Troubled school's head takes early retirement

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

The head of Britain's most troubled opted-out school is to retire at 50 on a package which will cost the taxpayer at least pounds 115,000 over the next 10 years.

Anne Snelling, head of Stratford School in Newham, London, was appointed an OBE after a year-long dispute in which a group of Asian governors accused her of racism and assault. A year later, Stratford was the first grant- maintained school to be declared "failing" by schools inspectors. There were also revelations that it had a financial deficit of more than pounds 100,000.

Ministers have twice imposed new governors on the school in an attempt to solve its deep-seated problems, and they seriously considered closing it before taking it off the "failing" list last December.

The school's new head will be paid pounds 37,000, pounds 5,000 more than the maximum usually paid in a school of this sort. Stratford says it has 614 pupils but its head's salary is sufficient for a school of twice the size.

Last night Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said he was not surprised that Mrs Snelling had decided to go.

"The school should never have gone grant-maintained in the first place. I admired Mrs Snelling's efforts but I think the governing body has frankly not been up to the job," he said.

Mrs Snelling was appointed five years ago just after the under-subscribed school opted out in the face of a closure plan by Newham Council. She arrived to find just 180 pupils, 11 staff and buildings badly in need of repair.

Soon afterwards, the chairman of governors was replaced by an Asian governor, Ghulam Shaida. Relations with Mrs Snelling deteriorated to such an extent that she was suspended and the dispute ended in the courts, with Mr Shaida accusing her of racism and assault.

The charges were dropped, Mr Shaida left and Mrs Snelling was rewarded with the OBE, but the school's troubles did not end there. By the middle of 1993 it was embroiled in a financial crisis after running up a deficit of more than pounds 100,000. Early in 1994 inspectors put it on the "failing" list, reporting low academic standards and unsatisfactory teaching.

Ministers have now given the school a clean bill of health but Mrs Snelling has decidedto bow out. The standard pension for a head teacher is one- 80th of his or her salary for each year of service - more than 20 years in Mrs Snelling's case. Because she is leaving early, she will receive an enhancement of at least four-80ths, plus a lump sum of three years' pension.

Mrs Snelling was not available for comment, but Jakub Umer, chairman of governors, said it was quite normal for head teachers to take early retirement at 50.