Retiring headteacher slams government approach to education

David Trace

David Trace

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Retiring head of Ramsey Grammar School, David Trace is determined to go out with a roar.

His final address at the annual prizegiving last week gave him the opportunity to hit back at recent political decisions.

Mr Trace, who will retire at Christmas after 18 years in charge of the 1,000-pupil school, said that changes to the GCSE system had flown in the face of what the public wanted.

He said: ‘Last year I talked about the enormous uncertainty surrounding the many piecemeal changes now under way in secondary education. Given this, the Isle of Man Government embarked on a consultation – 59 per cent of respondents agreed that qualifications should be as independent of governments and politicians as possible.

‘Ironic then that a ministerial decision would determine the way forward for Manx schools!

‘More than 89 per cent said the Isle of Man should be prepared to break with the English system, so we were concerned when instructed that we must change all our GCSE exams to a single exam board, Cambridge IGCSE.

‘This is an entirely political decision, flying in the face of the outcome of the consultation and of a significant body of informed professional opinion. Forcing our students to sit a single and perhaps inappropriate GCSE can only end in deteriorating examination results which potentially blight the futures of a number of students’.

Continuing his tirade, Mr Trace said the recent withdrawal of direct financial management (DFM), where head teachers had control of school budgets, was having a serious impact on the school.

He explained: ‘With DFM we were able to make significant improvements to the learning environment and resources such computing, decoration, stage and studio lighting, PE equipment, interactive Smart boards, modern furniture and the internal fabric of the building.

‘The ability of my successor to control budgets in the best interests of our students and their education is all but removed as the purse strings are again controlled elsewhere’.

He went on: ‘The move to shared services, supposed to save money, is a bureaucratic nightmare for us – our IT systems are collapsing; we have only a 50 per cent cleaning force through no fault of our own; when I need to replace a teacher who is leaving, three different people in HR have to authorise it before I can advertise and then seven different HR people are involved in the process and we waste a huge amount of time chasing things up. When we managed IT, HR, caretaking, cleaning and catering, everything ran smoothly, meeting the needs of the school and our students – those days have gone and, but for hardworking and loyal support staff teams we would be sunk!’

In a final blast, he criticised ‘the data-driven, results-obsessed culture that the Isle of Man appears to have adopted from England’, saying: ‘This UK system has become one of testing the system, not testing the learning.

‘Research has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards. In its most recent international survey of education, the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] found that in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, students tend to perform better.

‘Yet on the island, the autonomy that head teachers once had has been whittled away. One begins to feel that at times some civil servants have forgotten why we are here, so divorced are they from children and the learning process’.

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