FURTHER UPDATE: Kent County Council has appointed a replacement headteacher at the troubled Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School in Canterbury, after the resignation of Mrs Jane Robinson. He is Dr Matthew Baxter, current Headteacher of Simon Langton Boys, who is to become Interim Executive Headteacher until August 2018. He has sent a letter to parents, which you will find here, setting out his initial approach to the task. This appears a very welcome development, and should provide space to resolve any outstanding issues and prepare for the future.
UPDATE: The comments at the foot of this article give a wide range of perspectives about the issues.
Jane Robinson, headteacher of Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School, has resigned following an intensive four month Investigation into her actions by a former Interim Director of Education for the County, Professor Ian Craig, which reported three weeks ago. A KCC Press statement states that ‘Following his review of the findings the Chair of Governors considers that a number of actions should be put in place.’ These actions will no doubt have been instrumental in her decision to go, effective from 30th April.
You will find a copy of Chairman's letter notifying parents here, completely devoid of any thanks for Mrs Robinson's services, a failure echoed by the Press Statement, which speaks volumes. I understand that if she had not resigned, she would be facing disciplinary action. It is not at present clear if there has been any financial settlement, but it is likely according to precedent. Mrs Robinson has been absent from the school for about two weeks, leading to speculation that she has been suspended and it is unclear, although surely unlikely, if she will return to the school before her resignation becomes effective.
This follows an extensive period of open warfare, on the one side by a group of parents, intent on exposing evidence about allegations of maladministration, unlawful action, financial irregularity, and bullying of staff by the HT, generating over twenty grievances taken out by teachers to KCC amongst a total of some 200 complaints about a wide variety of issues also including the large turnover of staff, and straightforward poor management. KCC was clearly unhappy with events at the school, hence the commissioning of the Investigation and a previous verdict of maladministration over the aborted application to become an Academy (see below and previous articles). You will find some of these allegations on the Simon Langton Parents Forum, although many were personal and not considered appropriate for the public domain. On the other side were the HT, several senior staff, and a group of governors who either denied the allegations, conceding no fault, or completely stonewalled them.
The proposed KCC action which triggered the resignation became public on Friday when a member of staff who was aware of it foolishly talked about the decision, which was then reported on Facebook. It is unclear whether the Governing Body endorsed taking disciplinary action as Mrs Robinson had several supporters amongst a divided membership that also saw a large turnover, and has had three Chairmen over the past two years. Any such discussion now becomes irrelevant with the resignation, which has been accepted. ,
Reputation and its Effects
The school’s reputation has suffered severely, signs including the large fall in Year 7 offers of places allocated earlier this month leaving 39 vacancies, almost a quarter of the total. The school also regularly loses a large number of girls at the end of Year 11. Amongst staff losses are half of the members of the English Department, where serious allegations of bullying against staff, including the previous Head of Department, have been made. Fortunately, Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar is at heart an excellent school carrying enormous potential support and goodwill; so if this debacle can be resolved satisfactorily and speedily, can soon recover its reputation.
Unhappiness in the school came to a head over the past traumatic year and a half since the Autumn of 2015 when the Voluntary Controlled School first consulted on an abortive attempt to become an Academy, reaching the stage where an Academy Order was issued to begin the process. This was abysmally handled by the headteacher and Governing Body, as explained in previous articles, and as confirmed by KCC. As a result of the maladministration, the Department for Education was forced to rescind the Academy Order, only the second time this has happened nationally, as the DfE accepted that the Order was issued based on misleading information including financial irregularities, provided by the school. It is unfortunate that Mrs Robinson’s husband, the bursar at Spires Academy which became embroiled in the academy application, appears to have been informally involved with the finances of SLGGS.
What Happens Next?
KCC will no doubt be hoping that ‘the lessons learnt from the investigation report will aid the school in moving forward after the events of the past year.’ How often have we seen this? KCC has made clear that not even governors will be allowed to see the results of what was no doubt a very expensive Investigation. As the subject is to be allowed to leave the school without penalty, it is difficult to see what those lessons could be, except perhaps that as so often, early intervention could have salvaged this whole disaster. It is notable that the failure to act which affected and scarred so many individuals would never have come to light had it not been for the persistence of the few parents determined to see justice prevail.
We know there were over 200 complaints considered by Professor Craig, including a large number relating to alleged staff bullying. In the absence of publication of the Report or a summary, I would expect a response to be provided for each of these individually, at the very least confirming their validity or otherwise. So many people have been hurt and allowed to have been hurt by those in authority, in some cases this surely amounts to abuse. This cannot be brushed under the carpet; the victims are entitled to be heard.
The Governing Body is clearly complicit in many of the events that have taken place. They worked with the headteacher on the Academy application, a process that generated false information and required dubious financial juggling to secure the Academy Order, as explained here. The failures of the process were heavily criticised by KCC, surely itself a warning that something was going badly wrong at the school. The GB shot down so many warnings from parents and staff unquestioningly defending the headteacher even when it was evident she was out of step. Mrs Robinson’s letter of resignation states ‘I have been under a great deal of pressure over the course of the past year with the ongoing public challenges to my professionalism’. Indeed, there have been many such challenges from parents determined to establish the truth of what was going on, but on the surface none from a Governing Body who appear to have utterly failed to carry out their responsibilities by offering challenge. I exempt from this criticism those few members of the Governing Body who saw what was happening and tried to fulfil their obligation of standing up for the school. Some could not take it and resigned feeling they were unable to make a difference. Others struggled on, in spite of reported pressure to buckle in. To all those who tried to stop the tide from an impossible position, parents should be very appreciative.
‘Kent County Council will be supporting the Governing Body to ensure that there are robust interim leadership arrangements put in place until a new Headteacher is appointed’. The only way this can be achieved is by looking for an interim leader from outside the school in order to secure the confidence of the staff, for the current Senior Leadership Team is surely too tarnished by its connection with and support of Mrs Robinson.