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Headless school gets new direction

PUBLISHED: 00:49 20 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:40 03 March 2010

ONE of the largest primary schools in Ipswich has found a new figurehead - five months after its headteacher suddenly quit.

John Trotter has taken over the reins at Handford Hall as acting head five months after the Evening Star revealed how headteacher Shelagh Cohen quit suddenly - taking early retirement but giving just two days' notice.

ONE of the largest primary schools in Ipswich has found a new figurehead – five months after its headteacher suddenly quit.

John Trotter has taken over the reins at Handford Hall as acting head five months after The Evening Star revealed how headteacher Shelagh Cohen quit suddenly – taking early retirement but giving just two days' notice.

Mrs Cohen did not tell staff, parents or governors until two days before the end of term, and nobody knew the reason for her sudden departure.

She was believed to have moved back to London and cut all contact with the school in Gatacre Road.

Her sudden decision forced Suffolk County Council to move in an acting head, Richard Cove from Clifford Road Primary School, who ran Handford Hall until July.

At the time Mr Cove said: "Mrs Cohen's move came as a shock to everyone connected with the school and there was a real sense of crisis at the school."

Then Mrs Cohen was criticised in an Ofsted report for "serious weaknesses" in her leadership and management. This apparently led to parents removing children from the school and a high level of fixed-term exclusions for children with behaviour problems.

Adverts were placed, but a permanent headteacher has still not been found.

Now Mr Trotter, who spent 16 years at Kingsfleet Primary School in Felixstowe where he was headteacher, will be acting head until a permanent head can be recruited hopefully for the term after Christmas.

First impressions were good for Mr Trotter.

He said: "All schools have children with challenging behaviour, but what surprised me when I came here was how calm the atmosphere of the whole school was. My first impression was very positive. The children came into assembly and sat down in absolute silence. I was markedly impressed."

He added: "An Ofsted inspection can leave a school celebrating but still feeling a bit low, and for this school the report came on top of everything – the turbulence the school was in after Shelagh Cohen left, and another head having been brought in.

"Now we have a demanding action plan to implement, but the staff and governors are feeling positive and they'll get there – there's no doubt about it."

He said introducing 'mind mapping' and teaching philosophy – by reading stories to children and prompting them to question and challenge rather than accept things – were two new strategies being used in the school.

Both have generated good feedback from pupils and staff, and Mr Trotter is keen to encourage creativity in children.

Mr Trotter also praised Suffolk County Council link worker Tina Loose, for helping pull the school through its crisis.

He said: "Things are much more settled now. I sense the school is really moving forward, and under a really good headship – and there's a good chance it will get that now – it will be great. That's what everybody here wants to achieve."

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