Sunday, 24 April 2016


The Guardians Secret Teacher tackles nepotism. This has been an issue in a few Ballarat schools. In fact in one school it was quite notorious but nothing was ever done about it.
Five years into my teaching practice and I’m moving into job number five.
It wasn’t planned this way. I’ve always wanted to stay long term in jobs and the feedback I’ve received has always been positive (I’ve been rated good, sometimes outstanding). So why have I been unable to stay in a school for longer than a year? 
Imagine this: you are an enthusiastic newly qualified teacher (NQT) in a very challenging school in a job you love. Against the odds, you are doing quite well and have managed to gain at least a “good” in every observation. Your classes’ data is looking impressive, too.

There is just one small issue. Budget constraints mean the job is only a one-year temporary contract. You’ve been told it’s a dead cert that you’ll be kept, as long as you pass your NQT year. You’re sure some union person somewhere said that if you pass your NQT year they have to offer the post if it’s available. It’s in the ba
This was the situation I was in. Around six months into my NQT year, my fellow trainee in maths was invited into the head’s office and offered a permanent post. After a day or two I was also invited to a meeting, expecting to be offered that same elusive permanent contract.

Instead, I left the head’s office dejected and humiliated. I was told the job was being advertised to get a glimpse of the “national picture of recruitment” (whatever that meant). Apparently if a school is in special measures, it can’t just employ you, the senior leadership needs to shop around first. My headteacher couldn’t quite explain why the same rule didn’t apply to maths.

This was how my first job went. I cried to my head of department (embarrassingly), picked myself up and applied elsewhere.

Eventually, it transpired that the position had been given to the deputy head’s son, who had lost his job at his school. Rather tellingly, before I left, an excellent head of department was also replaced by another leader’s spouse.

About six months later, my old head of department told me my replacement was struggling. My year 10s (now year 11) had dropped an entire grade on average since I left. It wasn’t just me who was the victim now.

I thought that I’d had an unfortunate experience, but after just a few years in teaching I can see that this nepotism is rife. At my second school, the principal told us she had appointed a head of sixth form, even though there hadn’t been an interview. It was a curious appointment, especially given that we wouldn’t even open our sixth form for another seven months. It turned out the newbie was a friend of the head. She was also so bad that she nearly ruined the whole project, and eventually had to change role.

I want to work in a place where I know everyone got where they are based on merit
There are countless other examples. Another old principle employed his wife as a teaching assistant – she even admitted to a colleague she was on an inflated salary. Half of our maths department were his old friends – as was the newly-hired business manager. Even school dinners weren’t safe. He decided we needed better catering and employed a friend as a chef.

At my first school, colleagues considered complaining to the unions. The idea of whistleblowing to Ofsted was also weighed up. But in the end we just moaned about the headteacher in corners of the staffroom. Most of the time people turn a blind eye to nepotism – especially if it doesn’t affect them directly. Some have the attitude that: “Well you would give your wife a job if you were the principal.”

I could understand the reasons behind employing a friend if it was the best person for the role, but I have often seen incompetent people replace capable, established staff simply because they are a friend or family member. How many brilliant teachers have lost out due to nepotism? How many students have missed out on great teachers? I fear academies will make this problem worse, as principals have more freedom.

Nepotism hits camaraderie and morale. It makes people feel scared and insecure in their jobs. They feel like their efforts will not be recognised or rewarded, and they are disgruntled at the incompetent management above them.

I want to work in a place where I know everyone got where they are based on merit. If this happens then surely that will only benefit the students and, after all, that’s what a school is there for. It is not a place where you ensure your friends can pay their mortgages.

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