Veteran head laments 'loss of childhood'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Britain's longest-serving state school head has given a valedictory warning to the profession that today's pupils are suffering a "loss of childhood" that prevents them making the most of their education.

Tony Storey, who is retiring as head of The Hayfield School, a comprehensive in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, after 37 years, said too many 11- to 14-year-olds – and even primary school pupils – were "trying to be young adults, encouraged by their parents".

"I think it is a sad thing, really. You can keep them involved and enjoying things through the Scouts, Brownies and that kind of thing and stop them wanting to be mini-adolescents," he said.

"Instead, they're more knowing and I'm not sure they need to know. I'm not one of those people who believe we should be teaching them enterprise education and entrepreneurship at the age of nine. Numeracy and literacy have got to be taught but you don't want the whole curriculum crammed with that."

Instead, Mr Storey believes in the value of programmes of outdoor education for children which can give them a sense of adventure and an element of risk taking. "We've only had one or two hairy moments – including when a pupil tried to climb an electric fence," he said. "If something went wrong or they became homesick on residential trips, you'd put an arm round them to comfort them – although I suppose you could be accused of being a paedophile now."

Mr Storey's comments came as it emerged that a teachers' union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was considering a call for a Royal Commission to be established to find out why so many children are unhappy at school.

He admits being "frightened" by many of his 21st-century successors, saying too many are "clones" coming out of the new National College for School Leadership with certificates to prove their leadership skills. "They walk around in their pinstripe suits and clutching their mobile phones," he said. "It's quite frightening."

For many teachers, the departure of Mr Storey, who won a lifetime achievement award in the annual Teaching Awards four years ago and was awarded the OBE for his services to education in the Nineties, marks the end of an era. His is a remarkable story in an age when "superheads" are supposed to move into schools and transform them in two years before taking on another challenge.

Mr Storey, who was the youngest secondary headteacher in the country when he was appointed to start the 1,300-pupil Hayfield school in 1971, is now retiring at the age of 69. He said he could also see benefits from the direction education had taken since he started as a headteacher. "The greatest thing has been the encouragement to more young people to stay on in education to get extra qualifications, whether it is at university or applied vocational courses," he said. "It has meant that, rather than just become fodder for the local factories, new horizons have been opened."

Mr Storey was "full of idealism" for the comprehensive system when the school first opened with him as head. A product of the grammar school system, he realised the role of pot luck in the 11-plus lottery. The Hayfield is one of the Government's flagship specialist secondary schools, specialising in maths and computing. In Mr Storey's years, exam results improved to well above the national average and the latest Ofsted report described it as an "outstandingly effective school".