Do you want to 'be wedded’ to a job that ‘dominates your life?' If so, Mercia School wants you.
Plus, an update on Red Tape Studios
Good afternoon readers — and welcome to our Monday briefing.
If you send a job advert out, people sharing it is a good thing, right? Well, in this case maybe not. When Mercia School advertised last week for a new assistant headteacher, they probably didn't anticipate the storm of criticism that has come their way. However, with a job description which makes the school sound like a cross between a religious cult and the gulag, maybe they should have. Today we ask why multi-academy trusts like Mercia feel the need to put so much pressure on their teaching staff.
As well as that we have a piece by Roy Hattersley about Park Hill flats, another bafflingly-named band at the students’ union, and a house in Crookes which has been painted black.
Catch up and coming up
Our weekend was all about how Florence Nightingale, whose family came from Sheffield, revolutionised medicine through the use of statistics. As always, please read the comments under the piece including one by Robin Hughes from Hallamshire Historic Buildings. One of the things I love about The Tribune is how our knowledgeable readers really add to the stories we write. If you’ve got something to contribute about one of our pieces, please let us know.
Last week we sent out two great newsletters to our 1,173 paying members. We have an update to our piece about the future of Sheffield’s iconic Red Tape Studios later in this newsletter. An extract from the piece we published by Reading Sheffield’s Mary Grover about the reading habits of Sheffielders in the first half of the 20th century is below.
Books were not only too expensive for most families to buy, but they also held little cultural status, often associated with pudd’n burners, women who neglected their household tasks in favour of God knows what frivolity. Though the father of Yvonne Bland himself read westerns, the file smith was nevertheless irritated by his young daughter’s reading in the 1940s: “Put that book down. Get something in your fingers.” A book was not “a thing”, nor was command of the written or spoken word, especially for women.
This week we’ll send out two more, including a piece about how the creative industry in Sheffield is losing out in comparison to Manchester and Leeds, and another about how Heeley City Trust helped secure its financial future. To help fund a new way of doing journalism in Sheffield focused on local readers rather than shareholders, please consider subscribing using the button below. It costs £1.34 a week if you pay for 12 months up front.
Editor’s note: Ever since we sent our first newsletter almost two years ago, The Tribune has had just one full time staff member — me! However, last week we began the search for a new staff reporter to join the team (apply below). It’s incredibly exciting news and shows that our approach of focusing on quality rather than clickbait is really paying off. To be part of one of the most exciting experiments in local journalism taking place anywhere in the world, join today.
The big picture: Morning light 🌅
Thanks to Twitter user Moors and Edges for letting us use this beautiful picture of the view down Rockingham Street in Sheffield city centre he took on Saturday morning. On the right is Kangaroo Works, a new residential development which is due to be completed this year. In the background is the distinctive shape of St Mary’s Church on Bramall Lane.
This week’s weather ☁️
Our weather forecast comes from dedicated Sheffield weather service Steel City Skies, who say our resident high pressure gets squeezed away south and east, with a new high building in the Atlantic. This allows colder air to stream down from the northwest from midweek.
Monday ☁️ Largely cloudy and breezy with a drizzle risk over the tops and only limited brightness expected east of the hills. Highs of 12°C.
Tuesday ☁️ Little change, though brighter skies may be a little more prominent. Lighter winds than Monday and remaining mild with highs of 11°C.
Wednesday 🌦️ An early cold front brings showery rain, clearing to colder and brighter conditions from the northwest with scattered showers wintry over the peaks. 8°C the high.
Thursday ⛅ Chilly with an early frost risk, then mainly dry and bright for most. Cold in the north-northwest winds with highs of 8°C.
Friday 🌥️ The risk of more cloud at times from the north, but many places are likely to stay dry throughout. Staying chilly though with highs again of 8°C.
Outlook: Low confidence in the weekend outlook, but favoured conditions will be chilly and dry with high pressure close by. Cloud amounts may well be rather high though. our resident high pressure gets squeezed away south and east, with a new high building in the Atlantic. This allows colder air to stream down from the northwest from midweek.
The big story: Do you want to 'be wedded’ to a job that ‘dominates your life?' If so, Mercia School wants you.
Top line: A Sheffield high school has been mocked on social media after it posted a job advertisement that said applicants would be expected to work a 55 hour week and “be wedded” to their job. Are the demands placed on staff by multi-academy trusts too high?
The job: Mercia School on Carter Knowle Road in Millhouses last week advertised for a new assistant headteacher on the TES website. As well as sounding in parts like it was written by David Brent (it says the person they are looking for will “ooze leadership”), perhaps the most concerning part is where it says the lucky person will be expected to work “ridiculously hard”.
When I state ridiculously hard, I mean it! You will have to live and breathe the school, and be wedded to it. It may dominate your life on occasions.
The advert goes on to say the successful applicant should also be prepared to be available in the evenings, during holidays and on weekends, and cope with “huge demands” including a high teaching load, managing pastoral issues and being “on alert” from 7am until 6pm.
‘Beyond parody’: The advert has been widely pilloried online, with many suggesting that schools demanding so much from their teachers were the reason many were leaving the profession. Tim Thresher said the advert “summed up everything that’s wrong with the teaching profession” while Nicola Garrard said the job description told you everything you need to know about why teachers were leaving in their droves. “It is beyond parody,” she added.
Multi-academy trusts: Mercia School opened in September 2018 and will enter its first series of public examinations in May/June 2023. It is run by a Sheffield-based multi-academy trust which also runs two other secondary schools (King Ecgbert’s in Dore and Newfield in Norton Lees) and three primary schools (Woodlands in Gleadless, Totley and Nether Edge).
In 2022, Mercia School was the most oversubscribed school in Sheffield, turning away 156 applicants for its 185 available spaces. Last year they announced plans to open a sixth form in September 2023 which it says will be “unapologetically academic”.
The trust is currently hoping to add Talbot Specialist School in Norton Lees to its list of schools. However, The Tribune has been told that staff have concerns that the Mercia approach will be unsuitable for a special school, and also increase their workload.
The UK’s strictest school? Mercia is certainly no stranger to controversy. It has previously been described as one of the strictest schools in the UK with pupils in school from 8am-5pm every day except Friday. Also, in 2021, the headteacher attempted to circumvent strict Covid rules by categorising all pupils as vulnerable, meaning they had to come to school. However, he later backtracked on this decision after the Prime Minister imposed a national lockdown.
Bottom line: The Academies Act of 2010 changed education in England forever. Free schools like Mercia have much more autonomy in how they are run and the stakes are now so high now that many multi-academy trusts operate more like businesses. Its ethos certainly seems to be popular with parents, who are sending their children to the school in record numbers. However, judging by this job advert, it may be at high cost to the school’s staff.
Home of the week 🏡
This three-bedroomed end terrace in Crookes has been beautifully updated inside and has a southwest-facing rear garden. Best of all, it’s painted black. It is on the market for £295,000.
‘The statement is very disingenuous’ 🎛️
Shortly after we published our piece about Red Tape Studios last Friday, Sheffield City Council issued this statement: “Red Tape is an iconic and valued music facility within the city centre of Sheffield. We are not closing the building, we are redeploying a small number of staff, and we will continue to work with the students we are supporting from this building.
“RTC will continue to be used by the Sheffield Music Hub, delivering music opportunities to the children of Sheffield, as well as current private tenants connected to the music industry. This small change will have no adverse effect on staff employed by the council. All staff will continue to be employed in their tutor capacity to deliver elements of learning within our Lifelong Learning Service. Our aim remains the same — to continue to deliver learning opportunities to the most vulnerable young people and adults in the city.”
However, our contact at Red Tape said the statement was “very disingenuous”. “It avoids saying that the Red Tape music team and bespoke studios, and music technology within the council, are being dismantled,” they told us. This will mean music technology tutors being redeployed to teach special educational needs, basic maths, English and hair and beauty. The training centre they are being redeployed to doesn’t teach any music, they said.
They added that the Sheffield Music Hub mentioned caters for a very different group of children than Red Tape does (mainly pupils from middle-class backgrounds being taught music) and has merely been brought in as a way of running the studio down. “They can say they are only redeploying a ‘small number of staff’ because that’s all that remain there,” the source told us. “Red Tape is unrecognisable from the place that opened in 1986.”
Our media picks 🎧
Sixty years on, the housing estate I helped build is still being celebrated 🏢 A fascinating piece in The Guardian by erstwhile MP Roy Hattersley about the history of Park Hill flats. The Sheffield-born former Labour deputy leader reveals he was briefly chairman of the city’s public works committee at the time the building was being finished. The only slight issue with the otherwise good piece is that they use a photo of Clay Wood flats rather than Park Hill!
What I learnt...from getting fired 💼 A nice interview with Dave Richards, the chief executive of WANdisco, Sheffield’s newest $1bn company. Richards was fired from the firm he set up in 2016, before being reinstated by the board a week later. Here, he talks about what he learned from his sacking, including the dangers of merging firms that have little in common with each other, and not employing Sheffield United fans (Richards supports Wednesday).
Fire and fury: The inside story of Knowsley’s night of shame 🪧 An astonishing story in our sister title the Liverpool Post about what really happened when far-right activists attempted to manipulate local anti-asylum seeker sentiment to attack a hotel where they were staying. Post editor Jack Walton speaks to both people inside the hotel who feared for their lives and those who took part in the protest, which led to 15 arrests and a police van being set alight.
The UK’s most exciting food city? 🐟
Yes, that’s what national newspaper The Observer called Sheffield in a piece in yesterday’s paper entitled 30 things we love in the world of food right now.
As well as Bench, The Orange Bird and Tonco, which all took regional runners-up spots in the best restaurant category in last year’s Observer Food Monthly Awards, the piece also mentions “inventive” Kelham Island vegetarian and vegan restaurant V or V, and Native, a fresh fish and seafood restaurant over the road on Gibraltar Street.
Also highlighted in Kelham Island is “acclaimed bistro” Juke & Loe, popular Sardinian restaurant Domo and its newly-opened rooftop cocktail bar, Kelu, and Luke French’s Michelin-star tipped Jöro.
Things to do 📆
LGBT 🏳️🌈 Tonight (Monday, 20 February) at 7pm at Sheffield Central Library, author Kirsty Loehr will be talking about her hilarious new book, A Short History of Queer Women. From Anne Bonny and Mary Read sailing the seas together disguised as pirates, to US footballer Megan Rapinoe declaring “you can’t win a championship without gays on your team”, the book sets the record straight on women who have loved other women through the ages.
Music 🎸 As a 44-year-old man, I find the names that bands are giving themselves these days somewhat baffling. As if to prove my point, arriving at Sheffield Students’ Union on Wednesday night are the oddly-named Dry Cleaning. Our Favourite Places say the South London four-piece marry intense, wiry, post-punk instrumentals with “sprechgesang”, a vocal technique halfway between singing and speaking. Tickets are £24 and doors open at 7pm.
Talk 🗨️ Returning on Wednesday night (22 February) to The Mowbray in Neepsend for its fifth edition is Sheffield Forum Live. Speaking this time are Alex McLean, the researcher and musician behind Algorave, former Milburn member Joe Carnall Jnr, and Jonathan Reid, a Sheffield scissor maker who you may have seen on BBC One’s Repair Shop programme. Tickets are £10 including a free glass of fizz or a beer on arrival. Doors open at 6.30pm.