she can understand the pressure that drives teachers to commit suicide following her own experience with OfSTED which led her to quit.

Following a one day OfSTED inspection which placed the Fenland Junction Pupil Referral Unit in Station Road, March into special measures, Mrs Barnes says she was "devastated and resigned".


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Extraordinarily the swift descent into special measures followed a previous report just three years earlier - and under the same head- which described teaching as "sometimes outstanding" and praised the "outstanding guidance" given to students.

Mrs Barnes, who is also chairman of the governors at Cromwell Community College, Chatteris, claimed in a letter to the Times Educational Supplement that OfSTED had acted unfairly and had pinpointed serious irregularities that were not her fault.

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"In the four years that I was head, my team worked on the points for improvements identified at a previous inspection, when we were judged to be good with outstanding aspects," she wrote.

"Students left the unit with external qualifications and our exam outcomes were the best with the county's PRUs. The effects of the inspection have been far reaching for the unit and its students and staff."

She says OfSTED needs to take more responsibility for the effects that its process has on individuals and the way that inspections are conducted, needs to be far more constructive.

Her letter followed the recent suicide of a head in Scotland but there have been other suicides, including that of a head from St Neots who took her own life ten years ago following an OfSTED report.

Fenland Junction, catering for up to 45 pupils, was placed in special measures following an OfSTED report which labelled its overall performance as inadequate.

Its future as a special school for pupils excluded from mainstream education is now in doubt, following that report and the resignation of both Mrs Barnes and her deputy.

OfSTED, who dismissed an appeal lodged by the school against being placed in special measures, says its follow up inspection shows standards remain well below the national average.

A brief re-inspection by their inspector John Mitcheson concluded little had changed and he says the quality and impact of supposed improvements by the county council have been inadequate.

Mr Mitcheson accused Cambridgeshire County Council of not implementing a coherent plan of where and when advisory consultant support will be deployed.

And he said uncertainty will continue as further staffing changes take place and the future role of the PRU remains unsure.

The threat of closure was considered by the county council this week to be unlikely, but they confirmed its Behaviour Improvement Partnership was yet to come to a final decision.

Responding to criticism of the county council, the spokesman added: "There was some delay in providing support to the Fenland Junction PRU as a result of the appeal process against OfSTED's decision, but this is now on track.

"The Local Authority Implementation Group has met on several occasions and a detailed plan of support from the county council is being implemented. Indications from OfSTED are that local authority support is now being viewed more positively."

A later statement emphasised that the council "believes there is a strong reason to retain the PRU and that the service provided will improve."

Fenland Junction is due to be rebuilt under the Building Schools for the Future initiative and the council spokesman promised improved provision in the short term and consideration of the role and scope of the unit in the longer term.

Meanwhile Mrs Barnes is continue to teach elsewhere for two days a week but is also re-training as a forensics scientist.

"I am doing an MSc but my husband has been offered a job in China and we may re-locate there," she said.

"Whatever happens I definitely won't be looking for another headship."

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