‘The toughest and most inspiring head in Britain’

The Mail has been to visit Dr Rory Fox, the controversial principal of Ryde Academy on the Isle of Wight, who it describes as the ‘toughest and most inspiring head in Britain’…

Dr Rory Fox is small, mousy and bookish, with a soft and careful voice. He is also one of the top ‘superheads’ in the country — routinely parachuted, like a little bespectacled superhero, into graffiti-daubed disaster schools around the country, fearlessly transforming them into centres of academic achievement.

He believes in rules and enforcing them, endless detentions, exclusions and isolation punishments, and insists that ‘misplaced niceness is the enemy of goodness’.

‘If you are too nice to children, and keep letting them off, they never improve,’ is one of his many mantras…

Dr Fox has been principal since January and has created quite a rumpus. ‘Of course, I could have just patched things up, but what we’re doing here is more like open heart surgery. We’re addressing everything,’ he says.

Over the past few months, Dr Fox has introduced a zero tolerance school uniform enforcement policy — on one day in June, he sent more than 40 girls home because their skirts were too short (‘in some cases, we weren’t sure a skirt was actually being worn’) and put hundreds more pupils into ‘isolation detention’ for the entire day for uniform infringements.

He has brought in rules about the tightness of boys’ trousers (‘it wasn’t healthy’) and the size of school bags (‘some of the girls had dinky handbags, which were very fashionable, but they couldn’t get their homework in them’). He has also decreed that bags should never be placed on desks (‘it’s a hygiene issue — they put them on the floor in the toilets’), confiscates any mobile phones that are ‘seen, heard or used’ during lessons, and introduced a ‘correct sitting position’.

‘It’s a simple three-point rule,’ he explains. ‘Sit with knees under the desk, facing forward. Shoulders must be parallel to the desk and eyes should be forward.’

Every child must now bring a ‘learning kit’ of pencil, pad, ruler, rubber and timetable to every class, or risk an hour’s detention, doubled to two if they fail to show up.

Last month, he wrote a furious 12-page letter to local representatives of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT), listing some of the worst practices at the school and the unhelpful behaviour of the unions.

The letter was leaked to the national Press — triggering explosions of righteous indignation…

When he arrived at the school, it was in disarray. ‘There were low standards. No pride. Even the cupboards needed tidying up. Children like order. Bullying was bad and bullying wrecks children’s lives,’ he says…

More at: The toughest and most inspiring head in Britain


The Mail says of Dr Fox “If only there were more like him” but what do you think of his approach and do you agree that we could do with more heads prepared to undertake what he calls “open heart surgery” rather than “just patching things up”? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our daily email bulletin every morning (around 7 am) with all the latest schools news stories. Your details will never be given to anyone else and you can unsubscribe at any stage. Just follow this link!

Dear Ms Morgan: how do faith schools tackle the problem of ‘separate lives’?
Troubled school which spent thousands on uniforms lets pupils wear trainers after they reject the shoes supplied
Categories: Secondary.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove It makes you wonder what happened before his arrival as all that’s described is most secondary schools in the UK.

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove It makes you wonder what happened before his arrival as all that’s described is most secondary schools in the UK.

  3. Janet2

    Although inspectors (October 2014) praised Dr Fox for his determination, they pointed out it was newly-appointed subject leaders (presumably appointed by AET which sponsors Ryde Academy)  who lacked competence.

    Dr Fox had earlier blamed union-inspired militants for alleged lack of professionalism.  But the monitoring report in March said teachers were ‘professional and act as positive role models for students. They have higher expectations about what students can achieve.’ 

    Can it really be that teachers praised for their professionalism in Spring had become unprofessional by Autumn?  Was Ofsted wrong?

  4. Janet2

    Funny how the Mail writes approvingly of the longer skirt length imposed by Dr Fox while its side bar shows a bare bum (male), Lily somebody’s ‘sexy black lingerie’, a 61 year-olds ‘amazing’ bikini body and Lily Allen’s see-through trousers which expose her legs.


  5. Janet2

    Just found a Mail article dated September 2011 similarly praising Dr Fox.  This time for sending home 109 pupils on his first day at Basildon Academy for ‘breaking minor rules’.  Minor rules, note, not major ones.


    It’s a little suspicious when the Mail keeps writing similar articles about the same man.

  6. miconm

    JamesTheo yes! Also google his career history. He’s an in & out man. There’s a place for that but does it = inspiring?

  7. nrcantor

    SchoolsImprove Unsurprising that he’s revered by the Mail, which makes a living telling the UK cracking down in the solution to everything.

Let us know what you think...