Chalk Talk: The closure of Harrowden Middle School in Bedford is an own goal


I have often written about headteachers facing the sack after a poor report on their school by Ofsted. Headteachers' leaders such as Russell Hobby, of the National Association of Head Teachers, and Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, call it "football manager syndrome".

Sometimes, the sacking can be too hasty, with a newly-appointed head being given their marching orders after not having had enough time to turn a school around (although Ofsted is making moves now to avoid this happening).

What I have never written about is a headteacher being forced to quit their job just a week after an amazingly positive Ofsted report. Yet that is the fate that has befallen Deirdre Murphy, headteacher of Harrowden Middle School in Bedford, which is to close.

Of course, the closure decision was taken well before the publication of the final Ofsted report. However, there was enough evidence at the time that the decision was taken to show that Harrowden was performing better than the other two alternatives for closure in the area.

One was an academy, which was beyond the local education authority's remit. There was also a feeling that, as the Government has just ploughed £22.5m into it to help it take the place of a failing upper school, it would make economic nonsense to then close it.

The sense that emerges during this whole saga is of a trend in education today of not recognising the achievements of local authority maintained schools. By contrast, the Government is always trumpeting how academies have improved their performance at a faster rate than the rest of the sector. I am not against academies. Many have improved upon the performance of failing schools, especially in inner city areas – but then, the same can be said of local authority maintained schools.

If this is "football manager syndrome", then the closure of Harrowden Middle school is the equivalent of sacking Alex Ferguson just after he had won the Premier League title for Manchester United.