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Hadleigh Community Primary School headteacher, Neil Jackson, resigns over ‘faceless government’ education rules which leave teachers ‘stressed and exhausted’

PUBLISHED: 14:58 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 14:58 10 February 2015

Hadleigh Primary School headteacher, Neil Jackson.

Hadleigh Primary School headteacher, Neil Jackson.

A Suffolk headteacher has attacked “faceless government” education rules which have left him unable to help children learn in his resignation letter.

Neil Jackson, 52, of Hadleigh Community Primary School, has told parents the reasons behind his decision to leave the school in a hard-hitting letter sent to parents. In it he said he could not continue because he was “constantly” finding himself “frustrated by having to tick boxes and jump through hoops” for a “faceless government”.

He said that irrespective of which party is in government, headteachers were being “constrained” to what they “can and can’t do”.

Last year the school was handed a “requires improvement” Ofsted grade. A monitoring inspection, carried out since then, in September, found that some improvements were being made.

Mr Jackson, who has been the headteacher for four years, said in the letter, which was published on the school’s website: “The role of a headteacher in modern Britain is completely different to what it was and I constantly find myself frustrated by having to tick boxes and jump through hoops for a faceless government who do not understand what providing wonderful, creative learning opportunities for children is all about. I therefore feel that I cannot continue in the role of a headteacher,” he said.

“Whilst our Ofsted inspection was not the only reason for my decision, it certainly made me realise that irrespective of which government is in power, schools are solely judged by children’s progress and that headteachers in particular will be constrained with regard to what they can and can’t do.”

Mr Jackson, a former Bucklesham Primary School headteacher, said no definite date had been made for when he would leave but he has requested it is before the end of the academic year. He said he “could not continue” in the role of headteacher but is due to stay in education.

Last night Suffolk headteachers reacted to the news. Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School in Bury St Edmunds, said the letter gave a “bleak picture” of leading a school which he said can be a “very lonely” job.

“It fits with the national picture that both at primary and secondaries more headteachers are thinking about stepping down and it can be incredibly difficult to recruit people; in some ways why would you anyone think about joining what is almost like a football manager system,” he said.

“I think it’s a sad indictment of the current picture of school leadership; the current government, when Michael Gove came in, said they would give more power to headteachers but I think evidence shows he has done the opposite.”

He said work was underway to strengthen the support network which is in place through the Suffolk Association of Secondary Headteachers.

No one was available to comment from the Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association.

Vicky Neale, headteacher at County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds, said being a headteacher carried a large responsibility. “Teaching and being a headteacher has a heavy workload, it’s also a very important job and it’s right that there is strong accountability.

“I would not say there’s more work now than there was five years ago. Very few of our staff are going, most of the ones who are are over 60 and retiring or going for a promotion.

“Some of that – going through hoops – is a school’s own choice. Staff work hard but I honestly would not say they are stressed and exhausted, there’s a good atmosphere in the morning staff briefing.”

Last year three headteachers left Suffolk primary schools because of “significant challenges” posed by changes to Ofsted inspections.

The leaders of St Gregory’s Primary School and Woodhall Primary in Sudbury, and Pot Kiln Primary in Great Cornard all left.

Lisa Chambers, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for education and skills, said: “We wish Mr Jackson the best in his future endeavours. Following his decision to resign, our priority is to work with the school’s governors to ensure that Hadleigh Community Primary School receives the support it needs to find a suitably experienced replacement head teacher in a timely fashion.”

Mr Jackson’s letter:

To all Parents, carers and children at Hadleigh Community Primary School,

I am writing to you today to tell you that after a great deal of soul searching, I have decided to resign from my position as headteacher here at Hadleigh Community Primary School.

It is not a decision I have made lightly; this is a fantastic school, with wonderful, talented children, inspirational staff, supportive parents and proactive, challenging governors.

I would like to take this opportunity to explain to you why I am leaving the school; please do understand that I am not leaving to take up another headship elsewhere, I am leaving headship completely.

The role of a headteacher in modern Britain is completely different to what it was and I constantly find myself frustrated by having to tick boxes and jump through hoops for a faceless government who do not understand what providing wonderful, creative learning opportunities for children is all about. I therefore feel that I cannot continue in the role of a headteacher.

Whilst our Ofsted inspection was not the only reason for my decision, it certainly made me realise that irrespective of which government is in power, schools are solely judged by children’s progress and that headteachers in particular will be constrained with regard to what they can and can’t do.

Hadleigh Community Primary School has many wonderful, talented staff; good, conscientious people who are constantly stressed and exhausted by the huge amount of paperwork which they are required to complete. I consider myself to be a very approachable, honest headteacher and when staff ask me how to achieve a better work/life balance, I can no longer give them an answer.

After much soul-searching, I am going to put my family and myself first. Please do be assured that I will work hard to lead the school as effectively as possible in the coming months, until I leave. I was offered a new job on Wednesday February 4 and telephoned David Smyth (chair of governors) straight away in order to allow governors and senior leaders the time and opportunity to ensure that the children’s education would not be jeopardised in any way at all. However, in light of the change in circumstances, a deputy headteacher was not appointed yesterday.

As I write this letter, I am aware that David Smyth is meeting senior leaders at Suffolk County Council in order to ensure that the school does not suffer in any way at all. Please do be assured that the school governors are incredibly astute and aware of their responsibilities with regard to your children and that they will now work tirelessly to advertise for and appoint my successor. The senior leadership team have already met to draw up an action plan with regard to the future of the school and I would ask you to trust them as they ensure that ‘life at Hadleigh carries on as normal’.

I have enjoyed four years here at this fabulous school and am so proud of everything and everyone connected to it. I appreciate that some of you will be shocked, surprised and disappointed by my letter and I hope that you will discuss my leaving with your super children explaining that they have not done anything to warrant this, but, Mr Jackson has decided that headship is no longer the job for him.

I hope that in the coming weeks and months many of you will take the time to chat to me and please do feel free to discuss the contents of this letter with me. (As I write this letter, I am not exactly sure when I will be leaving as the governors will need to ensure they have a competent, experienced headteacher in place first before they can consider my request to leave before the end of the academic year).

I hope and trust that this letter has begun to explain the reasons why I have decided to leave headship; as mentioned previously, it has not been an easy decision to make and I have made it with a heavy heart and have suffered many, many dark nights.

Thank you all so much for your fantastic support during the last four years and thank you for allowing me, as headteacher to lead a school where we have almost 600 wonderful, fabulous children.

Neil Jackson, Headteacher, Hadleigh Community Primary School

Department for Education statement:

“We want to support the profession to tackle the issue of unnecessary and unproductive workload, which many teachers are concerned about and is stopping them from giving time to what really matters – inspiring young people to achieve their potential.

“That is why we launched the Workload Challenge. We received over 44,000 responses and are now acting on those to ensure teachers are able to carry on with their fantastic work and prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.”

The key pledges resulting from the Workload Challenge are:

Commitments by Ofsted not to change their handbook or framework during the school year, except when absolutely necessary; to keep updating their new myths and facts document stating what inspectors do and do not expect to see; and from 2016 onwards, to look to make the handbook shorter and simpler, so that schools can more easily understand how inspectors will reach their judgements;

Giving schools more notice of significant changes to the curriculum, exams and accountability, and not making changes to qualifications in the academic year or during a course, unless there are urgent reasons for doing so;

Making it easier for teachers to find examples of what works in other schools, and research about the best way to do things like marking, data management and planning by bringing together a central repository of evidence;

Support for headteachers to carry out their demanding jobs by reviewing all leadership training, including reviewing the opportunities available for coaching and mentoring for leaders; and tracking teacher workload over the coming years by carrying out a large scale, robust survey in early Spring 2016, and every two years from then.

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