HEADMASTER Mike Fairclough was the darling of primary school education after creating an unorthodox forest school in a council estate in Eastbourne, East Sussex. Alongside the usual lessons, from 2004 Mr Fairclough provided an extraordinarily rich rural curriculum that you would never expect in a state school. He leased 120 acres of marshland opposite West Rise school, the site of a former Bronze Age settlement. The children learned how to build fires and how to whittle wood with knives to make arrows. They learned fly fishing, how to skin rabbits and pluck pigeons. They tended beehives, sheep and even water buffalo.

Mr Fairclough won the admiration of his peers, and in 2015, the Times Educational Supplement ‘Primary School of the Year’ award. Dame Judith Hackitt, chairman of the Health & Safety Executive, said more school head teachers should be following Fairclough’s example. The underperforming school’s Ofsted rose from ‘Satisfactory’ to ‘Good’ and for 19 years, West Rise thrived. The number of pupils doubled from 179 to 360, as did the number of staff from 30 to 60.

Mr Fairclough enjoyed a good relationship with his staff and his local authority East Sussex County Council but resigned last month after a witch hunt using anti-terrorism legislation left him feeling a broken man. In his resignation letter he said: ‘I feel that I have been discriminated against, harassed, and bullied for exercising my right to lawful free speech and for expressing my philosophical belief in the importance of critical thinking, free speech, and safeguarding children.

‘As a headteacher, I have had a legal duty to safeguard children against harm. My professional field of expertise is child development and education. I have publicly shared my opinion that lockdowns harm children, that I disagree with masking children, and that I feel that the risks from the Covid vaccines for children outweigh any possible benefits. It has therefore been entirely reasonable and relevant for me to express my lawful opinions on these matters in the interest of safeguarding children against harm.’ Other heads agreed privately but 50-year-old Mr Fairclough, a father of four, was the only headteacher of 20,000 in the UK to say so publicly.

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