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Friday, 26 February 2016 22:34

Hempstead Junior School - Headteacher Suspended

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The headteacher of Hempstead Junior School in Gillingham has been suspended after an extraordinary series of recent events, as described below, following a controversial time as headteacher since her appointment in September 2013, including conflict with staff and governors that resulted in a high turnover of both, together with difficult relations with many parents. However, she enjoyed the support of Medway Council and its Cabinet Member, Mike O'Brien throughout, even after a previous Chairman of Governors, the Vice Chairman, Chairman of Finance and two other governors resigned over their inability to work with the headteacher, the reason quoted in a letter to the Council as: "Despite our considerable efforts over the course of many months, we no longer believe we can work with the current head teacher to deliver sustainable progress for the school in general and, most importantly, for the children”, which was a clear cry for help for the school. However, this was dismissed out of hand by Mr O'Brien who considered: "The decision by some of the governors is entirely a matter for them – Obviously no concerns there then! 

Hempstead Junior

Sadly, the Council has now chosen to dig itself in a deeper hole by belatedly sending out a letter to parents, stating: "The Headteacher is unwell and will be absent from the school for the time being",although there is now a wide awareness of the true facts in the school. The headteacher is pictured above with Mr O'Brien. 

The issues are exemplified by the extraordinary Minutes of an Extraordinary Governing Body meeting, which took place on 16th December 2015. These feature the proposal to remove Mr John Colam, vice chair and then Acting Chair of Governors at the time of the Meeting, from the Board. Oddly, neither the headteacher (who had submitted 50 pages of evidence against Mr Colam after the closing date for providing evidence to the meeting), nor the proposer of the motion chose to attend the meeting. The proposal was rejected, and then Mr Colam was elected Joint Chairman of the Governing Body! The motion proposer resigned from the GB next day. You can catch a flavour of the issues with parents in the passionate comments below, although I have tried mainly to keep the focus of this article and a previous one on the factual evidence. 

The letter explaining the absence of the headteacher was sent above the signatures of the two co-chairs of governors  and begins: "We have been asked by Medway Local Authority to provide you with their statement concerning the Headteacher Mrs Smith". In other words the school and governors had nothing to do with preparing the statement  that follows! The letter took two school days to prepare amidst rumour swirling around over the weekend, the headteacher having reportedly being seen being escorted off the premises by a Medway Council officer. Of course it would have been a good opportunity to deny the facts in this article, which are increasingly widely known in the school community and beyond, but naturally I am being asked why the Council version differs from my version of events. Clearly governors and the school do not wish to deny my story, which is why they have placed responsibility on the Council.

I am afraid browsers will have to come to your own view on which version is true but clearly, either I am mistaken or Medway Council is not telling the truth unless the suspension has made the headteacher unwell, in which case both can be valid! Personally, I would have thought that if I was genuinely mistaken although I am confident of my information from a variety of sources now,  that Medway Council or the Governing Body should have contacted me to tell me so, given the importance of the matter! Interestingly, the letter, re-produced in full in one of the comments below, also  contains the statement: "Hempstead Junior School has always been a great team and ‘family’ and we all need to pull together".  We have been told this is a council statement, but whilst it appears to be pretending to be from the HJS 'family', shows a familiar lack of understanding of what has been going on in the school. The Medway Messenger has yet a different response from Medway Council: "A Council spokesman said "The head teacher has been away from the school for a few days, and the day to day running of the school continues as normal"So in fact, no problems at all worth mentioning!  The Council letter appears to have created a new policy, but will Medway Council now notify parents as a norm in other schools when headteachers are unwell?

Previously
The Council had previously tried to stem the tide of unhappiness surging through the school by appointing a new Chairman of Governors to resolve relationship issues between head and governors in the short term, after the two previous ones had resigned. She was a Local Authority appointee and previous employee of Medway Council described by the Medway Council Cabinet Member as: "a strong local authority governor presence on the governing body”. but lasted less than a year and then resigned, the third Chairman to resign since Mrs Smith's appointment. During this latest period, the Council expressed concern about the following of GB procedures, and the school has been issued with two Warning Notices one relating to financial measures the other to leadership and governance.

But even this appears to have raised no alarm bells at Medway Council, about the leadership of the school which then took another turn for the worse, as the headteacher tried to remove the Acting Chairman of Governors three months ago. Following the public information about governor turnover is difficult, but five resigned last summer, and others have gone since, many evidently unable to tolerate the headteacher’s style of management and leadership. I have looked at the Minutes of all the relevant GB Meetings and have to say, I see only a very professional group of people concerned for the future of this very troubled school trying to carry out governance properly, but lacking Local Authority support. 

OFSTED intervened with a Special one day Inspection of the school in January, although whilst this is full of praise for the teaching taking place, it clearly agrees with the Local Authority assessment that the school is ‘causing concern’. This was broadly neutral in allocating blame between head and governors, apparently influenced by Medway Council which, along with Cabinet Member Mike O'Brien, has been very supportive of the headteacher at the expense of governors until now. Recommendations of the Inspection Report include restoring good communication and trust between governors and the headteacher, and redoubling efforts to ensure the widespread trust and confidence of staff and parents in the school’s leadership, including governance. Sadly these recommendations sounded unduly optimistic given the current meltdown (sentence written before latest news). It was pleasing to see the co-chairmen writing a very positive letter to staff after the inspection to congratulate them on the quality of teaching identified in the school, as academically Hempstead Juniors continues to enjoy success although staff turnover could affect this in the future. However, a letter sent out by Mrs Smith to staff shortly after this shows an astonishing lack of awareness of the issues, as it appears to lay the blame at everyone else's feet, with no hint of recognition of any personal fault. Amongst those at fault for the situation apparently are: the governance of the school; long term staff having left and some current staff who complained to OFSTED; staff failing to follow proper procedures for complaint; failure by staff to keep an eye on each other and take action if they are being negative or unprofessional; and a minority of parents who are negative in the playground and on social media. Apparently all that was needed was some tweaking and all would be well. Sadly, this last sentiment appears a gross misjudgment, perhaps one amongst many. 

Below you will find amongst the 25 comments, sixteen powerful testimonies (and one contrary view). At an earlier stage I chose to remove some of the most passionate phrases, but these are to the best of my knowledge all genuine postings, and there is nothing offensive about any of them; I was just concerned about unproven allegations (the anonymous postings have generally identified themselves to me!). 

  

  

Read 14059 times Last modified on Monday, 21 March 2016 22:58

26 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 10 March 2016 19:42 posted by a non

    I read about the issues at Hempstead Junior School with great sadness. I used to be a teacher at ??????? Primary School until the long serving head there retired to ultimately be replaced by one of these aggressive and denigratory heads. I believe that the once highly regarded ???????, that I was once proud to say I was a member of staff at, has only four remaining teachers left of the original team; even all the SLT left. The turnover in new staff seems very high, some only lasting one term after appointment. One parent told me that her child had four different teachers in one academic year there.

    What is happening to head teacher appointment? I can't believe the damage that an incapable head teacher is allowed to inflict on a school with no action being taken by the council until far too late in the day.

    I wonder how standards will hold up and if ??????? might be next...Sad news. PETER: I know this school which is close to Medway well, as parents have difficult choices for secondary schools, and I used to be invited annually by the previous headteacher to go in and talk to parents about school choice. I have heard similar reports, and been asked by parents why I no longer appear but as yet have no hard evidence as I have at Hempstead.

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 March 2016 18:15 posted by Davy W

    so are you saying that Medway Council is lying. PETER: I am afraid you must come to your own conclusion although I have put forward a possibility that could cover both explanations.

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 March 2016 18:15 posted by Sarah-Jane Shaw

    Having read all of the information detailed on these pages regarding Hempstead Junior School, this is the letter emailed to me as a parent after 3.00 this afternoon -

    HEMPSTEAD JUNIOR SCHOOL

    Headteacher: Mrs Sharon D. Smith BA/Ed (Hons), NPQH​

    Tel: 01634 371823​​Birch Grove
    Fax: 01634 233328​​Hempstead
    Email: office@hempsteadjnr.medway.sch.uk ​​Gillingham
    Website: http://www.hempsteadjnr.medway.sch.uk/​Kent ME7 3HJ



    ​7th March 2016​

    Dear Parent/Carer

    We have been asked by Medway Local Authority to provide you with their statement concerning the Headteacher Mrs Smith.

    ‘The Headteacher is unwell and will be absent from the school for the time being.’

    You will wish to be aware that the Deputy Headteacher Paul Cross is covering the role in her absence, supported by the SLT and the rest of our excellent staff.

    We know that you will all support Mr Cross as he takes on this temporary role. Hempstead Junior School has always been a great team and ‘family’ and we all need to pull together to continue to maintain the highest standards that we adhere to. The well-being and education of the pupils is, of course, our priority.

    In the meantime, we would be grateful for your continued support. If you have concerns of any nature please do not hesitate to contact, in the first instance, Mr Cross.


    Sarah Doe and John Colam
    Co-Chairs of the Governing Body​
    ​Medway
    COUNCIL

    Come clean for once Medway Coucil and tell us what the hell is going on. Utterly disgusted at the lack of information and communication. As parents, we have the right to the truth

  • Comment Link Monday, 07 March 2016 16:24 posted by Mellywellymoo

    The school have issued a statement that is very different to what's been written here! I would be interested to know which is true. Where did your information come from? PETER: Please see my update to the article. Understandably my original sources wish to remain anonymous, although the facts are now well known in school circles, and the governors' letter is rather pointed!

  • Comment Link Saturday, 05 March 2016 14:47 posted by Linda

    There must be such embarrassment at how she has led the school, forcing such fabulous and enthusiastic, long-serving teachers from the school, causing such low morale amongst teachers and parents alike.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 05 March 2016 11:50 posted by Mike Dowsett

    As one of the Governors who reluctantly resigned last year, I would not be at all surprised if the current Governing Body had been instructed to 'keep things quiet' by Medway LA - that's what they did to us when we left. It seemed to me then that 'damage limitation' to their own reputation was their highest priority - the interests of the children, parents/carers, staff members and us (ex) Governors appeared to be of secondary importance.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 05 March 2016 09:46 posted by Angry Parent

    Peter you say confidently that the head has been suspended, and there is plenty around to confirm you are right. But if so, where was the statement yesterday from the school or the Council telling us what is going on. It is just not good enough. As parents we should be the first to know, not read it on your website, with silence from the school.I tried to call yesterday several times to find out what is going on but the school phone was engaged all day! The rumor mill is going into overdrive this weekend. Fortunately, we appear to be able to depend on you for the truth, but this is not how it ought to be.

  • Comment Link Friday, 04 March 2016 22:43 posted by Andrea

    I have also been told she has been suspended, by a member of staff.

    Good riddance, but who is to mend the scars caused by not acting sooner?

  • Comment Link Friday, 04 March 2016 14:22 posted by Thank you Peter

    Thank you Peter for highlighting this very concerning article to the public. I'm sure I am not the only person who is truly grateful.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 03 March 2016 22:58 posted by linda

    For our children's happiness and education and the positive future of the school, we as parents can write, expressing our concerns to, the local authority, Ofsted and the Dept of Education. This situation surely cannot be allowed to continue? The Head is answerable to the governors and to us, the parents.

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