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Monday, 11 July 2016 14:22

Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School

Events at Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School continue apace since my previous article at the beginning of last month. See also article on resignation of Chief Executive of Thinking Schools Academy Trust.

Simon Langton Girls

Main details are that the school has now withdrawn its application to become an Academy, a number of governors and the clerk to governors resigned, and the Chairman of Governors has resigned.

Now KCC has appointed five new governors to the GB and a new Chairman has been elected, “bringing with them considerable educational and leadership experience and nationally recognised expertise in school governance”. The new Chairman is Dr Christine Carpenter, who a few years ago was Headteacher of the Sacred Heart High School, a girls’ Catholic School in Hammersmith. Most of the other new governors are recognisable as also being involved with education in Kent. However, there are still massive and ongoing troubles which affect the school.

A letter to parents, “Sent on behalf of Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School Governing Body and Kent County Council”, so unclear whether the existing Governing Body has actually produced or approved it, sets out the main changes and pledges that “Moving forward the school governors and Kent County Council are determined to ensure that relationships can be restored under a new climate of openness and transparency”.

You will find a superb commentary on the debacle by the local Newspaper, here

However, matters to be resolved include ....

a wide range of formal complaints by over twenty staff to KCC about the conduct of the Headteacher including complaints about bullying of staff, and threats of strike action unless matters are resolved unheard of in a grammar school and indicative of massive management failure.

There are also significant issues relating to school finances, and those authorised to work on them, including the headteacher’s husband who appears to have no formal position, but is bursar of Spires Academy. As far as I am aware there are no suggestions of personal gain from any current financial mismanagement.

Although the formal connection with Spires Academy continues, the long term situation needs to be resolved, now the two schools are no longer going ahead with a Multi-Academy Trust. The likelihood is, that given the low academic performance of Spires Academy, it will now be placed under the control of an existing Trust as had been previously proposed. The difficulties of Spires have not necessarily been its own fault, and it has struggled as a school for as long as I can remember, since long before becoming an Academy.  

From the beginning there appears to have been no doubt that the headteacher and governing body kept parents in ignorance or misled them about the proposal to academise and formally take Spires Academy into the Academy Trust. The two leading figures here were the Chairman of Governors and the Headteacher. The Chairman has now gone, as have most of the responsible governors. So, will anyone be held to account?

When Governors cancelled the Consultation Meeting for parents on withdrawing the academisation application, they promised another meeting in early July. Whilst I agree that such a meeting would now serve no purpose, as the atmosphere would inevitably become poisonous and destructive, this needs to be acknowledged, even if only to inform parents that the new Governing Body will be issuing a statement after their first GB Meeting on 14th July.

In spite of many allegations to the contrary there is no evidence that the headteacher sought personal gain from the academy proposal, and I believe that exactly like many other school leaders she saw this was the best future for the two schools. If the Governing Body had been open and transparent about its proposal, there would still have been a reaction, but the school may well have weathered it. As it is, by their actions the school has generated enormous bad publicity, morale has been wrecked, there is almost a state of civil war between some parents and some staff on one side, and the headteacher and current Governing Body on the other, with the Local Authority swinging from support for the school to recognising the need for urgent and decisive action.

 The Authority, which has final responsibility for the school, still has to take decisions regarding the staff complaints, the alleged financial irregularities, a multitude of parental complaints, the responsibility for what it has ruled are significant irregularities amounting to maladministration in the academisation procedures adopted by the governing body, and the actions of the headteacher.  

The school, the Local Authority, the Regional Schools Commissioner and the Department for Education have all been inundated with a plethora of multiple requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act and directly, of complaints about the headteacher and governors, with publicised requests to others to copy their actions, presumably on the basis that multiple identical requests will be taken more seriously, and developing what is now called an “echo chamber” of opnion.  I cannot speak for the other organisations, but it is a wonder that the school and the headteacher have managed to keep a semblance of normality under this torrent of correspondence to investigate and to respond to. Without knowing the details of how it has been managed in the interests of the girls, it is surely a matter for congratulation that they have kept the school operating, and planning for the new academic year, normally a very busy time of the calendar for senior leadership.  

The headteacher has been under intensive personal and destructive pressure from social media, the like of which I have never seen or heard of before, relating to any headteacher in the country. The damage that this will have done to the school is immeasurable and wholly unreasonable, and one can only speculate on what it has done to the thousand girls being educated at the school who must surely be bewildered as they see the character assassination of their headteacher carried out in public.  She has self-evidently made serious mistakes and could lose her job over this, but there are many other worse heads who have endured nothing like this, and one can only speculate what this has done to her personally. As a retired headteacher myself, whatever she has done, I have enormous sympathy for her situation which no one should have to endure.  

Those conducting the campaign to oust her will no doubt argue they have had no alternative, given the nature of the allegations and the failure of those in authority to act in a timely and appropriate way. They may well be right, but if so the failure lies with those in authority who should have acted as soon as the faults became apparent.

What is happening is no way to resolve problems, with personal abuse taking the place of process, demeaning all associated with it.

A plea from a wise and brave student attending Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar:

I just want to know where the humanity has gone? Why has this gotten so primal? When did everyone start wanting blood?”. This statement should head up every communication from either side, to remind them what civilised behaviour should be.   

PLEASE NOTE: I DO NOT PUBLISH COMMENTS THAT CONTAIN PERSONAL ATTACKS ON INDIVIDUALS 

Last modified on Saturday, 23 July 2016 07:30

3 comments

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 13 July 2016 19:19 posted by Anonymous

    Dear Mr Davis,

    I read Peter's blog occasionally as it is a very good way of getting interesting information about education in Kent.

    I am not in a position to comment on this article or the problems being encountered at this school nor wish to do so.

    However, I am an Executive Principal and take exception to your comment "Do we know any HT's or "Executive Principals" of MAT's where their salaries have reduced post-conversion?".

    I have supported another school as an Executive Principal (albeit not as a MAT) and have never taken any additional salary; indeed I have seen a real terms cut in my pay since 2010. Like many of my colleagues, we take on these these additional responsibilities because we want the best for the children, parents and staff we serve.

    I thought you should know that Executive Principals are not always motivated in the way I think you were suggesting.

    Very best wishes

    Anonymous
    PETER: I know many headteachers with a similarly admirable approach to their vocation. A cynicism that appears to suggest all heads are in it for what they can get damages and undermines the whole profession.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 13 July 2016 14:45 posted by Richard Davis

    The comment from "Anonymous" above. Is this the same "Anonymous" poster, that is too cowardly to state who they are that has also been posting on the KM Gazette website underneath the "harassment" story?

    Fortunately, some people have the courage of their convictions and are brave enough to openly stand by their comments....

    Parts of this article are particularly disappointing to read, as if you compare and contrast Peter's earlier news pieces on this debacle, to this most recent one, they are very different indeed in their tone.

    He knows that the only reason KCC are now acting and intervening is because of the vocality of the parent, student and staff body. Let's not forget, the teachers handed in their own petition opposing their own HT and GB. The students went out on strike, as seen on the TV!, children were "encouraged" not to gather the views of their colleagues and finally, the parents almost in their entirety opposed it. Lets' not also forget the serious irregularities of the GB's "vote" from way back when on the 25.11.2015.

    We've exposed lie after lie told to our faces - lies like the school being rebuilt in it's entirety by the end of 2018, when the truth is in fact that the DfE won't even have started considering what, if anything, may require doing until Spring of 2018 - a lie that was told on a number of occasions to all new parents, year after year. Lies told at the Consultation Meeting of the 14th April 2016. Lies told at the Year 7 parents evening just a few weeks ago - all caught in recordings. There is no denying these lies. Does Peter really think we should have kept quiet and tried to raise our concerns with a GB which was led by a small group of individuals that were doing the HT's bidding? A GB, whereby Peter's own admission "The two leading figures here were the Chairman of Governors and the Headteacher. The Chairman has now gone, as have most of the responsible governors".

    We attempted that. We were ignored and the typical response from raising serious allegations with the GB was "Thank you for your contribution. It will be considered along with the other submissions as we decide on whether to convert to an Academy". Serious, serious allegations were being raised! This small group of Governor's (which thankfully did not include any of the Parent Governor's) believed that they could ignore the parents, staff and students and bulldoze their scheme through no matter what - they were proved wrong. They underestimated, very badly, the strength of feeling amongst the parents. They underestimated, very badly, the strength of feeling amongst the staff. They underestimated, very badly, the strength of feeling amongst the girls too.

    I guess though; "there is no evidence that the headteacher sought personal gain from the academy proposal" - really? Do we know any HT's or "Executive Principals" of MAT's where their salaries have reduced post-conversion? And that they're pensionable benefits have also reduced post-conversion? I can't think of one example. I can, however, think of example after example, indeed, every example, where salaries increase between 2 and 3 times, and pensionable benefits climb by the same multiple. No financial incentive... :-(

    I also guess that "the responsibility for what it has ruled are significant irregularities amounting to maladministration in the academisation procedures adopted by the governing body, and the actions of the headteacher" - how does Peter know about these serious issues? Oh, that's right, because we exposed them and reported them... that's why. Good job we didn't keep it quietly under our hats then!

    Couldn't disagree with this more; "but it is a wonder that the school and the headteacher have managed to keep a semblance of normality under this torrent of correspondence to investigate and to respond to". All credit goes to the wonderful teaching staff, not the senior leadership team. The teaching staff have conducted themselves with fabulous dignity throughout. Am personally glad to have bolstered their conviction by speaking out on these issues. It would probably have been a very different story had we not.

    "The damage that this will have done to the school is immeasurable and wholly unreasonable, and one can only speculate on what it has done to the thousand girls being educated at the school who must surely be bewildered as they see the character assassination of their headteacher carried out in public" - really? Perhaps Peter hasn't read comment after comment from current and former girls (and staff!) of the school on social media and the vote of no confidence change . org petition? They're comments paint a very different picture of what day to day life is like under the rule of the present HT. The 20+ staff grievances raised with KCC also speak for themselves and are transparently indicative of the culture at the school. Did 20+ staff grievances simply pop up out of thin air simply to stop the Academisation conversion? No, they appeared because staff finally felt emboldened to speak out when it was obvious that the parent and student bodies were completely behind them.

    "She has self-evidently made serious mistakes and could lose her job over this, but there are many other worse heads who have endured nothing like this, and one can only speculate what this has done to her personally. As a retired headteacher myself, whatever she has done, I have enormous sympathy for her situation which no one should have to endure." - will this view change if it becomes apparent that budget finances were manipulated to enable the school to convert to become and Academy? Will this view change if staff grievances of serious management bullying are upheld? Will this view change if the pupil complaints of management bullying are upheld? Will this view change if the allegations of exposed lies and misconduct of the way that the Academisation proposal was handled lead to dismissal? and so the list of questions goes on. I doubt, personally, that there are "many other worse heads"

    I know, given the relationships that I now have with many, many present members of staff at the school, that we are right, we've always been right and this will all come out in the wash eventually. For this reason, everything that has been done is justified and proper. Nothing else would have led to this potential outcome. Nothing. Not with a GB that was clearly operating under HT control. The school could not be allowed to have continued in a state of fear and bullying without something being done about it. Far too few these days are prepared to step forward and facilitate change. PETER: To quote from my article: "Those conducting the campaign to oust her will no doubt argue they have had no alternative, given the nature of the allegations and the failure of those in authority to act in a timely and appropriate way. They may well be right, but if so the failure lies with those in authority who should have acted as soon as the faults became apparent".

  • Comment Link Monday, 11 July 2016 16:05 posted by Anonymous

    Peter, I would like to question a couple of points in your blog as they appear to be misleading/unsubstantiated:

    1. You mention a large number of formal complaints? Where did you obtain this information from and are any of the complaints warranted/been upheld?

    2. You mention financial mismanagement - on what basis have you come to this conclusion?

    3. On what basis are you saying that the Head and GB have mislead the parents/kept them in ignorance. I received the news letter and subsequent letters from the school and it seemed clear to me?

    4. You question who will be held to account? For what?

    5. "maladministration in the academisation procedures adopted by the governing body, and the actions of the headteacher." This is a strong allegation - on what basis is it made?

    6. I totally agree with your comments regarding personal abuse etc. A number of my fellow parents at the school have let themselves down and any relevant points they may have had have quite frankly been lost in amongst the ranting.
    PETER: Plenty of questions. I will try and reply to all, but I fear you have not read my previous postings that supply most of the answers.
    1) I have accepted the claims on the campaign website, as I can see no reason why posters would lie about this. I also understand from a KCC contact that this is a valid claim. Importantly look at Patrick Leeson's letter of 1st June for confirmation of a number of parental complaints. I have no evidence whether or not they are valid and have not claimed any. I do refer to process and these will need to be investigated - massively time consuming.

    2) There is paperwork in the public domain showing that unauthorised personnel have been involved in financial matters. As I record: "there are also significant issues relating to school finances, As far as I am aware there are no suggestions of personal gain from any current financial mismanagement." Whether expressed concerns and issues are proven is still to be determined by due process.

    3) Please read my previous articles which demonstrate this explicitly, based on published documents.

    5) Comes before (4) in this response. Read my previous article: "Amongst other areas of maladministration, there was voting by an ineligible governor, issues of conflict of interest not being declared, and “other procedural shortcomings at the full Governing Body meeting on 25 November 2015 which breached the School Governance (Roles, Procedures and Allowances) (England) Regulations 2013.” That will do for a start.

    4) See Patrick Leeson's letter of 1st June, part quoted above. It is not my allegation, but that of the Head of KCC,, backed up by legal advice.

    6) No comment

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