College head appeals for focus on supporting students during coming exams

12th May

Heathfield Community College’s Headteacher Caroline Barlow was featured on BBC Regional News last night after a parent complained to the local paper about one of her tweets.

Ms Barlow posted a picture of herself at Birling Gap with the comment ‘living on the edge’ which prompted a comment by a parent who said: “Is it just me or is this not appropriate for a head of a community college to post pictures of herself  at the cliff edge on Twitter?” The media storm which followed included mentions in The Telegraph.

The Coastguard, The National Trust, who own the land and Local Councillor Phil Boorman all criticised the picture and the selfie picture culture and used the opportunity to reiterate the importance of staying safe around cliffs and never going near the edge. Only last year, Birling Gap was the site of the tragic death of a Korean student who fell backwards off the cliff.

Ms Barlow explained that she had been on a private trip with her elderly mother and the picture was misleading.

“I am aware that a photograph taken at Birling Gap in my personal time appears to show me seated in a position closer to the edge of the cliff than was the case in reality,” Ms Barlow explained.

Ms Barlow was, in fact, a ‘good distance’ of about a meter and a half from the cliff edge it. She acknowledged: “I have obviously learned a valuable lesson about the extent to which I am able to lead a private life and the occasional ironic use of social media.”

She also thanked all the parents and staff who have voiced support for her in her role as head of a top-performing East Sussex school.

One parent said: “We just wanted to let you know that the news article on South East today in no way alters our opinion that you are a fantastic headteacher and we feel very privileged to have you as head at Heathfield Community College. It is very clear to us that this is some kind of personal malicious act which does not have any place as a piece of news.  We are appalled that South East Today would run with such an article.”

While other parents were angry with the media for giving the story coverage: “Good teachers are like gold dust and exceptional school leaders are as rare as effective and impressive politicians (hard to find and very hard to keep). Ms. Barlow is both exceptional and highly effective. My children, who have now left Heathfield Community College, had their lives improved, enhanced and emboldened because of her and her incredible team of amazing educators. Why would you (and your editors) seek to harm a professional whose work has benefited thousands and thousands of children and young people in this part of the world? Ms Barlow leads one of the region’s highest performing colleges which turns out ambitious and talented young people. The thanks she gets is to be plastered over your front page because of one ‘ironic’ photograph and caption, published on social media and one phone call from one parent? I simply can’t imagine why the Courier would run a story like this; it appears vacuous, pointless and cruel. God knows how our teachers do their jobs.”

Another parent said: “I’m shocked by this; not the fact that on your day off you posed by a very beautiful cliff edge or posted it on Twitter, but that the person who sent it to you was so malicious they were unable to name themselves and then felt the need to pass an incorrect judgement by handing this over to the Kent and Sussex. What concerns me even further is that this was a private moment and that the Courier deem it ‘newsworthy’.  As a mum, I have heard ‘criticism’ because you are a figurehead for the Flat Cash Funding campaign. I would suggest this smacks of that – the tall poppy syndrome.  With all my heart I hope you rise above this because you’re a brilliant headteacher.”

While a member of staff from the college added: “I am totally bemused by this and want you to know that I think it is  ridiculous that you now feel you need to justify your actions. I can’t believe people feel they don’t have better things to do with their time.

Ms Barlow appealed to everyone to concentrate on the most important issue at the moment: “The focus really should be on the supporting the students about to sit exams. ”