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Monday, 13 March 2017 19:18

Simon Langton Girls' Grammar School: Headteacher Resigns following KCC Investigation

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. 

Simon Langton Girls

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.
 
Academy Order
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.

Last modified on Friday, 07 April 2017 17:31

11 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 07 April 2017 22:41 posted by Pete Johnson

    PETER: I had not intended to publish any further comments on this subject as I have decided to move on, but the following appears such a rational and well thought out summary of the current situation that I cannot resist. It also reflects the overwhelming majority of the private emails I receive on the subject.
    +++++++++
    Hello Peter, Firstly, thank you for an excellent site. I would also like to add some comments to the general points you have already made. I have followed the recent goings on at Simon Langton Girls Grammar relatively closely for all sorts of reasons. The parents group is the first site that you hit following a search on Google and despite an awful lot of good work to hold the executive bodies to account it also unfortunately paints a very negative picture of the school. It suggests that because Jane Robinson was a dreadful head teacher the whole school is dreadful. That isn't fair to the rest of the very hardworking staff. There are a number of poorly thought through comments (such as the debate on checking on staff performance records) that do the group a disservice, the group, or the most frequent posters to a the group, need to be careful to avoid becoming over critical of the school in general and it's wider staff. I do understand the background, i do understand the implications of the botched MAT application, i do understand the issues around staff, and parent, and governing body,bullying. Sadly being able to do a deal and walk away without a formal disciplinary panel is the norm in several walks of public sector life. I'm not defending that as a process - it just seems to happen because it's easier to settle and move on. I would not feel comfortable posting anything like this, or my name, or my daughter's name to the group because I'd expect to receive both directly aggressive and passive aggressive, stick in return. There is a pattern to a few vocal members liking to have the last word on any topic and i especially love the whole "i know a secret thing but i cant tell the rest of you yet" theme - which for all the good intentions actually even further undermines faith in due process and falls into the same sort of of dubious process that is so riled about if it were something happening at KCC. The fact potential job applicants and parents are scared of posting should be enough to raise flags. This isn't as open or inclusive group as it needs to be. At some point it needs to be prepared to move on, it can't exist to constantly complain about every word in every sentence of any poorly written communication from the school, there is nothing constructive or wholesome to be gained that way. I accept it may not be just yet - i have a lot of sympathy to the calls to see some summary of the Craig report but at some point some pragmatism needs to kick in, the remaining staff need to be able to get on with their jobs and we need to get back to supporting, and being proud, of a school where day to day teachers do their best for our children. Pete. PETER: In passing the suggestion that I take instruction from KCC, whilst typical of the innuendo some use on the Parents Forum is of course a complete nonsense as (a) I never would and (b) KCC would know that such an instruction would be pointless!

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 05 April 2017 17:05 posted by Richard Davis

    In respect of the other "Anon" post dated 16th March 2017.

    Clearly, this is directed at me. Why hide? Why not debate openly? Afraid to publicly lose the debate because you're a friend of an SLT staff member and are wrong?

    The difference between you (whoever you are) and myself, is that I openly stand behind my comments, have been justified in everything that I've published (as it's all proved to be true), whilst others hide in darkened corners, whispering behind people's backs in school meetings and are generally too spineless and gutless to make a stand and speak a view. It is people like this that facilitate the bullying culture that has existed for so long.

    If you're not prepared to identify yourself, and want to hide behind "anonymous" commentary, then you have just exposed for everyone exactly what you are. PETER: I can't see this is directed at one person, but as indicated above, I have considerable sympathy with much in the original. I don't propose to publish further comments relating to this argument.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 05 April 2017 17:00 posted by Richard Davis

    What a disappointing post by "Anon" that was split into two parts dated 14th March 2017.

    You've decided to vilify the Parent's Group, but are clearly ignorant of the facts of the case. Your main argument? "The SLT and Governing Body supported the HT", therefore, how can the Parents Group be right - dear, oh dear, what a nonsense argument devoid of sound logic.

    Nine Governors have now left SLGGS in disgrace, some before the HT, some afterwards. Member of the SLT are implicated in the Craig Report for bullying along with the former HT. And, of course, the HT herself has also resigned.

    The facts to support the case? Suppressed - most likely by agreement between KCC, the GB and the former HT. However, I've read a number of staff grievances, so am aware of real facts. Are you?

    Why not just say who you are instead of hiding - Ruth? PETER: Sadly Richard, you cannot see the appalling image the Parents Group Forum paints to the wider world, hounding anyone who disagrees with your point of view, grinding perceived opposition into the ground by group attack on the Forum. This is also bullying, such as you condemn in others, and is so unnecessary. Unfortunately,your two comments rather underline the point being made. Parents with differing views are well advised not to post and certainly not to publish their details (I was happy to shield these) and so the Forum becomes utterly one-sided and representative of no one. Such a shame after all the good work that members have carried out in pursuing the central issue, which I am sure would not have been resolved without you.

  • Comment Link Monday, 27 March 2017 22:18 posted by Graham English

    I too am optimistic that we can soon see a supportive and progressive new era for the wonderful school. For this to come about I regard it as vital that the Craig Report be published so that staff, pupils and parents can be certain that any problematic structural and/or cultural concerns that the Craig Report may have pointed to or uncovered should not be able to potentially be missed and thus potentially continue. I'm struggling to see how it can be regarded as open, transparent, measured, reasonable, wise or progressive for any sole individual, e.g. a Chair of any GB, to carry too much weight in judging and deciding either alone, or largely alone, particularly so when the report on which this decision making is meant to be based stays unpublished. It then becomes, surely, a process without sufficient scrutiny?

  • Comment Link Saturday, 18 March 2017 13:33 posted by anon

    I have to agree with the comment of anon 16th March. I have no connection with the school but was interested in applying for a vacancy advertised last month at SLGGS. One look at the parent forum was enough to send me running to the hills....PETER: Forum please take note for the future of the school. Author has provided me with her name, but like others understandably does not wish to put herself in the stocks.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 16 March 2017 22:03 posted by anon

    Peter, I think it would be beneficial if you were also to investigate the conduct of certain members of the the SLGGS Parents’ Forum – it shouldn’t take you too long to ascertain who the most prolific and vitriolic contributors are. I would hope that all the information that you are quoting in your blog has been confirmed and verified as fact and not just been taken as ‘tittle tattle’, which seems to be the case on the SLGGS Parent’s Forum. Bullying and harassment of any kind should not be tolerated in any form but unfortunately that is not the case on the SLGGS Parents’ Forum, where a Lord of the Flies mentality runs amok. For example, it’s a very sad day when someone is rounded on for calling out unacceptable baiting behaviour by a SLGGS Parent Forum male contributor to a female teacher at parent’s evening. It’s not just the School leadership that needs to change but the mindset of a very very small subset of parents on this forum. The law of the jungle isn’t very nice or a good example to set to pupils – let’s work to stop it! PETER: I have worked hard to validate my statements from different sources but yes, some are best information. The behaviour of some members of the Forum (I like the Lord of the Flies Analogy) however, does not invalidate the argument. I am clear that the bottom line is the plan to call a disciplinary after the Craig Report, which implies it carries a heavy message. Quite simply, the only way to break the impasse is for a summary of its conclusions to be published, brave the fall out and then start re-building.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 March 2017 23:16 posted by anon

    THIS IS A VERY LONG COMMENT. IN ORDER TO GET IT PUBLISHED IN MY SYSTEM I HAVE HAD TO RE-ENTER IT BROKEN INTO TWO SECTIONS. PART 2 BELOW.
    I think this is a very sad state of affairs. I know a number of people who were abused by the parent group involved in all this for simply daring to suggest that academies were not all that bad. I remember the letters to the paper, this was no isolated incident. The parent group appear to have become obsessive, and clearly that obsession rewarded them in the end. What are the facts here? Mistakes were made with the academy consultation and formalities. Just like many other consultations and academy conversions, where governors have an aim in view, and ride roughshod over parents views. I can think of a three or four such cases I've come across. Not good, but not usually leading to a mob baying for blood. And many schools have dubious financial practises like paying linked business, and we just accept it. Then of course at troubled schools parents have no rights to any say at all, change is imposed with no consultation. But this is the only case I've seen where parents have turned so extreme, and so oddly fixated on one 'enemy,' despite it being a situation with many decision makers.PETER: This comment was so long it could only be published in two sections. See below. However, I think it important to present an alternative view. My only comment is that the writer is right in that what has happened at SLGGS is not the fault of just one person. Too many others allowed it to escalate when early intervention could have presented the current calamity.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 March 2017 23:13 posted by anon

    Part 2 of Above Comment
    But this is the only case I've seen where parents have turned so extreme, and so oddly fixated on one 'enemy,' despite it being a situation with many decision makers. Consultations are too often a whitewash. That doesn't excuse mistakes here, I'm just saying this is a common problem and certainly not the worst crime ever to happen in a school. The head appears to have been made a scapegoat for the actions of many individuals involved in the academisation process. The fact I can see no proven evidence of her wrongdoing, just an awful lot of rumours created by people who hate her is very worrying. I'm afraid I find it quite hard to trust 'facts' provided by a group with a goal in mind, and clearly placed hate. If there is clear evidence of bullying that is different. I am simply worried that the proven evidence is lacking, my concern is that trouble has been stirred up and exaggerated. No one should be abused and bullied until forced to quit. The fact this heads senior leadership team and some governors supported her seems to have been forgotten, the shouting parents are right, the rest are not? I am sure there are shades of grey here, and that this head is no saint, but I fully support Peter's point that she is not the worst head in the world. I would also say that she did not act alone in anything that was done. Yet she has paid for the actions of many with her career. I am writing this anonymously because the parent group responsible for all this are quite frankly frightening. I actually deleted a few facts they would have used to identify me. And if I'm doing that, then I do wonder how scared the poor head was.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 March 2017 18:19 posted by Graham English

    What an amazing and brilliant critique and assessment by Peter Read. I'd like to name it 'The Peter Read Report' and it is indeed a huge relief to see it and read it. I really love how he sees the value and specialness of the school and I agree with him entirely that it can quickly be fully brilliant again if his advice is followed.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 14 March 2017 00:20 posted by Richard Davis

    Absolutely spot on and well covered.

    Thank goodness there are some right-thinking people out there. Sometimes, it feels like you're just surrounded by people that just couldn't care less about the community that surrounds them, and that they will continue to plough their furrow, regardless of the wishes and interests of others whose lives their decisions affect.

    The new Chair and Vice Chair of the GB are two such people. They have an agenda, and it is not to serve the interests of the staff or parents.

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