Councillor gobsmacked by headteacher 'parading around' in short dress on school visit

Cllr Donna Jones. Picture: LDR <i>(Image: NORTHERN ECHO)</i>
Cllr Donna Jones. Picture: LDR (Image: NORTHERN ECHO)

A councillor has criticised a head teacher who she claims was “parading about” in a short dress during a visit to the school.

Cllr Donna Jones, who represents Berwick Hills and Pallister ward, said she was ‘gobsmacked’ at Outwood Academy Ormesby head Toni Wilden’s outfit. The politician spotted the dress while attending a meeting at the school after it was slapped with an inadequate Ofsted rating.

The academy was ordered to improve after inspectors found a “community of respect” had not been fostered with bullying, discriminatory language, and attendance issues all raised. A spokesperson for the school said they were pleased with the improvement that has taken place since the inspection.

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Speaking at a Middlesbrough Council scrutiny panel, Cllr Jones, who is a member of the Middlesbrough Independent Group, said: “I am sure, as a young girl going to school, the skirt will have to be a certain length. I was mortified to see the headmistress walking about in this dress.

“You have got to set an example, young girls are probably told off for having their skirt at a certain length, and then you have a headmistress who was parading about in this little tiny short dress. I was gobsmacked.”

The councillor added that the dress would only “make a scarf” and was horrified by the choice of clothing. The school uniform policy does not confirm the skirt length but you do need to buy one with a logo from a supplier.

The academy did not address Cllr Jones’ comments about the outfit.

According to Ofsted, the Tothill Avenue school, which was previously rated as good, had serious behavioural issues and some pupils were said to be defiant and rude. Inspectors also said that too many pupils were affected by the behaviour of others and teachers were inconsistent when dealing with poor conduct.

Some students reported hearing discriminatory language, including homophobic terms, every day, while others felt like bullying did not get sorted out and youngsters did not have confidence that staff would take action to improve the situation.

Inspectors did find some positives during the July visit, including the strategies to improve attendance and the “determination” to tackle pupil behaviour.

In a letter to Katherine Cowell, the government’s regional director for the North East who oversees social care, schools, and SEND, the academy said it had been particularly badly impacted by covid. It then set out the measures it would introduce to improve its rating.

These included seeking external support to help deal with behaviour, registering with the Anti-Bullying Alliance – Unite Against Bullying – programme, and ensuring homophobic and other discriminatory language is consistently challenged.

As part of the improvement journey, the school held two meetings for parents on Wednesday, October 12 to discuss the action plan. The academy stated: “We were heartened by the positive responses we received.”

However, Cllr Jones, who attended one of the meetings, was surprised at the school’s comment. She said: “I was at the meeting and there was no positive response from any of the parents in that room at all.”

She added that parents had complained about not being able to get in touch with the school despite calling for a week. Cllr Chris Hobson, who represents Marton West and is the leader of the Middlesbrough Independent Group, said: “This is a very very worrying school and I think we really need to keep a very close eye on the work they are doing.”

A spokesperson for the academy said a new leadership team had been appointed who had been praised by the inspectors for their determination to solve the issues faced. They added that the school will be building on the strong subject knowledge of teachers, the school’s effective careers programme, and the strategies to achieve high attendance.

The spokesperson said: “School improvement does not happen overnight and there is of course more work to do. But we have already made strong progress and are extremely confident that – with the ongoing support of students and their families – we will continue to move in the right direction.

“In the two meetings we held with parents, we were heartened by the positive comments that were made, especially at the first meeting. We have also taken on board the less positive comments made.

“These have been valuable feedback as we continue to implement our action plan. We are sorry if any parent has been unable to get through to the academy by phone and we have checked to ensure our processes on this are as good as they should be.”

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