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Retiring Norfolk headteacher speaks out over education issues

PUBLISHED: 10:20 05 December 2012

Victoria Musgrave

Victoria Musgrave

Archant © 2009

“Super heads” who claim to come into a school and suddenly transform it “do not exist”, according to a retiring Norfolk principal.

But Victoria Musgrave, who will leave Wymondham High Academy at the end of this term, said she believed the teaching profession as a whole deserved more credit for the work it was doing to support students.

The principal moved back to Norfolk five years ago charged with improving the coasting secondary school, where results had plateaued.

Having previously been seconded to the struggling Rosemary Musker High School in Thetford while principal at Wymondham College, she was described as a “super head” – a title she rejected.

“There is no such thing as a ‘super head’,” she said. “I think they are a fiction. They come in and create a situation that is unsustainable. Then they disappear into the ether.

“The best heads are the heads that put in place the best structures – safe, calm, positive environs.

“I know that when I go, the results here will continue to go up.”

During her five years at Wymondham High, Mrs Musgrave has achieved her goal, taking the academy’s results from 60pc of students achieving five A* to C GCSE grades, including English and maths, when she arrived to 71pc last year.

The principal, who will turn 60 in January, admits her approach has not been popular with everyone and some parents have accused her of being too strict.

“For the most part, the parents have been enormously supportive. I have had lots of nice letters from parents,” she said. “But there have been accusations that I’m too strict on dress and behaviour. I don’t apologise for that. I think it’s important you are in an environment where you know where the boundaries are. We’re preparing these young people for the world of work.”

But there is one approach that she has been keen to avoid – something she fears other schools have fallen into the trap of doing.

“Some of the messages that come from on high are ‘actually, it’s the results that matter more than the children’. I think that’s a tragedy. Yes, we have to get them the results, but not at the expense of losing them as individuals.

“There are schools that are outstanding, but their students are treated like robots. They are exam sausage-making factories.”

And that is not the only message coming from “on high” that concerns her.

Mrs Musgrave said there was a morale issue at schools like Wymondham High – rated satisfactory after its last Ofsted inspection and due another visit any day – which felt “like the Sword of Damocles is hanging over them”.

“There have been a huge number of changes from the government and many of the messages from government are very critical about schools,” the principal said. “I find that very distasteful.

“I have 105 teachers here. They all come into the profession for the right reasons. Rather than being criticised, they ought to be praised for what they are doing.

“It’s a tough job. Instead of negativity, there should be more support.”

Mrs Musgrave said that did not mean she was against accountability. She said it was right that schools should be challenged and set targets, but she said the government had got the focus wrong.

“It’s all results driven,” she said. “Very little credibility is given to the other things schools do. They are often making up for what’s missing at home. Schools aren’t given nearly enough credit.”

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