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Staff blame head as pupils set traps

Article | Published in TES Newspaper on 15 October, 2004 | By: Michael Shaw

Walsall teachers pass vote of no confidence as discipline breaks down.

Two heads have been drafted into a Walsall school after teachers passed a no-confidence vote in their headteacher following a drastic deterioration of pupil behaviour.

Staff at Barr Beacon language college say they are alarmed by incidents over the past year, including one in which pupils placed trip-wires on stairways and corridors at ankle, neck and eye level.

Fifteen teachers quit at the end of the summer term, many complaining about a decline in discipline. One teacher, who is now undergoing counselling for clinical anxiety, said: "I became increasingly concerned both for my own safety and that of others on the corridors as our pupils became more and more unruly."

The teachers blame Hilary Sargeant, appointed head of the 1,448 pupil mixed comprehensive in 2001. They have worn black for at least two staff meetings in protest.

Sixth-formers attempted to auction the school on eBay last term, claiming that Barr Beacon was "going downhill rapidly" since gaining language college status in 2003.

Education Walsall, the organisation set up by the private company Serco and Walsall council to run education in the West Midlands authority, has now drafted in two other heads to assist Ms Sargeant.

Tony Parker, school representative for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, criticised Ms Sargeant's management.

"The headteacher has implied that anyone having classroom problems is a bad teacher," he said. "The reality is that good teachers began to struggle as pupils realised they had no effective check on their behaviour."

The latest serious incident occurred a fortnight ago when a pupil was accused of stabbing another boy in a fight off school premises.

Education Walsall confirmed that an incident had occurred earlier in the year involving wire from the school's science department.

Tensions continued this term after Ms Sargeant introduced a new timetable with five lessons in each day, which teachers said had caused chaos.

An external consultant appointed by Education Walsall and the governors agreed this month that the timetable needed to be rewritten.

It is now working in conjunction with Barr Beacon and teachers' unions on a "robust action plan" to improve discipline and to sort out other problems at the school.

The organisation has brought in two successful local headteachers Diana Woods, head of Queen Mary's high and Bob Szpalek, head of Darlaston community science college to act as "school improvement partners".

Education Walsall said the two headteachers would also be helping other schools in the authority. Press queries for Ms Sargeant have been referred to Education Walsall, which praised her leadership at Barr Beacon and described her work with local primary schools as pioneering.

Inspectors who visited Barr Beacon two years ago rated pupil behaviour as one of its most positive aspects.

A recent independent audit of the school, ordered by Education Walsall, found that "pupils, in the main, behave well".

The complaints about the school come at a difficult time for Education Walsall because its services for Walsall's schools are being inspected this month.

Timeline

2001. January Hilary Sargeant takes over as headteacher. Within two months teachers complain of a deterioration in discipline.

2002

November Inspectors visit the school and describe pupils' attitudes and behaviour as"very good".

2003

September School gains language college status November - NASUWT members send a motion to governors complaining that pupil behaviour has made the school "an unpleasant place to work".

2004

February Trip-wires discovered across stairways. Teachers dress in black for a staff meeting in protest at discipline problems.

June NASUWT members pass a vote of no confidence in the head July Education Walsall orders a review of the school's management. 15 teachers leave. Sixth-formers attempt to auction Barr Beacon on eBay.

September Teachers complain that a new timetable has created "organisational chaos". Education Walsall appoints two other headteachers to support Ms Sargeant. A pupil is accused of stabbing another boy in a fight off school premises.

October An independent consultant recommends that the timetable be rewritten.


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