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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 18565 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.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 03 March 2016 16:49 posted by grandma

    In answer to john, well done you in not being anonymous !! Secondly her working tirelessly to help less privileged, is it not her job to help any child within her school no matter whether they have money or not ......or are we starting to stereotype families now for the sympathy vote to make her sound like mother Teresa !! Thirdly as families of pupils we wouldn't know the true aspects of the gov's etc as we never we given all info only what the school wished for us to hear and know even after publicity etc !! Also thevteachers work hard and are entitle to whatever pay scale they are on !! If she put every pupil first and cares so much why are the others saying their child is scared of her or feels bullied by her ?? My daughter never felt bullied when she used to attend the school or was scared of the head. And yes good question why did this ladies previous school occur the same issues ?? ?...

  • Comment Link Thursday, 03 March 2016 11:47 posted by Anon

    In response to 'John' surely the significant factor is that the same thing happened at the Head's previous school with OFSTED grading the school as 'Requires Improvement' shortly after she left. Surely 2 sets of staff and Governors cannot be wrong.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 02 March 2016 11:30 posted by Donna

    Firstly I would like to say that not all of us that commented have done so anonymously, however I can totally understand why some have as we are all very concerned parents/grandparents and some clearly are worried that our comments could and more than likely would have repercussions on our children, because unfortunately that is how and others that have commented know the Headteacher works.
    I would also like to add that i am by means just a whinger!!! I am genuinely very concerned about my childs welfare, safety and education as i said on my previous post my child is terrified of the headteacher *******putting our children and school at risk and certainly not first!!!
    So when you read through all these comments, are we all wrong?
    Are all the teachers, teaching assistants and governors that have left all wrong?
    And are all these concerned parents/grandparents children wrong when they say they are scared???
    No I don't think so!!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 01 March 2016 22:24 posted by John

    The Head has a goal to drive up standards, take the school to outstanding and not accept poor performance. She has worked tirelessly to help families and children that have struggled and are less priviliged than most in Hempstead, not something that many will know about.Especially Peter and the anonymous whingers on here.
    All the Governors and staff that have left were happy to accept things the way they were and were not capable of taking the school forward,they all had help and training to bring them up to standard but realised that their safe little world where they all protected each other was being changed.
    They have discovered that they have a strong forward thinking Head who puts the children first and expected experienced staff at the top of their pay scales to want the same and to adopt the strategies required. They were not asked to do any more than their peers in other schools.Not that many had experience of other schools as they had been in a cocoon at Hempstead for so long.The "Leavers" are all close friends and are working as a pack to discredit a Head that has improved, yes improved the results in the school since they have left. Come on everybody don't let these people drag the school down, it is a great school, be loud and proud,show your support and don't let the bullies ruin the schools reputation. PETER: If you read my article you will find it factually based around official published reports of governing body meetings. The parental responses below, reflect discussion I have had with parents and expose a very real fear factor in the school, fear of the headteacher and fear of what is happening to what was an excellent school. I can assure you that the passion revealed in these responses is real and the reason parents are giving anonymous responses (generally revealing themselves to me), is because of a climate in the school whereby anyone speaking out suffers consequences, to put it politely. Actually that is what I call bullying rather than governors acting to protect what they see as a good school, and are pilloried for it. My description of the action of a single governor in trying to remove the acting chairman from the governing body is unprecedented in my wide experience, and the fact that he and the headteacher could not be bothered to turn up to the meeting he had brought about speaks volumes. The fact that the Acting Chair was subsequently elected chair had nothing to do by definition with your "close group of leavers", as they have all left

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 01 March 2016 19:40 posted by LA you are accountable!

    I am familiar with recent events at HJS. I feel deeply despondent for staff and pupils at this school. I do agree with all the comments previously and I believe the leader lacks compassion and empathy. Pupils (and staff) thrive and excel in a happy environment and this is clearly not the case. I have knowledge of senior management employing staff that is known to them, regardless of their suitability. HJS have lost many excellent staff members and governors in the last two years. The most important thing here is what is this doing to our children at HJS? Their welfare is paramount surely? I will not be sending my child here. Lets hope something is done sooner rather than later by the LA! Very sad times to what use to be an excellent school.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 01 March 2016 17:07 posted by peter

    I have decided on my own initiative to delete some of the more personal sections of the comments below. I hope I have done that without destroying the immensely strong sense of feeling that is showing through.
    However, if anyone thinks I have not been thorough enough, please let me know.

    Peter Read

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 01 March 2016 16:10 posted by Emma

    Having direct experience of dealing with this *****, I sadly concur with the previously posted negative comments.*******.
    I know that a worrying number of experienced staff have left the school in recent times, and that many of those who remain do so in constant fear of reprisal should they dare to raise even constructive questions ***** It would seem from the Blog that a similar situation has arisen with many Governors, presumably because they dared to carry out their duty to challenge? Perhaps they were constantly ignored and belittled in a similar manner to many of the staff?
    I believe this, and **** previously shocking track record, must now raise serious questions over ****** not just at HJS, but in any school.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 01 March 2016 08:23 posted by grandma

    My grandchild goes to this school. The publicity this **** had is ridiculous, my daughter isn't a fan of ****** the school is being dragged through mud it shouldn't be like this. Is the council and ofsted that blind !! The school was super when my daughter attended but now I worry for my grandchild what she dealing with under the authority of ****** within the day to day running !!

  • Comment Link Monday, 29 February 2016 21:48 posted by yet another concerned parent

    I'm in utter disgust at the way ***** can arrive at a school that is thriving and drag it down so low within such a short period of time. As a parent I've seen and been on the harsh side ******** The children are frightened ******. The school has lost amazing teachers deputy heads and governors all because of the *******. No request from parents or third parties seem to ever be taken into account. The school was 'causing concern' a long time ago is it not time that ofsted and the council sorted this ***** and stopped a remarkable school from fate. The teachers at present seem to care and I'm sure with the right ***** and a positive backing from good governors we can save the school for the children. Life is hard enough without a education limited with barriers because ******* !! PETER: I seriously hope this is over the top!

  • Comment Link Monday, 29 February 2016 14:17 posted by Anon

    As a parent it saddens me greatly to read this, yet I am not surprised. Gone are the days when parents were openly welcomed into the school, unfortunately due to a new regime, not even the children are allowed back into school after 3pm, even to collect their homework for the weekend or even their winter coat that may have been forgotten (as children do). I cannot fault the teaching though, it is because of the professionalism of the teachers that I have not removed my child from the school, but if more experienced teachers continue to leave, as they have already, I may consider different schools for my youngest. From what I hear between other parents, I feel the ****** and approach to us parents, understand that **** approach is clearly not working, learn from it and start to give the teachers and parents the respect they deserve. A school needs to be a happy place for all concerned to enable it to flourish, without this I've no doubt this school will end up in special measures.

  • Comment Link Monday, 29 February 2016 13:31 posted by Lucy P.

    Sadly I can also endorse what has been written. ***** is destroying HJS. Morale is at rock bottom. Some pupils and many staff are deflated. The **** has replaced valuable experienced staff for inexperience teachers that ****** . The LA need to fundamentally support the governors. Outrageously is not the first school ****** destroyed.

  • Comment Link Monday, 29 February 2016 12:15 posted by Donna

    As a parent of a child at Hempstead Juniors i cannot understand what is taking the local authority so long to deal with ****** my child is terrified ******* and to have to send your child into school scared because they are being bullied and the one person you should be able to trust and rely on *******. To then also as a parent to have your complaints dismissed and ignored by ***** even worse. We have lost many fantastic teachers and teaching assistants due to the issues in the school and we certainly do not want to lose any more. You would have to be blind to not see why we have lost all these teachers and governors. In my opinion and from experience of speaking with ****** on many occasions ****** Something has to be done and soon or Hempstead Juniors school will suffer along with all our children that attend, teachers, teaching assistants and parents!!!

  • Comment Link Monday, 29 February 2016 11:19 posted by Enough is Enough!

    I am a very concerned parent of a child at this school.
    For many months now, there have been consistently negative messages emanating from a wide-range of people with first-hand experience of how ****** operates.

    Whether in relation to Hempstead Juniors, or the ***** previous schools, and whether expressed by staff, parents or even governors, the message seems to be the same – ****** entirely incapable of building constructive relationships, of motivating staff and even respecting others’ views and beliefs in general. The implication is that ****** rather than trying to build a positive, constructive and happy environment.

    In my opinion, (a view I know is shared by lots of other parents), it is only thanks to the professionalism and integrity of the largely excellent teaching staff, including the former deputy head and current deputy head, that ***** has seemingly managed to avoid ******. Either that, or people are simply afraid of crossing swords *****, which is a worrying prospect in itself.

    Teachers though, despite their unquestionable continued best efforts, are only human beings… so if staff morale is as low as it would seem and with no sign of any improvement on the horizon, how long is before the negativity in this school does begin to truly affect our children… if it hasn’t already?

    And what about the School’s duty of care, not only to its children, but for the safety, security and general well-being of ALL its employees?

    Of course there are always two sides to a coin, but for me, there is a very clear consensus across a wide range of people and time….these people cannot all be wrong. Their views are not simply co-incidence. There is something fundamentally wrong in the way **** operates and I for one am not prepared to stand by and watch any longer.

    I have therefore taken the decision to look into the options of moving my child to another school and I would urge others to do the same, that is, if they really believe in the importance of getting the right environment for these crucial formative years.

    I am amazed that the Local Authority seem entirely ambivalent to the whole situation. Come on Medway Council education people, we pay your salaries – what are we getting for our money?! Ofsted clearly have a very poor view of your offering, Medway primary results are consistently the worst in England! THE WORST IN ENGLAND!

    Medway may have its problems but our primary schools consistently fare less well than the most deprived inner-city communities. Really?

    COME ON MEDWAY, WAKE UP, SMELL THE COFFEE, BE ACCOUNTABLE AND TAKE SOME POSITIVE ACTION TO DELIVER WHAT OUR CHILDREN ALL DESERVE – A SAFE, POSITIVE, CREATIVE, HAPPY AND STIMULATING ENVIRONMENT. WHY NOT START BY ADDRESSING THIS OBVIOUS ISSUE AT HEMPSTEAD JUNIOR SCHOOL?!!

  • Comment Link Sunday, 28 February 2016 23:16 posted by Anon

    I am one of a number of experienced governors who have been approached by Medway Council to step in as a governor of Hempstead Juniors to support the headteacher. Having made my own enquiries I was not able to take on this role.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 28 February 2016 21:02 posted by Emi

    Why is that the governors are leaving and not the headteacher? I thought the governor body as group can dismiss and appoint a new headteacher? PETER: This is a Local Authority School and so the Local Authority is technically the employer of all staff including the headteacher. In this case it appears the Local Authority is backing the headteacher.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 28 February 2016 19:42 posted by Andrea

    As an ex-teacher at Hempstead, now enjoying a fulfilling time being appreciated at another school, I fully endorse everything Peter has written. My only regret is that he is clearly constrained. May his efforts to shine a light in dark places encourage those in authority to act for the future of the school and its children. The comments at the foot of the previous article are also illuninating

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