Published: 05 August, 2010
by RICHARD OSLEY
A TOP London school is searching for a new headteacher again after the man brought in to pep up its fortunes suddenly quit the job after only two years in charge.
Parents discovered on Friday that Robbie Cathcart would not be returning to the headteacher’s office at William Ellis School in Highgate after the summer holidays.
They were told he had left because he is is ready to pursue new career opportunities.
Fiona Millar, chairwoman of the governing body, said: “Mr Cathcart has decided to leave William Ellis School at the end of August 2010 and take the opportunity to pursue his professional career in a new direction.
“He asked me to say that he will look back at his time working at William Ellis with great affection.”
Mr Cathcart’s departure is, however, a shock to families who use the school because departures at this level are commonly trailed two terms in advance, as was the case with the recent exit of Michael Shew at Acland Burghley and Anne Canning at Camden School for Girls.
In contrast, Mr Cathcart’s decision to go was only revealed on the final day of term.
Parents said he had been on sick leave recently but there was no suggestion to them that he might leave.
A list of other staff who are leaving appeared in a recent school newsletter but did not mention Mr Cathcart’s plans to move on.
Governors wished him well for the future in their statement to parents and the Press.
The last headteacher, Richard Tanton, was also reported to be leaving to “pursue new career opportunities” when he left in 2008.
The recent history of the school is marked by a financial catastrophe in the months before Mr Cathcart’s appointment, revealed first in a New Journal investigation.
The all-boys school was plunged deep into debt after a mix-up over the payment of bills for a new boiler. It was described by Ofsted as a “period of significant turbulence” for the school.
Our enquiries found what appeared to be simple financial errors generating a debt of close to £500,000.
Education chiefs at the Town Hall had to get involved and there was a warning that the council would take over the management of the school unless a successful financial recovery plan was put in place.
School Improvement Officers from the council were regularly meeting with staff, although the Town Hall’s press office would not answer questions on whether William Ellis faced any special attention.
A spokeswoman would not expand on a statement which said: “The local authority does not carry out school inspections.
“However we do work with all schools on their development and our school improvement officers visit schools in the borough to review their progress.”
Sources close to the school, however, said regular monitoring remains even after financial problems had been soothed.
“The school had worked hard to turn around its financial issues but there were other issues that needed to be dealt with – including some behaviour issues,” said one.
“All schools have a relationship with the council but [William Ellis] was a school that was being looked at closely.
“People have an idea that the school is a place middle class families use and everybody does well, but in recent years it has been much more challenging.”
Ofsted’s view that the school only reaches its “satisfactory” level on its four point scorecard – one rung above “inadequate” – has been a source of disappointment for staff.
It jars with a traditional view of a high-performing north school known for churning out success stories.
Writer Toby Young and film-maker Julien Temple are among the alumni – known as Old Elysians – while former Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt once braved a double-standards row to use it ahead of a secondary closer to her Camden Town home.
A monitoring report filed by Ofsted in March again used the word “satisfactory”, rather than “good” or “excellent”.
It said: “While inspectors saw mostly satisfactory lessons and some good teaching, a small number of inadequate lessons were also seen.
“In the less effective lessons, teachers do not monitor the learning of the whole group with sufficient regularity to ensure that all are making good progress.”
Those findings were known to be a cause of concern, but Mr Cathcart and the school’s leadership were praised in the same report for being able to “point to significant successes”.
Ofsted said: “The school’s progress in key areas for improvement, together with improved leadership and management arrangements, provide good evidence that the school has a better capacity to improve than at the time of the last inspection [in 2008].”