Exiled head returns to Pakistan school after legendary predecessor relents


The British headmistress of a school in one of Pakistan’s most remote regions has finally returned to work eight months after an acrimonious dispute with her well-connected predecessor left her in exile in London, according to a report in The Guardian.

According to the report, Carey Schofield was greeted by crowds of parents and teachers when she finally flew into the former princely state of Chitral last week after a spectacular falling out with Geoffrey Langlands, a celebrated Raj-era army officer who taught a generation of Pakistan’s political leaders.

Her return was made possible by the decision of the school’s entire staff to travel more than a thousand miles on a rickety school bus to lobby Langlands to drop his opposition to Schofield, whom he accused of mismanagement and overspending.

The 97-year-old had stunned the tight-knit community in June when he made a surprise return visit to the mountainous valley and announced he was reclaiming the school where he served for decades.

The school’s governors swiftly rejected the attempted coup but were powerless in the face of one of Langlands’ most influential former pupils, Federal Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, whom the major taught at Aitchison College, an elite Lahore private school.

On Langlands’ advice, Nisar had blocked Schofield’s application for a new work visa while she was on leave in the UK.

“I was left trying to run the school from my kitchen table in Chelsea,” said Schofield, whose period in London coincided with serious flooding and an earthquake in the Chitral valley. “I coped as best I could, but if you are not physically there you do not really know what is going on.”

Langlands is well known figure in Pakistan, where he served in the country’s fledgling army after independence in 1947.

He later pursued a teaching career that took him to the wild frontier with Afghanistan, where he was once kidnapped by tribesmen, and a long period running the school in Chitral, which was renamed in his honour.

But the attempt to oust Schofield damaged his reputation among many parents, pupils and staff who credit the former writer with turning round a school that had been in steep decline in the last years of Langlands’ tenure.

In September teachers and support staff piled into the school’s bus for the gruelling 24-hour journey through winding mountain passes to Lahore, where Langlands lives in retirement at Aitchison College.

Barred from entering the college’s grand campus, the 60-strong group stood on the street outside and held a two-hour meeting with Langlands from either side of the school’s iron gates.

“Initially he was very stubborn and refused to accept our point of view,” said Amina Mumtaz, head of early childhood development at the school, who believes the major had been misled about Schofield by aggrieved teachers who she had sacked.

“But after we told him about the realities of Miss Carey and all she has done for the school, he realised he had done a very wrong thing and wanted to help make things right,” she said.

Langlands and the teachers decamped to Islamabad the following day to lobby Nisar. Although they were unable to meet the interior minister, one of his top officials promised to grant Schofield a visa, which finally came through in February.

Schofield told the Guardian she wanted to continue raising standards at the school, which she said was helping to raise the aspirations of a generation of Chitralis who in the past had only been equipped for work outside the valley as menial jobs.