Shadows over school’s 40th birthday party as staff exodus continues at a Hitchin school – with head who angered parents signed off from work

Concerns have been raised after 18 teachers and teaching staff have left Mary Exton.

Concerns have been raised after 18 teachers and teaching staff have left Mary Exton. - Credit: Archant

A continuing exodus of staff at a Hitchin primary school celebrating its 40th birthday next month has thrown a shadow over party plans.

The Comet reported concerns about the high staff turnover at Mary Exton Primary School and criticism of new head Julia Brierton’s management style before Christmas.

Parents rallied to defend the under-fire head – but the number of staff heading towards the door has shown no signs of slowing down.

And now the head has been signed off sick, and there’s no indication of when she may return to work.

A Freedom of Information request lodged by the Comet earlier this year to establish the numbers of staff who had left found that at least 13 had quit since Ms Brierton arrived in September 2014.

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With those now serving notice and planning to leave at the end of the summer term taken into account, that figure rises to 18.

Fed-up parents at the St Michael’s Road school say they are concerned about the effect the ‘revolving door’ of teachers and teaching assistants is having on their children.

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They were told last month that Ms Brierton was unwell but was expected to return by mid-June, but she has not yet returned.

Parent Natasha Ennew said: “My question to Herts County Council would be: ‘What is your duty of care?

“What are you doing to support the school and its children, other than pass the buck, give us misleading information and try to cover up the situation?

“Someone needs to stand up and take accountability.”

The Comet’s FOI also revealed that 15 per cent of children who left the school did so voluntarily – in other words, not because they were moving to secondary school.

There were also four complaints lodged with Herts County Council about the school during this academic year – two of which related to staff changes and the issue of turnover.

A spokesman for the school said this week: “Three teaching staff are leaving this term, and two teaching assistants have left since February.

“Our recruitment process for replacing all staff is under way. We have successfully recruited three teachers and the recruitment process is ongoing.

“The head is currently on sick leave at present.”

The school told parents last month: “You may be aware unfortunately Ms Brierton has not been in school recently due to illness. The earliest we can expect her to return would be mid-June.”

In her previous role Ms Brierton – then known as Julia Hume – was head of Oaklands Primary School in Welwyn, where there were also complaints about the number of staff leaving and the effect this was having on children.

County Hall confirmed in 2012 that 36 children had been taken out of the school and 17 teaching staff had left between September 2009 and December 2012.

A spokesman for Herts County Council added: “We’re working with Mary Exton Primary School to ensure it delivers the best possible education for its pupils.”

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