Bradford school governor forced to quit after taking daughter out of school to see Santa

Councillor Ralph Berry, Bradford Council's portfolio holder for Children and Young People's Services
Councillor Ralph Berry, Bradford Council's portfolio holder for Children and Young People's Services
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A PRIMARY school’s chair of governors who quit after taking his daughter out of classes to see Father Christmas in Lapland has defended his position.

A Primary school’s chair of governors who quit after taking his daughter out of classes to see Father Christmas in Lapland has defended his position.

Steve Ockerby stepped down from his role at Shibden Head Primary Academy in Bradford amid criticism from some parents after pictures from the recent three day trip were posted on a social networking site.

The family took their daughter out of lessons and their son, who attends a different school, despite being told they were unauthorised.

Mr Ockerby, who is a watch commander for West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “I am a husband and a family man first, then I have the fire service and then I am chair of governors at the school. I decided to take my children to Lapland to see Father Christmas. I asked for leave from the school. It was unauthorised. I have had no preferential treatment. I understand the responsibility of being the chair of governors but this was the only opportunity available. I am a shift worker.”

The trip came at a time when Bradford Council is trying to boost school attendance.

Mr Ockerby, 43, added: “I have been in the school today to say my farewells. It was quite upsetting to be honest. I am extremely upset. I took on the chair’s role to try to improve the education of all the children at Shibden Head and I will miss it very much.”

Mr Ockerby had been a governor at the school for almost five years and has been chair, a voluntary role, for much of that time during which it became an academy.

The episode is likely to re-ignite the debate about pupils’ unauthorised absence from school for holidays.

Councillor Ralph Berry, Bradford Council’s portfolio holder for Children and Young People’s Services, said: “We are trying to lift standards in all our schools and a key part of that is a relentless focus on school attendance which has been backed up by changes that the government made to reduce the discretion that headteachers had to agree absences and introduce parental fines. The recent figures show there has been an increase in school attendance in Bradford as a result of this activity.

“It has created a very tight regime and this was not a long break. The problem here is that when you are the chair of governors and the headteacher is the person who has the legal duties to enforce attendance it creates a conflict. I do feel that Mr Ockerby has been caught up in this massively but the problem is the framework that the schools have with Ofsted is very tight.

“Look where Bradford is in the league tables, look where we are with attendance, we are raising it. I am sure Mr Ockerby is feeling well bruised and upset but I regret I cannot take a different position on it. He has been a good governor by all accounts.”

The school has spoken highly of its former chair of governors.

In a joint statement, Shibden Head Primary Academy headteacher Sarah Thornton and Helen Rowland at Focus Trust, said: “Mr Ockerby has been a governor at Shibden Head for nearly five years and has been chair of governors for most of that time. In this role, he has given a significant amount of his own personal time and made a substantial contribution to the strong leadership of the academy. This will be a huge loss to the governing body and school. We are all saddened that this matter has overshadowed what has otherwise been a shining example of governance and role model to other parents.”