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Head says she was suspended for ‘being honest’ about teachers ‘sat at home doing nothing’

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A headteacher has hit out about her suspension for suggesting during an interview on local radio that some of her teachers were “sat at home doing nothing”.

Pauline Wood is being investigated for potentially bringing her Sunderland school into disrepute during an interview with BBC radio about the wider reopening of primary schools.

When asked if parents were right that not all schools were working hard amid the coronavirus closures, Wood said she agreed “to some extent. You can’t lump everyone together as if they are all one type…some teachers are coming up with the most imaginative, amazing things…and other people do sit at home doing nothing. I won’t defend those people.”

When pressed whether that included teachers at her own school, Grange Park primary, Wood said: “Yes, I think it’s time we talked about the elephant in the room in some of this.”

It’s understood the comments came as a minority of staff refused to work in school for three days a week, rather than two.

Wood

The school governors suspended Wood after a complaint that she made “potentially disparaging comments” about her staff.

She was told this “raised serious concerns about your professional conduct and judgment … which potentially brings the school into disrepute”. An investigation is underway.

But Wood told Schools Week: “It is very concerning that a headteacher can be suspended for giving a truthful answer to questions posed by members of the public.”

In her 15 years at the school, Wood has overseen its transformation from ‘inadequate’ to ‘outstanding’. She was working her notice and due to leave in September, but fears her success will now be tainted.

During the interview on BBC Radio Newcastle, the interviewer read out texts from parents concerned about the level of support schools in general were offering their children. One said that the statement all schools were working hard to help pupils was “simply wrong”.

When asked to comment, Wood said: “Yes, some teachers have been in [schools], but many have not been in at any time. Safety is paramount, but don’t make out teachers have all been working flat out.”

Asked about her own school, and whether it was her job to motivate such teachers, Wood said: “I think a lot can be done, but it’s down to individuals. It looks very simplistic, but you’ve got lots of HR rules, regulations, unions and people can say all reasons why they can and can’t work.”

Wood was thanked by the interviewer for “her honesty” which he said was “very refreshing”.

The interview came as tensions increase between parents and schools over the support offered to pupils. One study has suggested one in five pupils  are not doing schoolwork at home.

While few pupils have returned to Grange Primary, it is understood some teachers cite childcare issues as the reason for their resistance to work on the school site for three days a week, rather than two.

Wood said she thought it would be helpful to get more staff in to work on appraisals, for instance, so pay adjustments were ready for September.

When asked for comment about staff working arrangements and the suspension, Mary Hodgson, the chair of governors, said she could not speak to anyone about “personal circumstances as it would be a breach of confidentiality”.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said school leaders should be able “to give their perspective and insight to the public via the media”.

But he said to “avoid the pitfalls”, the general advice was to have three key messages in mind and to ask a friend or relative to help prepare for such interviews.

Wood, a regular contributor to the Radio Newcastle show, said the situation was “disheartening”, especially considering the “great and sustained outcomes under my leadership”.

During the 2011 ‘outstanding’ inspection, Ofsted said the “relentless” way Wood and her leadership team “pursue excellence and improvement has an extremely positive impact on pupils’ outcomes”.

Wood added the school, in one of the most deprived areas of the country, was now in the top 2 per cent nationally for phonics and maths key stage 2 results. It also had been shortlisted numerous times for The TES schools awards.



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47 Comments

  1. Mr B Wood

    I cannot help but admire the honesty of Mrs Wood, it’s refreshing and long overdue in my view. As a parent of primary school children, my experience of the support and accountability from our school since the lockdown commenced has been both frustrating and very poor, a view echoed by too many other parents as well. It would seem that some teachers have risen to the occasion and provided a comprehensive support package for their classes whereas others simply have not.

  2. I cannot help but admire the honesty of Mrs Wood, it’s refreshing and long overdue in my view. As a parent of primary school children, my experience of the support and accountability from our school since the lockdown commenced has been both frustrating and very poor, a view echoed by too many other parents as well. It would seem that some teachers have risen to the occasion and provided a comprehensive support package for their classes whereas others simply have not.

  3. Crispin Cadwalladr

    It’s lonely at the top. If this Head cannot speak the truth -then who can? It’s shocking that this Head has been ostracized- for ultimately putting the needs of the children first. Ms Wood’s amazing leadership journey elevating her school to ‘outstanding’ status shows she pursues excellence and ambition for the children at this school. Two outcomes when she leaves this school: Ms Wood will be headhunted by the private school sector. Grange Primary will likely level-down.

  4. Phil Sharp

    Let’s be honest about things, there are some people within the profession that have taken advantage of lockdown and home working to do very little. This headteacher has been accurate in her comments.

    • Pauline Wood

      Thanks for this. I think many heads have met opposition like me, but published guidance during lockdown about suspending capability, disciplinary and appraisal has given our less committed staff carte Blanche.
      I don’t think they’re worthy role models for our wonderful children and parents.

      • Tracy Doyle

        If that comment is really from the head teacher in question, I can’t think it is a very good idea to be posting about it while there is a disciplinary investigation going on. Tempting as it might be to get across your side of the story, you would be best advised to delete, is my advice.

    • Taking Advantage? That’s laughable, What should they do, shun their family and caring responsibilities?

      Or actually juggle their work load and home life like others.

      It is an impossible task to ask of people generally, not just teachers.

      Why do we hold those teachers (that are managing to do some of it) higher than those who cannot? In a global pandemic? This head teacher has her professional priorites wrong unfortunately and it sounds as though her staff and the Trust are empowered to take action and so they should.

      • Claire, lets be honest there are some excellent teachers and there are some poor teachers. Most people don’t have the luxury of being paid full time wages to stay at home. The Head has her priorities entirely correct, working and home commitments of course are a juggling act but it isn’t unreasonable for a member of staff to cooperate with an already flexible employer. The other alternative of course would be to reduce teachers’ salary for the days they choose not to work…

      • Vernon Verrall.

        I totally agree with Mrs Wood, once it has been declared safe for children to go back to school that’s where they should be. Teachers get paid for 365 days a year unlike people who work for private companies, who by the way pay for the teachers. If it snows teachers say they can’t get to the school even though they have 2 legs like the rest of us, if they go out on strike they only lose one 365th of their salary for each day they are off, The trouble with the teaching profession today is that that is of course if they are marked down as absent which sometimes doesn’t happen if the head teacher is a left leaning Labour supporter. The trouble is that the teaching profession today is 70%female who are willing to pay up to £30 per month to be told by mainly by men exactly what they want to hear, don’t go to work. As far as I am concerned these teachers are on unofficial strike and should not be paid. The 4 main medical officers of the UK have decided children are safe to return to school so unfortunately for them that means all the teachers, not just the that worked through the epidemic. So pack away your swimsuits and sunglasses you poor self isolating ones and go back to work. If you have children of your own then your husband could be on furlough if he is he can look after them, that is if they are under school age of course.

        • Teachers aren’t paid 365 days, they are paid for 195. Effectively meaning any work at weekends or for the supposed ‘holidays’ is above and beyond what they are paid for.

      • Kathleen Andersson

        Quite right. The teachers in question can’t defend themselves either because her comments mean they’ve all been tarred with the same brush. A big part of her job is to lead her teachers pedagogically, support them and help them deal with an incredibly difficult situation. They’ve been on the front line for months, exposed to a deadly virus every day when they’ve gone into work. Many children they’ve been teaching on the rota basis have parents working in hospitals and other frontline jobs where there’s a risk they’ve been exposed to Covid19. A lot of these teachers have had a great deal of stress to handle and they’ve had to prepare lessons for their duty days plus help their own children with home schooling.
        I wonder how much Ms Wood has done herself in the school? Has she had contact with pupils, done any teaching, helped solve problems with technological equipment or has she been spending her days sitting behind a desk dealing solely with administration? I’m guessing after teaching for 44 years that this head teacher prefers to sit behind a desk at her computer rather than making sure the teachers are getting all the guidance they need. Another guess is that she doesn’t often visit the classroom either. I’m basing this on my experience of teaching in both junior and secondary schools in the UK, Germany and now 25 years here in Sweden. Most head teachers avoid the classroom like the plague in fact!

    • k jones

      I hope this outstanding Head tells her board of governors what they can do with their decision and gets a job in private education where she will be appreciated. Teachers and their lefty unions have both conived to lower the future prospects of their pupils

    • Mrs Souter

      Are you a teacher? I am. I don’t know a teacher who has not been working more than when they were at school in normal term time. I find it astonishing that in a profession where we always put the welfare of children first that people forget that we teachers have children. We have had to home school our children alongside our own jobs. Mrs Wood needs to remember this and not talk about teachers in a disparaging way on a public forum.

    • John Dobs

      Just like the footballers really ‘untouchable’. There is no way they would ever be taking a pay cut like everyone else in the country.
      Full pay, full pension for not going to work, grinning all the way to the bank. Sod the kids.

  5. I am aware of an extremely high level of commitment from my colleagues, both in my school and more widely. Staff and pupils have had to learn to work in new ways and people have challenged themselves to make it work despite a range of obstacles from childcare to illness. Comments like the one above are unhelpful. I wonder why people feel compelled to make them publicly. If leaders have concerns as to whether their staff are working effectively then wouldn’t it be better to share concerns with the person in question rather than bringing down the profession publicly?

  6. Crispin Cadwalladr

    It’s lonely at the top. If this Head cannot speak her truth- then who can? It’s shocking that this Head has been ostracized- for ultimately putting the needs of the children first. Ms Wood’s amazing leadership journey elevating her school to ‘outstanding’ status shows she pursues excellence and ambition for the children at this school. Two outcomes when she leaves this school: Ms Wood will be headhunted by the private school sector. Grange Primary may likely level-down.

  7. Dr Aliea Al-Daffaee

    Dear reader, l am very shocked to read of the suspension of this hard working head teacher for bringing the school from the low level to be Outstanding in her being in charge.
    She is very worried about the learning of the pupils in her care. She cares about every body.

    She has been very hounest and should be praised for that not suspended unless the governor body has got other ideas.

  8. Chris A

    If what it turns out to be true? Are the governers saying they would of swept it under the carpet? This is what happens when you answer a direct question with the truth. No wonder politicians are frightened to death! Wouldn’t it be great to have an open and honest society?

      • Kathleen Andersson

        Exactly! Apart from anything else she has blackened the names of ALL her teachers. What are they supposed to do? Put an ad in the local paper or ring up the local radio and say “It wasn’t me she was referring to, it was Ms ———————— “?! It’s just as well she isn’t staying on in the school in question because she might have had a few problems with her teaching staff in the future. I wonder what sort of relationship she’ll have with the teachers at her next school?

  9. Matthew Barr

    This is how most schools operate these days. Protecting the “brand” is more important than the reality. My kids’ school (Rathmore primary in Bangor, NI) has provided absolutely minimal support for home schooling. The odd link or digital document that any fool could have Googled. No marking, no online lessons, no phone calls, emails unanswered. It’s a disgrace this is happening and an even bigger disgrace that this Head is in trouble for admitting what we can all see happening (or not happening).

  10. Elaine Bates

    It’s high time someone was honest about the situation .Well done to her.I have no doubt that many of those on the beaches over the last few days were teachers enjoying their holiday.I have no doubt some are desperate to get back to doing what they are paid to do but a minority are just enjoying a very long holiday,spurred on by their unions.

  11. Teresa Snaith

    Absolutely appalled at the way Mrs Wood has been treated. Mrs Wood was asked a question, she answered it honestly. As for bringing the school in to disrepute I’ve never heard such Tosh.
    There’s an old saying eaten bread is soon forgotten……..well it seems to me that some have forgotton the tremendous work Mrs Wood and her team have put into turn this school around.

  12. Lynne meston

    She is 100% right. Sadly no one can say what they truthfully think these days. Of course you’ll get the teachers who go above and beyond and those who take the mick happy to do nothing and get a full wage for 6 months.

  13. Why has the headteacher been suspended? She has spoken honestly and factually. There are not many that can honestly say that they have been working their ‘full’ contracted hours at ‘full capacity’. There are also some that, not through their fault and is due the unprecedented situation that we find ourselves in, that haven’t needed to do much.
    We should be supporting our head teachers during this extremely difficult time and not suspending them when we are afraid that their honestly may cause unrest.

  14. Why has the headteacher been suspended? She has spoken honestly and factually. There are not many that can honestly say that they have been working their ‘full’ contracted hours at ‘full capacity’. There are also some that, not through their fault and is due the unprecedented situation that we find ourselves in, that haven’t needed to do much.
    We should be supporting our head teachers during this extremely difficult time and not suspending them when afraid that their honestly may cause unrest.

  15. Mrs Souter

    I am a teacher and have been working much longer hours than normal to do phone calls to all the children in my year group, make sure they are safe and keep up online learning. I don’t know a teacher not doing the same. Head teachers (not mine, who has been very supportive) have their own agenda. They forget we have our own children we have to home school and look after while we do our job. I am always amazed that in a profession where children are always our priority we are penalised for looking after our own children. Headteacher like Mrs Wood need a reality check.

    • I commend you and other staff who have worked hard. There are however some people who haven’t been quite as flexible and dedicated. I personally know some teachers including a family member who have been working in school 1-2 days a week and literally haven’t lifted a finger for the rest of their time at home, and that’s with the luxury of a partner to look after their own children! Maybe they are a minority, but the Head is correct in pointing out that some people have been less than co-operative in admittedly difficult circumstances.

  16. Mrs Souter

    I am a teacher. I have gone in to teach key workers children in term time and in the holidays.. I have been working longer hours than normal during lockdown doing phone calls to keep children safe, doing admin and being online managing and planning online learning. I find it astonishing that in a profession that puts the welfare of children first it is often forgotten that teachers have children of their own. We have had to do our own children’s home learning and look after their welfare. Head teachers like Mrs Wood need to remember this before they disparage their staff and the whole teaching profession. In a public forum.

  17. Michelle Jones

    It just sounds to me like she is more concerned about how Ofsted perceive the school’s performance rather than the well-being of the staff. There are innumerable reasons why teachers cannot work under these circumstances; you would expect better from a headteacher of her experience than to make sweeping generalisations that all who aren’t in school are lazy. Quite a disappointing read.

  18. Helena B

    This us happening across the country. Private school pupils are receiving online lessons due to the high level of fees (those need to be justified somehow). Public schools communication is appalling. One call from the class teacher per month to answer the questions sent in advance. Those questions are:
    1. One new thing you ve learnt
    2. The most exciting thing you have done at home.
    3. How you stay in contact with others.

    Please note the conversation can not deviate to discuss anything else as per instruction in the email. Children’s education was left to parents who, by the way, are still working full time.
    Hopefully, children won’t need to repeat the year.

  19. Noel Watkins

    Whilst I admire her for her candour and the success she has obviously brought the school I feel the fact the governing body sought to suspend her suggests she may have been putting to much pressure on her staff to satisfy the standards agenda at a time when there is alot of uncertainty and fear in connection with corinavirus. I don’t think governing bodies would take such action lightly so I feel this demonstrates some lack of real unity/solidarity in the school. It’s a shame she wasn’t a little more sensitive in her comments. If she was dissatisfied with her staff she should have sought to address this privately with the individuals concerned. Its the heads job to persuade her governing body to follow her lead and to support her decision making. For all her success education is a team endeavour and Heads must strive to get the best out of their staff through empowerment and positivity not coercion at a time when a more accepting approach is needed.

  20. Noel Watkins

    Phil, there is of course some truth in what you say but lets not be simplistic about this.
    Many furloughed people may have been working less for good reason including educating their own children at home, helping vulnerable people in lockdown etc.
    So I agree with you in part.
    Many school teachers have worked hard from home, setting work remotely, contacting parents etc. This has most definately been the case with my son’s teacher who has provided suitable work and given extremely positive and supportive feedback.
    I suspect there have been huge variations just as with people in other professions.

  21. We all know that there are poor teachers and that they really need to be weeded out via effective assessment. Unfortunately governors and local authorities lack the courage to ensure this and therefore the taxpayer continues to see money wasted while kids education in this country remains pretty weak.

  22. B Richardson

    Freedom of speech is clearly dead. I cannot help wonder if the Governors of this school have any clue as to how lucky they are to have a Head with her track record. Like all professions, teaching will have the keen and not so keen among its rank and file so what’s the problem in admitting it? The truth often hurts but that is no reason to distort it. Getting her back behind her desk and start to looking at where the real problem lies might be a good start!

  23. If she thought her staff were not performing to her expectations why didn’t she use her Outstanding leadership to ensure they did?

    The Board should have been informed of her plans to improve the situation. She should have executed these plans and reported back.

    No enterprise should have its leadership fessing up to lazy employees in the media without their board’s support and prior knowledge.

    Senior public positions come with a responsibility to their governance arrangements. By all means be honest but as number one she should have been seeking and securing improvements.

    She hasn’t exactly done her successor a favour. If I were a board member I would be furious at the reported underperformance of the leader for not securing better. Any understanding of governance would lead to the same conclusion. Shameful.

    • Mr G Guest

      The teacher should be re-instated immediately with an apology. The governors want to surpress the truth by threatening and bullying. In the same way that the far left do.They are the ones who should be suspended for trying to allow a bad situation to fester and get worse as they don’t have the guts to address it. It is true that lots of people have had a wail of a time while on furrow.

      • It may well be the that the Governors were ineffective and did not perform their duties satisfactorily in supporting the Head to challenge the staff. If so tackle them on it. Utilise the whistle blowing procedure or vote of confidence or other numerable options.

        To criticise the school, the staff, the board en-masse in public is woeful. Were the LA, DfE, OFSTED, Governors and Regional Schools Commissioner consulted and challenged to fulfil their statutory obligations before this media episode?

        All professions experience underperformance. Due process needs to employed to improve. This does not seem to be ‘Outstanding’ performance or improvement or leadership.

  24. Richard John

    I find it extraordinary that so many people support this headteacher. She may well be right but a, it exposes her ineffectiveness as a leader and b, will clearly affect admissions to the school ( that’s the school with lazy teachers).

    Has she contravened a school policy?. Very probably. If her deputy went on the radio and said she is always late for work or has questionable taste in clothing… it might well be true but it is not appropriate to comment on and is clearly in breach of school policies. In doing this she has alienated her whole staff because now everyone is wondering who the lazy ones are – everyone is viewed with suspicion. What were her expectations of staff? In my school staff were expected to set and mark work regularly. Staff were provided with the tools to do this. You cant blame the unions here. The buck stops with the head. Why tell everyone you cant do your job properly?

  25. Marc Ward

    Let’s get real, there are excellent, good, average and poor teachers, as in all professions. It seems that if you now dare to speak with candour you will be jumped on by the politically correct. We need people to say it as it is.

  26. Realistic Teacher

    This is shocking!

    I’ve been in the profession for 20 years, worked in 5 different schools, led departments, been an union rep and now a senior teacher, I can categorically say that there is a small percentage of teachers who are lazy. Unfortunately there is also another group who think that our profession cannot be criticised and any criticism is a slant in all of us – they need a reality check!

    I am in no way surprised that she said it and it was born out of frustration that some of her colleagues were letting her community down.

    I wish her all the best, I’ve no doubt she’ll probably end up doing consultancy work and it’ll be a loss to her school and the profession.

  27. Barbara

    It is outrageous that Mrs Wood should be suspended for telling the truth about some of her staff not wanting to work during lockdown. The lady should be congratulated and the guilty staff suspended. The lack of support from some schools/teachers has been a disgrace and Mrs Wood should be reinstated immediately.

  28. A mcgovern

    I admire this teacher for her honesty.
    My daughters high school is still closed! She is in year 10.
    A risk assessment was sent to me by the CEO of my daughters school early June. The first question I was asked was…
    “Do you want your child to stay at home where she is safe, or go to school”
    That first question set the tone for the other few. Shocking!!!!
    Some teachers should hang their heads in shame.

  29. John Grimshaw

    This teacher took a school from terrible to outstanding, I think she’s earned the right to say how she feels on the current situation. It’s not derogatory, it’s not painting the school in a bad light, if anything it’s showing her standard levels in an open and honest way.