‘Teachers under pressure’ warning as primary head is ousted after inspection

THE head teacher of one of the region’s largest primaries has been relieved of her duties following an inspection visit to her school last week.

The news that Cathy Mady has been removed from her post at 286-pupil Knowepark in Selkirk was conveyed to members of staff by Scottish Borders Council’s education director Glenn Rodger on Friday and a letter was later issued to parents.

On Monday, her place at the helm was taken on an interim basis by Jacqueline Wilson, head teacher of Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, who has, since January, been assisting the management team at Knowepark.

Significantly, the decision to remove Ms Mady was taken after inspectors from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe) spent two days at the school last Wednesday and Thursday as part of a follow-through process.

The inspectors had previously promised to return to Knowepark within a year to assess if a number of shortcomings, highlighted in a report on the school issued in May last year, had been addressed.

That inspection was a follow-up to previous HMIe reports published in 2010 and 2008, the latter relating to performance before Ms Mady took over from her long-serving predecessor Nancy Marshall.

Asked for an explanation of what had transpired at Knowepark, a spokesperson for SBC’s education department said yesterday: “Following discussions with the head teacher and management team and staff, SBC has taken action to change the current management structure within Knowepark Primary.

“This change has resulted in the withdrawal of the current head teacher from the school and a continuation of the additional head teacher who has been working to support the improvement agenda at Knowepark since January.

“This change has been made following concerns that improvements within the action plan, developed in response to the HMIe inspection, were not progressing fast enough. Parents and carers have been informed of these decisions and the changes made.”

Mr Rodger added: “I am confident that staff and the council will work together to ensure that the children at Knowepark receive the best possible education and I will be monitoring the situation very closely.”

Although it is not unprecedented for a head teacher to be replaced in the Borders, the local secretary of the main EIS teaching union, Kay Miller, yesterday expressed concern at the way things had been handled at Knowepark.

“The report issued last May praised Ms Mady, while urging that the pace of change to implement the Curriculum for Excellence needed to be increased by staff,” said Ms Miller.

“But it crucially stated that, in order to achieve that improvement, the school would need further support from the council.

“The feedback I am getting is that the head teacher and her staff have been frustrated because they do not really know what is expected of them to meet the targets of the action plan referred to.

“I have certainly had no feedback that Knowepark pupils going up to Selkirk High School are in any way underperforming compared to students from other primaries in the catchment.

“These are stressful times for teachers and this union is concerned about the well-being of all staff at Knowepark.

“Considering this decision was taken before the inspectors had published a report, I think serious questions have to be asked about the role of the local authority and how things got to this stage.”

In last year’s HMIe report on Knowepark, it was stated that, compared to 2008, “teamwork amongst staff is now more effective and staff are working together to discuss and share improved learning approaches”.

However, the report cautioned: “The head teacher now needs to engage all staff in a robust evaluation of the quality of learning and teaching ... the school will need further support from the local authority in order to improve.”