‘Toughest head in England’ now running makeshift school for refugees

The Guardian is reporting that a controversial head teacher who made headlines with what it calls his ‘disciplinarian teaching ethos and draconian uniform rules’ is now running a makeshift school for refugee children in the camps near Calais.

Dr Rory Fox earned himself a reputation in the media of being “the toughest head in England” after cracking down on bad behaviour in class and sending scores of pupils home because of school uniform breaches. The one-time “superhead”, who used to be parachuted into failing secondary schools to turn their fortunes around, is now working out of a scout tent in the Grande-Synthe refugee camp outside Dunkirk.

Once punctilious about his own appearance – as well as that of his pupils – Fox now goes to work in wellies and muddy trousers. The children he is teaching – of all ages, from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – are not dressed in uniform, but in grubby fleeces and tracksuits….

Last February it was announced that Fox would be leaving Ryde, and he has been on paid leave from the AET academy trust ever since. Rather than sitting on his hands at home, Fox – who studied philosophy and theology in London and Oxford – travelled out to France to see the refugee camps and decided he wanted to help…

He is hoping to persuade other teachers to join him – those who are part-time, retired, or who have left teaching – so he can build a rota and reach more refugee children. He would even like to be able to offer GCSEs at some point. “Education is really important. It transforms children’s lives,” he said. “It’s not fair these children should be sitting in muddy fields and missing school for two years.”

The camps are a teeming, chaotic sprawl, seemingly without order or authority. In Dunkirk, small children wander alone in the mud, tiny figures dwarfed among adult refugees, volunteers and aid workers; no one is challenged when they enter the camp and no one is asked to explain themselves…

“People could come in here and kidnap children left right and centre. There are no policies and infrastructures. You can’t depend on anything working. Sometimes you’ve got water, sometimes you don’t. There’s no coordination and the legalities are hazy…”

“I’m quite surprised at the number of high-ability children. We get mobbed – they shout: ‘We want to go to school’,” says Fox. “I’ve met children who in other circumstances could well be going to Oxford and Cambridge, but they will never have those opportunities because they are stuck in a muddy camp. 

“Our biggest problem is children trying to steal text books to take back to their tents because they want to learn. How many other schools have that problem?”

…Don’t all those battles over short skirts and the wrong school trousers seem silly from this perspective? Fox laughs. He stands by all the detentions and sendings home he’s been responsible for. “It’s a mechanism you use to get order in place, to be able to teach.

“Uniform is not appropriate here, but you’ve still got to have order in your classroom.” Even in a shabby scout tent, in a chaotic refugee camp just the other side of the English Channel….

More at: Isle of Wight ‘superhead’ running makeshift school for refugees


Do read the full article – it is both incredibly depressing – in terms of the conditions for the children in the camp – and extremely uplifting – in terms of the work Dr Fox and his colleagues are doing to help. 

Dr Fox has taken some flack for his views in the past, but surely deserves nothing but praise for his efforts here.

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Categories: Overseas and Teaching.


  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove Credit to Fox for doing this but his reputation as a “leader” will encourage very few to join him

  2. Perhaps Dr Fox has realised that there can still be order in the classroom without taking on parents over nit-picking uniform rules or telling the Daily Mail his teachers were ‘lazy’.
    This is good news – he deserves credit for taking on the task of educating refugee children.  But how will the Mail react to their favourite superhead being in the Jungle?  Perhaps he’ll be demoted to a lefty activist.  Or perhaps the story of his school will be ignored in favour of ones promoting the camp’s nightclub.  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3270521/Now-Calais-Jungle-camp-NIGHTCLUB-Migrants-post-photographs-video-dance-parties-tent-set-British-activists.html

  3. Patrice Baldwin

    There are some great, dedicated and skilled teachers and other professionals who have been setting up play learning and teaching opportunities at/near Dunkirk for many  months in an organised and structured way.  They have not received this level or type of ‘ celebrity’ style publicity. I hope what this ‘superhead’ intends to do , will not in any way compromise, distract from, or take possible resources from, what is already in place and being provided. I don’t want to come across negatively about any academic provision he is offering but dealing professionally and therapeutically with the displaced children’s traumatic experiences is a pre-requisite priority.

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