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Shock exit of school’s ‘head guru teacher’ in wake of Ofsted inspection

Tom Sherring­ton, ‘one of the most intelligent, sensitive, optimistic education

Tom Sherring­ton, ‘one of the most intelligent, sensitive, optimistic education bloggers around’

Published: 27 January, 2017
by JOE COOPER 

A POPULAR headteacher and widely-read blogger, who styled himself “Head Guru Teacher” online, suddenly quit his post on Friday after just over two years in charge.

Tom Sherrington’s shock departure comes as the latest figures show Highbury Grove was the worst-performing school in the borough for the progress its pupils make after leaving primaries.

A source close to the specialist music school told the Tribune there was an impression among staff that a recent Ofsted inspection had not gone well.

The school was rated “outstanding” when it was last inspected in 2010, but the number of pupils achieving grade C or above in maths and English at GCSE in 2016 was 45 per cent – well below the Islington average.

Mr Sherrington has refused to comment on the reasons behind the move, announced to parents in a letter on Friday, but admitted on his blog that it was “premature”.

Town Hall leader Richard Watts refused to comment as the Ofsted report has not yet been published. This is likely to happen in the next few weeks, unless the Town Hall appeals the result.

The news of Mr Sherrington’s departure was greeted with shock and an outpouring of admiration across the profession. Education expert Simon Evans, of the University of Wales, wrote online: “Tom Sherrington is actually one of the most intelligent, sensitive, optimistic education bloggers around; always worth reading and immune to the vindictiveness that several stoop to. If he’s thrown in the towel, I’d say that’s pretty significant.”

Mr Sherrington made a strong first impression at the school in September 2014, putting 300 pupils a day in detention, which led to his reputation as a disciplinarian among some parents.

Mr Sherrington wrote on his blog: “For various reasons that I’ll explore at another time, as of Friday 20th I am no longer the headteacher at Highbury Grove School.

“It has been an honour to work with so many wonderful young people, a genuine privilege to lead such a committed, talented group of staff and to serve the community as headteacher.”

He said he was looking at moving into education consultancy while considering whether to seek a headteacher’s role again. He was previously headteacher at King Edward Grammar School in Chelmsford, where he maintained its “outstanding” rating.

The letter to parents, signed by chair of governors Maggie Elliott, said: “Mr Sherrington has left to purse other career paths and has asked that his privacy be respected. Mr Sherrington would, however, like to thank everyone at the school and to wish the school every success in the years ahead.”

Aimee Lyall, head of sixth form, has stepped into the acting headteacher role, and will be supported by heads of school Matthew Little and Leila MacTavish.

Ms Elliott told parents: “The governors of Highbury Grove School and the local authority have the highest regard for Ms Lyall and the staff team, and know that you will join us in supporting their efforts to move the school forward.”

Last year, Mr Sherrington told the Tribune of the difficulties of plugging a £700,000 black hole in the school finances.

The news of his departure came as Islington Council trumpeted its schools’ successes in pupil progression. 

The borough now ranks 18th out of 151 local authorities for the academic progress made by pupils between the end of primary school and their GCSE results across eight key subjects – the “Progress 8” score.

On average, pupils doing their GCSEs in Islington were almost one-fifth of a grade better than their peers nationally in 2016 but Highbury Grove’s score put it among the bottom 30 per cent of schools in the country.

Cllr Watts said: “We now have some of the best schools in the country that are helping young people in Islington progress faster than many other areas.

“There has been a radical transformation in the performance of our local schools. Islington now ranks in the top 20 in the country for boosting pupils’ attainment, whereas in 2008 the borough ranked in the bottom 20 local authorities for its GCSE results.

“These results are a ringing endorsement of the quality and high standards in our schools, and are a testament to the hard work of all teaching and support staff, as well as the pupils themselves.”

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