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Primary school head suspended for criticising lazy teachers during lockdown doubles down on claim

Pauline Wood, from Grange Park in Sunderland, is under investigation for comments she made on a BBC radio station

A star primary school headteacher who was suspended after saying some of her staff had ‘sat at home doing nothing’ during lockdown described some of her teachers as ‘behaving like petulant kids’. 

Pauline Wood, from Grange Park in Sunderland, accused her staff of bragging that they were spending ‘more time watching Netflix’ at home than they were working during the coronavirus pandemic as they were only coming in to school two days a week.

Mrs Wood, a married mother-of-three, said she had been suspended on full pay on June 12 by the school’s new chair of governors Mary Hodgson.

She claimed Ms Hodgson had told her the action was being taken due to her ‘bringing the school into disrepute’ by making her comments about teachers in an interview on local radio three days earlier.

Speaking exclusively with MailOnline, Mrs Wood, who spearheaded Grange Park Primary School’s ascent up the Ofsted grading system, said she had been left ‘disappointed’ by her suspension and believed proper procedures had not been followed. 

She disclosed that she had already handed in her notice at Grange Park School in Sunderland last January so she could leave in August, partly because she felt ‘a small minority’ of staff were not pulling their weight.

Mrs Wood was working out her notice, ready to leave at the end of August, when she was suspended over her and banned from going back into the 220-pupil school without permission.

She said she and her former chair of governors ‘who had been amazing’ had handed in their notice, partly because they had ‘seen a few signals’ that they were being undermined by some staff.

Mrs Wood said: ‘We felt one or two staff were being niggardly and I thought, ‘Do I really need this now?’ 

‘So we both decided we would resign in January so that the school had a really good chance of recruiting the cream of the crop for September. In December, it felt we had this little group who were acting like petulant kids.’  

It came after education unions faced accusations they were sabotaging efforts to get children back to school, with the National Education Union insisting Boris Johnson’s ‘one metre plus’ rule will still make teaching difficult.

School closures are overwhelmingly impacting disadvantaged children, with a recent survey revealing two million children in the UK had done barely any schoolwork at home during the coronavirus lockdown.

Around one in five pupils have carried out no schoolwork, or less than an hour a day, since schools closed partially in March. Meanwhile, only 17 per cent of children put in more than four hours a day.  

Other figures revealed that nearly a third (31 per cent) of private schools provided four or more online lessons daily, compared with just six per cent of state schools. 

Meanwhile parents who are left in the dark about the future of their children’s education have to look after them at home, meaning they cannot get back to work and help kickstart the UK economy.  

In other developments today:

  • The UK announced 186 more coronavirus-associated deaths as worrying official data shows the average number of daily victims has risen for the second day in a row
  • Boris Johnson slammed beachgoers for ‘taking too many liberties’ and turning packed seasides into hotbeds of violence as families headed to the coast to enjoy the last day of the mini-heatwave; 
  • Britain’s biggest shopping centres including Lakeside and the Trafford Centre could have to close as their owner Intu admitted it will likely have to call in administrators;
  • The risk of dying from coronavirus after being hospitalised has plummeted since the peak of the outbreak, Oxford University statisticians found – dropping from 6 per cent to 1.5 per cent;
  • Police chiefs warned that a ‘pressure cooker is building up’ which could erupt into an orgy of violence this summer as lockdown ends;
  • Men working in factories or as security guards were being killed by coronavirus at more than twice the rate of healthcare staff during the height of the crisis in Britain, shock official data showed;
  • Sweden’s top virus expert said the ‘world went mad’ with coronavirus lockdowns which ‘fly in the face of what is known about handling virus pandemics’.
Mrs Wood spearheaded her school's rapid ascent up the Ofsted grading system from 'inadequate' to 'outstanding' in 15 years

Mrs Wood spearheaded her school’s rapid ascent up the Ofsted grading system from ‘inadequate’ to ‘outstanding’ in 15 years

She blasted some teachers at Grange Park Primary School (pictured) for not pulling their weight during months of lockdown

She blasted some teachers at Grange Park Primary School (pictured) for not pulling their weight during months of lockdown

Mrs Wood (left) is being investigated for potentially bringing her school into 'disrepute' during an interview on local BBC radio

Mrs Wood (left) is being investigated for potentially bringing her school into ‘disrepute’ during an interview on local BBC radio

Though the BBC interviewer praised Mrs Wood (far left) for her 'very refreshing' honesty, the school's governors suspended her after a complaint that she made 'potentially disparaging comments' about her staff

Though the BBC interviewer praised Mrs Wood (far left) for her ‘very refreshing’ honesty, the school’s governors suspended her after a complaint that she made ‘potentially disparaging comments’ about her staff

Mrs Wood said her problems with a small number of staff continued after the country went into lockdown and her school was only open for vulnerable pupils or children of key workers.

She said staff were originally required to come in just one day a week each to look after the children who were attending while those who were shielding did not have to come in at all.

Mrs Wood took the decision to ask staff to come in for two days a week, so they could look after pupils on one day and use the second day to contribute to a ‘learning platform’ helping children being home schooled.

She said she also expected them to spend their second day ringing around the parents and children in their class to check on them and ask if they needed printed work sheets.

But she ran into problems when she tried to ask people to come in for three days, and suggested that teachers could also use their time to prepare powerpoint presentations about their performance in the year so that they could have their annual appraisals.

She said: ‘The full time people said they didn’t want to work three days a week. They said they didn’t mind doing an hour or two more on the second day, but they didn’t want to come in on a third day.

‘I pointed out that they were being paid for five days and it was their job. We got some really bizarre reasons in response. Two of them said, ‘Well I know I am a key worker and my children can go tot heir local school, but I would much rather they were home with me so for childcare reasons, I don’t want to come in.’

‘Two others said, ‘We don’t mind being in front of the children, but we don’t want to do any tasks’. I said the tasks they were being asked to do were in their teachers’ pay and conditions.

‘For example, there are assessments and planning ready for their classes in September, special needs provisions and stuff where you have to come in and get information from the secure server in school.

‘I thought it was a bit of a gift and a nice thing to do for the new head.’

But she said ‘a small group of staff’ responded by going to their unions behind her back. Instead of the unions talking to her, they went directly to the human resources department of the local education authority. 

Mrs Wood had praised some teachers for coming with ‘imaginative things’ during lockdown. 

She read out texts on BBC Radio Newcastle from parents concerned about the level of support schools have been offering children, and remarked: ‘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 asked to comment further, though, she said: ‘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.’ 

She added: ‘I think it’s time we talked about the elephant in the room.’

Though the BBC interviewer praised Mrs Wood for her ‘very refreshing’ honesty, the school’s governors suspended her after  a complaint that she made ‘potentially disparaging comments’ about her staff.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Mrs Wood said she was standing up for colleagues who were afraid to intervene in the debate. 

‘I have broad shoulders, I am not going to lie,’ she said. ‘But the barriers for most heads are too great. 

‘There is a lot of pressure to toe the party line and there are lots of heads who think it’s not worth raising their head above the parapet.’ 

She has hit back at criticism, tweeting: 'As Headteachers, our job descriptions say we should hold staff to account'

She has hit back at criticism, tweeting: ‘As Headteachers, our job descriptions say we should hold staff to account’

People took to Twitter to praise Mrs Wood's 'refreshing honesty', with one account posting: 'Pauline Wood head teacher from grange park tells the truth about lazy teachers doing nothing during lockdown and gets suspended'

People took to Twitter to praise Mrs Wood’s ‘refreshing honesty’, with one account posting: ‘Pauline Wood head teacher from grange park tells the truth about lazy teachers doing nothing during lockdown and gets suspended’

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

Mrs Wood claimed that some teaching staff had reportedly refused to work on site for three days a week – instead of two – citing problems getting childcare cover.

After she was suspended, she 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.’ 

She has since tweeted: ‘As Headteachers, our job descriptions say we should hold staff to account.’

People took to Twitter to praise Mrs Wood’s ‘refreshing honesty’, with one account posting: ‘Pauline Wood head teacher from grange park tells the truth about lazy teachers doing nothing during lockdown and gets suspended’.

Another social media user commented: ‘I think Pauline Wood deserves a pat on the back for being honest. I work with teachers everyday and I can guarantee some really are lazy. 

‘Some have not worked 10 hours a week let alone flat out.’   

Mrs Wood has been at Grange Park for 15 years and has been repeatedly praised in Ofsted reports for her ‘relentless’ pursuit of ‘excellence’. She was credited with overseeing an extremely positive impact on pupils’ outcomes’ and saw the school shortlisted for a prestigious TES award in 2012.

The head teacher said she did not know who had nominated the school for the award, but said she was thrilled. 

She said at the time: ‘The letter came as a fantastic surprise for us, the staff are absolutely buzzing about it. 

‘It was enough to be only one of three outstanding primary schools in Sunderland, but to be recognised nationally is even better. When you think of the area we are in, we don’t get everything handed to us.   

‘We have to fight really hard for everything we get so this is wonderful.’ 

Mrs Wood has also championed breakfast clubs to help low-income working families avoid going on the dole.

She had kept the price of the school’s club at just £1 for nine years to 2014 in a big boost for parents.

She told the Sunderland Echo in 2014: ‘The cost of childcare can be a big barrier to working, and the lower-paid the job, the less likely it is that parents will feel it is worth it.

‘Even breakfast clubs can start to add up if parents have more than one child at school and need to use them every day. The cost can then eat into a salary and make it seem pointless for parents to work. 

A Whitehall source said the plans, to be published next week, would allow Boris Johnson to meet his pledge to get all children back full-time in September. Pictured, pupils are back in classes at Ortu Gable Hall School in Corringham, Essex

A Whitehall source said the plans, to be published next week, would allow Boris Johnson to meet his pledge to get all children back full-time in September. Pictured, pupils are back in classes at Ortu Gable Hall School in Corringham, Essex

‘But it is vital that parents are given the opportunity to work and set a good example for their children. And that’s why we haven’t raised the price of our breakfast club in almost a decade.’  

Grange Park, which is in one of the most deprived areas in the country and has 226 pupils, now sits in the top two per cent for phonics and maths at key stage two level nationally. 

Chair of Grange Park school governors Mary Hodgson said that she could not comment on personal circumstances as it would be a ‘breach of confidentiality’. 

Mrs Wood was working out her notice period and a job advert for her position closed in March. It offered applicants a salary of between £57,986 and £67,183 a year for the permanent role, starting from September 1.

The advert read: ‘Grange Park Primary School is looking for a dynamic, ambitious and committed headteacher to join and lead our thriving, friendly and inspirational school in September 2020. Here at Grange Park Primary School honesty, integrity and ambition are qualities which lie at the heart of all we do.

‘We believe that every child can achieve their potential. We strive to give the children in our school the lifelong learning skills to empower them to choose the life they want. Our lasting message is, ”never give up”.’

General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Geoff Barton said head teachers can ‘give their perspective and insight to the public via the media’.

He added that general advice to workers is for them to have three key messages for the interviews and to be helped by someone when they prepare.  

Geoff Barton

Dr Mary Bousted

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said Mr Johnson’s claim was ‘pure fantasy’, and Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said:  If social distancing of one metre remains in place, that will still be difficult for schools’

Social distancing measures as a child studies on a marked table at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester, May 18, 2020

Social distancing measures as a child studies on a marked table at Kempsey Primary School in Worcester, May 18, 2020

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is planning a 'double bubble' for primary schools, allowing class sizes of more than 30. Pictured, Year 10 pupils Ortu Gable Hall School in Corringham, Essex, return to school

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is planning a ‘double bubble’ for primary schools, allowing class sizes of more than 30. Pictured, Year 10 pupils Ortu Gable Hall School in Corringham, Essex, return to school

It comes as education unions set up a fresh clash with politicians and parents this week over Boris Johnson’s plan for full school attendance in September using reduced social distancing.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) called talk of relaxing the two-metre social distancing rule to one metre to get children back to school ‘conjecture’ and ‘pure fantasy’. 

Geoff Barton, of the ASCL, said: ‘There has been a lot of conjecture that relaxing the two-metre social distancing rule to one metre will allow all children to return to school in September. 

‘This is pure fantasy. It may be possible to accommodate more pupils in classrooms with a one-metre (plus) separation, but not all pupils. There just isn’t enough space in many classrooms to do this.

‘It isn’t a magic bullet, and nor is the Education Secretary’s suggestion on Friday of doubling the size of social bubbles to 30, in order to facilitate a full return to schools. We need a proper strategy to bring children back into schools and colleges based in reality and on public health guidance.’ 

78% of education settings that normally have children in nursery, Reception, Year 1 or Year 6 were open to at least one of these year groups on June 18, DfE says

This is up from June 11 when over two in three (67 per cent) primary schools opened more widely to pupils.

92 per cent of settings were open in some capacity on June 18 – the same as the previous week, according to the Department for Education (DfE) statistics.

Around 1,160,000 children attended an education setting on June 18, representing 12.2 per cent of pupils who normally attend, up from 9.1 per cent on June 11.

Attendance continues to be highest among Year 6 pupils, with 34 per cent of all Year 6 children in attendance on June 18, up from 26 per cent on June 11.

Attendance was 26 per cent in Year 1, up from a fifth the previous week, and 29 per cent in reception, up from 22 per cent on June 11, the figures show. 

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: ‘The NEU is of course in favour of all children being back in school, but even with a one-metre rule that will need more teachers and more spaces. It is not clear whether in less than three months the science will permit classes of 30. If social distancing of one metre remains in place, that will still be difficult for schools.’ 

Proposals being finalised by Gavin Williamson will continue the ‘bubble’ system that has allowed some primary classes to start up again already. 

Children will not be asked to maintain any distance between each other while at school under the proposed plans, however they will be expected to adhere to social distancing on the journey to and from school.  

While social distancing is to be scrapped, basic hygiene such as regular hand washing will still be encouraged within schools, with children told to ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ if they sneeze or cough with a tissue nearby. 

Bubble schemes are being planned for secondary schools, where the situation is complex as pupils move around the school for different subjects.

A Whitehall source said the plans, which will be published next week, would allow Mr Johnson to meet his pledge to get all children back full-time for the start of the school year in September.  

The move will allow ministers to bypass opposition from teaching unions, who warned that a full return will be impossible due to a need for social distancing. 

Alternative proposals to requisition public buildings and bring back an army of retired teachers have been abandoned as impractical. 

Ministers faced a backlash this month when they abandoned plans to get all primary school classes back for a month before the end of the summer term.

Head teachers said it was simply not possible to get everyone back while the 15-child limit remained in place.

But a Whitehall source said falls in virus cases meant Public Health England was ready to dramatically increase the guidance on the size of bubbles that can be operated safely.

‘We can change the social distance rules and increase the size of the bubbles,’ the source said. ‘That is potentially a game-changer for schools.’   

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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