Update (Friday 10th): The Gravesend Messenger this week has published a three page article about Jane Porter, including the front page, as well as an internet comment section further back.
Jane Porter, formerly Executive Headteacher of Whitehill Primary School in Gravesend, has been found guilty of Professional Misconduct.
The Professional Conduct Panel of the National College of Teaching and Leadership published the decision on Friday, taken on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education.
“Ms Jane Porter is prohibited from teaching indefinitely and cannot teach in any school, sixth form college, relevant youth accommodation or children’s home in England. Furthermore, in view of the seriousness of the allegations found proved against her, I have decided that Ms Porter shall not be entitled to apply for restoration of her eligibility to teach” (although she has right of appeal to the High Court within 28 days).
Whilst being in temporary post as Executive Headteacher of Kings Farm Primary School, at the same time as substantive head of Whitehill Primary in Gravesend, the Panel found that “it is evident that throughout her time at the school, Ms Porter had a cavalier disregard of key rules and procedures…Throughout these proceedings, Ms Porter showed no remorse for her actions and demonstrated a lack of compassion”. The panel found that Ms Porter "Having engaged in sustained and serious bullying, whilst failing to manage the running of the school the results of which included breaches in health and safety and safeguarding"…
Some of the many issues are explored further below; others are contained in the series of articles I have previously written on this website........
The 39 page Report gets off to a slow start as it reviews over 1000 pages of written evidence, and that of 10 oral witnesses, but becomes extremely hard hitting as it reaches the conclusion and decision on Page 36. Although the Hearing lasted ten days last month, Ms Porter chose not to attend the final two days.
Excerpts from the conclusion of the decision made on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education:
“I agree with the panel that there is a strong public interest consideration in respect of the protection of pupils given the serious findings. Ms Porter failed to ensure adequate health and safety and safeguarding procedures and practices were in place; and failed to provide adequate support for SEN pupils…The conduct found against Ms Porter was outside that which could reasonably be tolerated. The underlying facts giving rise to the allegations proven were not isolated incidents. The allegations involved multiple incidents where Ms Porter, a senior and experienced headteacher, failed to adhere to basic key policies and comply with her statutory obligations. I agree with the panel that her persistent actions amounted to bullying. Ms Porter failed to manage the School in an appropriate manner and her actions would clearly have had a detrimental impact upon the school and the wider community…. I note that the panel found that the majority of Ms Porter’s actions were deliberate… and the panel found Ms Porter’s actions to be calculated and motivated…. Ms Porter’s actions have undermined the confidence in the integrity of moderated assessments, such as the EYFS EGLs. There has been no evidence that Ms Porter has shown any meaningful insight into her actions despite having had several years to reflect...I support the recommendation made by the panel. This was a serious case and it is proportionate and in the public interest that Ms Porter be prohibited from teaching”.
An interesting and very frank correspondence is developing at Kent Online.
Whitehill and Kings Farm Primary Schools
Although the majority of the charges relate to Kings Farm Primary where Ms Porter was temporarily in charge for two terms, I consider she wreaked even greater havoc at Whitehill Primary over a much longer period, bringing both schools to their knees. This case has been brought forward primarily because of a challenge and evidence from past and present staff members of Kings Farm Primary school who first raised the issue back in 2014, through a staff grievance fully upheld after an investigation by KCC.
Many questions remain about how she was allowed to wreck these two schools (and damage two others), which I explore below, although both are being rebuilt under wise leadership, to be happy schools with a strong future ahead of them.
The National College decision was made primarily on evidence from Kings Farm, but Whitehill suffered for much longer, its dire reputation and notoriety leading to the ‘anywhere but Whitehill’ syndrome I have described elsewhere, encountering it frequently when advising local parents, a syndrome which also dominated some local Nursery Schools at school allocation time. Matters at Whitehill eventually came to a head in October 2015, over a year after she was removed from Kings Farm, when the Gravesend Grammar School Academy Trust (GGAT) was served with a Pre-Termination Warning Notice for the school, warning that it would be closed unless standards improved. Amazingly, Ms Porter was still employed by the Trust as Executive Head of Whitehill up until 30 November 2015, attending Trust Meetings as a Trustee. This was in spite of a belated investigation by GGAT in August 2015, whose results are unpublished, although she had taken leave of absence shortly before the Warning was issued.
It is very difficult to quantify the damage caused at both schools, together with two others that KCC considered Ms Porter was qualified to lead out of difficulties. One problem was that during this period, her leadership was championed by a particular KCC Officer, in roles first as North West Kent Area Officer, then as Principal County Primary Adviser. After he subsequently ‘left’ KCC, he was astonishingly employed one day a week as a paid Consultant to Whitehill Primary School, based in the school and carrying out duties unclear to staff at the time, but which he still regards as an achievement, as explained in his Linkedin profile.
The decision will be some small consolation to those staff who have been bullied out of their jobs, others who have endured, and those whose health has been permanently damaged. I have spoken with a number of these and like many others am horrified about the events that appeared to have been allowed to take place without sanction. At Kings Farm, action was precipitated by an exodus of two thirds of the staff at the end of the summer Term, 2014, accompanied by public protests from parents. The Panel findings refer to the large number of staff sent on ‘gardening leave’ and the way they were treated, as well as the random methods used to appoint new staff, often flouting safeguarding and other regulations. One of a number of articles I reported on covered the dire staffing consequences of the management of Whitehill in October 2015 over a year after the warning signs at Kings Farm, which also raised serious questions about governors who appear to have never even noticed or else chose to ignore the unfolding tragedy. At Whitehill, too many Newly Qualified Teachers departed within their first year, sometimes first term, in some cases a permanent loss to the profession, with vocations and health destroyed for both NQTs and permanent staff. Some long term staff settled for premature retirement having been driven out of the school (Please note that I have removed a statistic which was wrongly applied to Whitehill. Apologies). This is also brought out in another article, that starkly contrasts the ethos of the two member schools of the GGAT. But if one really wishes to catch the true horror of the unfolding calamity at Whitehill, look at the enclosed grievance submitted by a group of Whitehill staff as far back as July 2010. Amazingly, this appears to have produced no formal response at all from the Governing Body, although it was shared with Ms Porter. I find it incomprehensible how such a demolition of sincere and committed teachers can have been ignored by governors unless they were completely in the Headteacher’s power. As far back as 2010, this document alludes to concerns by teachers about Early Years and Key Stage 2 assessment outcomes at the school,as highlighted in the Panel Report at Kings Farm. Those governors bear a heavy responsibility for the events that followed in the two schools.
As the decision recorded for Kings Farm:"The panel found that Ms Porter had acted in a consistently undermining and bullying manner. As noted above, the underlying incidents were not isolated incidents and occurred over a period of six months; there is a clear repeated pattern of behaviour. This behaviour has had a longstanding detrimental impact upon the staff affected. The behaviour was such that many staff chose to resign, and in one case, contemplated leaving without a job to go to".
When Kings Farm parents publicly protested in July 2014 about Ms Porter's tenure at the school, they were pilloried in parts of the media, but now stand totally vindicated. Both staff grievances highlighted above make clear the appalling way parents with concerns were treated in the schools, with one governor telling me that when he tried to take up a case for a parent, was told by Ms Porter that relations with parents were not her business. Not surprisingly, these attitudes soon became known in the local community to the detriment of both schools and their reputations.
Nothing can compensate the SEN children whose futures were damaged, as strongly demonstrated in the Report, and both grievance documents. The formal arrangement for new nursery premises shared by Kings Farm and the neighbouring Ifield Special School was underpinned by a £200,000 grant from KCC for the premises and has proved highly successful apart from the seven months of madness in 2014. Under Ms Porter the formal arrangement came under attack as she attempted to remove all influence from Ifield from the joint arrangement, one of the pivotal issues that arose between her and KCC. According to the Panel proceedings, the then Chairman of Governors at Kings Farm bizarrely described this arrangement as: “informal” and “loose”. This was however a formal agreement to protect the KCC investment and the children from Ifield described in the Report as a “sophisticated arrangement”, underlining the level to which governors of Kings Farm found themselves out of the depth at what was happening.
Any direct mistreatment of children is only partly covered in the Panel Report, because of limited evidence, but the way that some were exposed to danger through poor safeguarding is made clear. However, the two grievance procedures spell events out in some detail, especially the way they were allegedly referred to over and over again in disparaging terms both to their faces and about them to teachers.
The Report of the Disciplinary Panel makes clear that Early Years assessment levels in Kings Farm were lowered by Whitehill staff after moderation a wholly improper action, and a procedure to make progress to Key Stage 2 results look more impressive. The then Vice Chairman of Governors at Whitehill boasted on his LinkedIn account how Whitehill showed the best progress from Early Years to KS2 of any primary school in the county. Hardly surprising. Both schools had their KS2 results annulled in 2014, although this did not feature in the disciplinary hearing.
What is clear is that Governors at Kings Farm were completely in thrall to Ms Porter in 2014, as revealed to me by a senior governor who had concerns they were not being informed or involved in decisions about events at the school. Several governors had been appointed by GGAT after agreement had been reached that Kings Farm was to become an Academy sponsored by the GGAT, and they appeared totally supportive of Ms Porter, in spite of the mounting evidence of problems. Indeed, it appeared only receipt of the staff grievance in July, which was referred to KCC for investigation that triggered the KCC decision to remove Ms Porter from responsibility for the school. Whitehill Primary had become a Converter Academy as part of the GGAT in April 2014, but none of the events at Kings Farm bothered GGAT and several conversations I had with Trustees left me in despair about the blind and utterly misplaced confidence they showed in her ‘firm leadership style’.
Indeed, nearly another year passed before any apparent action was taken, when GGAT employed an 'experienced Inspector' to look at potential issues, but amazingly she noticed little amiss apart from some issues around KS1. GGAT’s response to the Regional Schools Commissioner’s (RSC) requirement to explain what had gone wrong, written in November 2015, confirms the school had not been aware of problems until the summer of 2015, a whole year after Ms Porter had been removed from Kings Farm Primary. Even then all they required was a Report from the headteacher! No mention of the concerns expressed by a number of staff to Trustees, that were simply referred back to Ms Porter, resulting in those staff being placed in an impossible position, the all too common fate of whistle blowers. No mention of an Independent Investigation that the RSC was told had been commissioned in the summer of 2015.
There appears little hope for any comment or action by current governors. A previous Chair, Janet Murray, who was a freelance education reporter for the Guardian, coped with an exposé of the headteacher's actions in her newspaper and a Channel Four Dispatches item on its SAT results annulment, but departed from the Gravesend Trust and Whitehill,shortly before Jane Porter. She has been replaced by Anthony Dowding, a previous chair who has now been re-instated. It is he who still proudly boasts on his Linkedin profile that he was: "Responsible for assisting the Headteacher and Governing Body in achieving the top place in added value in Kent".At least he appears to acknowledge that governors were complicit in the Early Years results manipulation leading to increased added value, explicitly identified in the Whitehill staff grievance, also spelled out to me by staff who were forced to co-operate, and proven at Kings Farm under Ms Porter's leadership. But proud of it!?
It remains a mystery to too many people in the schools and local community as to what the spell comprised of, that was cast over too many people for so long. Was it fear or is there something else?
Then there is the role of KCC. The alleged problems at Westcourt, Ms Porter’s first Executive Head post, are well documented, but no action was taken. At Raynehurst, now known as Tymberwood Academy, staff were appalled when Ms Porter allegedly swept in and binned large number of resources, including staff private property, an action similar to that alleged at both Kings Farm and Whitehill. It may be that KCC had delegated all its responsibilities to the lead officer in the events described in my series of articles on 'Disappearing Heads’, but surely there should have been some monitoring of his actions. His appointment as a live in Consultant to Whitehill Primary School after his sudden departure from KCC remains an enigma, especially as the GGAT response to the RSC places considerable blame on KCC (represented by this very officer) for its misplaced faith in Ms Porter.
Until at least September 2016, Ms Porter has been running a Service in Medway, providing specialist screening and tutoring for children and adults with learning difficulties, including Dyslexia, Irlens and Dyscalcula. Ironic, given the emphasis placed in the report on the poor treatment of SEN pupils, underlined by staff comments in the two Grievances. The Panel decision has no legal effect on continuance of this provision! See article in Kentonline.
My own position
This is a lengthy article, partially reflecting my personal involvement in this case. I was previously vice-chairman of governors at Whitehill Infant School, which later joined with the neighbouring Junior School to form Whitehill Primary. I know many of the past members of staff of both schools who have provided me with much of the information recorded in these articles, and shared their stories and in some cases tragedies. I was previously Chairman of Governors of Ifield Special School and then a governor of the Cedar Federation that absorbed Kings Farm Primary after the GGAT proposal to sponsor it as an academy was aborted following the debacle of summer 2014 (but have not drawn on that role for the information provided here - the events described at Kings Farm pre-dated the involvement of Ifield School and the Cedar Federation). I have a passion for supporting the essential professional status of teachers and am appalled at its denigration by too many in society, which has played a major contribution to the crisis in teacher supply. As a society, we cannot afford to lose any more teachers and the number of careers and vocations destroyed through the events described in this article should never have happened, with too many so called professionals in other roles failing to take action to stop it.
As has been observed: If it were not for the actions of staff at Kings Farm Primary School in bringing their Grievance to KCC, would Ms Porter still be in post at Whitehill?
Kings Farm Primary has had two OFSTED Inspections since the events of 2014. In the first, in October 2014, the school was placed in Special Measures as a result of those events, but Inspectors commented very positively on progress made under a new Consultant headteacher. After a series of very positive Monitoring Reports, the second Inspection, which took place in May 2016, found the school still Required Improvement but praised highly the excellent progress made and the work of all involved, including the Cedar Federation which had taken over responsibility for the school after GGAT abandoned its sponsorship plan. The new Head of School has made excellent progress in following through the transition and restored confidence in this now happy and confident school within the local community. Not surprisingly, the school is fully subscribed in its early years.
Whitehill Primary has also fully recovered under the leadership of its new Headteacher, and at the time of writing is looking forward very positively to the results of its recent OFSTED Inspection. It still suffers from its past reputation in the town, but this should now surely be consigned to history. However, governors appear to be floating along unaccountably, regardless of the terrible events that occurred under their leadership, for which they bear a grave responsibility.