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Parents’ concern as dozens of teachers quit primary school

Petition calls for change of leadership after more than 30 members of staff resigned or took redundancy from Robert Blair Primary School in less than two years

28 April, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

At least 33 members of staff at Robert Blair Primary School, in Holloway, have resigned or taken redundancy since 2015

MORE than 80 parents of pupils at a Holloway primary school have signed a petition calling for a change of leadership after dozens of teachers quit during the past 19 months.

The petition, which was launched last week, states parents have “no confidence” in Michelle Bahn, headteacher of Robert Blair Primary School, who took charge in September 2015. At least 33 members of staff have resigned or taken redundancy in a restructure since, though concerned parents and disgruntled ex-teachers claim the figure is higher.

The school’s governing body have said they have “full confidence” in the headteacher, adding that changes introduced by Ms Bahn are part of a ­“necessary transformation” of the school after recommendations for improvement were made in a 2015 Ofsted report.

But six former teachers and teaching assistants, who agreed to speak to the Tribune if they could remain anonymous, said they reluctantly left the school they once loved to work at because of the way it is being run.

One ex-teacher said: “Only two teachers remain from the ‘Good’ Ofsted [rating] achieved in 2015 when [former headteacher] Mr Miller retired. Over 30 members of teaching and support staff had left by the end of August 2016. This has continued throughout this academic year, with five teachers, one [special needs] and a number of key support staff leaving.

“You expect change with a new headteacher, but not such a significantly high staff turnover in less than a year-and-a-half in a one-form entry school. Staff left with extremely heavy hearts and felt passionately about the children and families of Robert Blair, but weren’t able to continue.”

Most recently, the Year 3 teacher and Year 5 teacher – who had been at Robert Blair just for one term – left. It is believed to be the third time in two years that the Year 5 class’s teacher has left them abruptly.

Former Robert Blair employees raised a number of concerns, including:

• Staff, some with 18 years of service at the school, are not being consulted on changes and feel excluded from decisions;

• Staff who do raise concerns have been ignored and told they are “aggressive” and have faced “unfair” disciplinary proceedings;

• There is not enough support for teachers;

• Special educational needs provision has suffered due to a restructure and a number of staff leaving. Staff with no experience of special needs teaching are being asked to fill these roles;

• There is too much emphasis on numbers, particularly improving SATs results, at the expense of a healthy working and learning environment.

An organisational restructure saw a number of support staff take redundancy last year but many others, some with more than 18 years of service at the school, have left.

A special needs worker, who spent more than 15 years at the school before quitting last year, said: “I had a lengthy service at the school, and I’m not opposed to change, but I’m upset that the work that’s been done [in the past] is not being respected.

“I was put on a disciplinary after three weeks and I was painted as a confrontational person [for raising issues]. For me it was never personal, it’s always been about the children.

“It is doing children and their families a massive disservice. It’s all about numbers and statistics jargon now.”

Henna Miah, 33, a parent with three children at Robert Blair, who signed the petition, said: “We’ve had 43 staff leaving and it’s not healthy for the children. It’s important for their education to have continuity. We had a community here but teachers don’t want to teach there anymore. All the key players have gone. They’re running off to other schools.

“There’s hardly any special needs provision anymore, teachers are coming and going, teaching assistants are leaving – it’s ripped the heart out of the school.”

Robert Blair was rated “Good” by Ofsted in June 2015. In the report, inspectors said the school needed to improve teaching, including by giving pupils “the right level of challenge” and giving them more opportunities to read “challenging texts”.

Ms Bahn took over shortly after the publication of the report, after popular headteacher Mark Miller retired.

Wilf Langridge, deputy chairman of the governing body, said: “[A total of] 33 staff left between 2nd September 2015 and 24th April 2017. This represents 49 per cent of the total staffing number of the school in September 2015.

“The school now has a new staffing structure. This involved a restructure of the leadership team and a formal restructure of the support staff in the main school, both of which were agreed and endorsed by the governors and local authority HR.

“These changes were necessary, both to ensure that all children had access to consistent high-quality teaching and to enable the school to balance its budget. The school has also made improvements in student attainment, attendance and a number of other areas.”

He added: “Robert Blair school has not received any formal complaints. However school governors are of course aware of concerns that some parents and staff felt about the changes.”

Margaret Lally, chairwoman of governors, added: “We understand that the amount of staff turnover and change has felt very disruptive to parents, children and the school, and that these developments may not have always been fully explained to the wider school community.

“We are currently recruiting staff for September and a number of staff who were working in the school on short-term contracts have applied to stay on permanently.

“The governors have full confidence in the current headteacher and teaching staff and that the changes being implemented are focused on ensuring high-quality teaching and learning for our children.”

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