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Thursday, 08 April 2021 06:35

The Disgraceful Behaviour of the Governors of Fairview Primary School

Update 18th April: The Disgraceful Behaviour of the Governors of Fairview Primary School (Part Two)

This article considers the appointment of a new Headteacher for Fairview Community Primary School, a process that is lasting for just three and a half weeks, from posting the advertisement to concluding the interviews at a school whose status in September is unknown. The only way this is not madness is if Medway Council and the Governing Body already know who they are going to appoint. Why would anyone else apply?

In my previous article about Fairview a month ago, I reported on a letter from the Board, dated 24th February, that ‘Governors will now carry out a ‘period of reflection in which they will take this opportunity to respond to the most frequently raised themes highlighted, including Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust with more regular communication’. 

This regular communication amounts to a brief letter from the Chairman of Governors, dated the last day of term, informing parents that a permanent headteacher is to be appointed, without mentioning any of these promised themes. The job advertisement fails to mention the rather important point that the school is planning to academise with the Westbrook Trust and so the successful candidate could be removed if their face doesn’t fit. This is either gross incompetence or alternatively, with interviews set for just three days after the closing date for applications, the whole thing is a disgraceful fix! This article finishes with four important questions to which parents need to know the answers. 

The education website Schools Week made the Regional Schools Commissioner decision to reject the application to academise under the Westbrook Trust its education opinion leader the other week, along with a second article setting out the facts. It is difficult to know where to start looking at the new issue described in my introduction, but:

Communication
The initial application for Fairview to convert to become an academy as part of the Westbrook Trust was turned down by the Regional School Commissioner’s Headteacher Board which cited concerns that the Governing Body was at odds with the school community and that Medway Council had formally raised concerns surrounding the governing body’s decision making, specifically around transparency and community engagement. This is discussed in my initial article on the subject. My second article was critical of the governors' belated response to parents which was mainly a self-justification of their actions but contained the pledge that they would now carry out a ‘period of reflection in which they will take this opportunity to respond to the most frequently raised themes highlighted, including Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust with more regular communication’. There has been no response whatever about these matters but, on April 1st, the last day of term, governors announced in letters to parents and staff that a new headteacher was to be appointed for September, and the contract for the Compass Partnership which has successfully managed the school over the past two years would end in the summer. Was the date of this letter deliberately chosen to be immediately before the Easter holiday, ensuring there would be no difficult discussion over the matter?
 
The Post of Headteacher
The advert for this was published in the Medway School Vacancies Bulletin on 6th April, reaching out to a local audience (now removed). Oddly, although previous posts up to that of Deputy have appeared in KentTeach which offers a much wider reach, at the time of writing, there appears no need to use it for this post. Details of the post are here

There is an amazingly short turnaround of three and a half weeks for the post, with applications due by noon on Monday 26th April, then interviews to be concluded by 30th April and presumably, the job offered by the end of the week!!!!! Because of the Easter holiday, candidates will have only a week to arrange for a visit to the school, carry it out and then prepare their letter of application if they decide to apply. Is it a coincidence that the last resignation date for current headteachers leaving their schools in the summer is the day that proceedings finish, Friday, April 30th, so this process would rule them out? There is no mention for candidates anywhere that the Governing Body appears intent on proceeding with the application to join Westbrook Trust; indeed the only information supplied about the school is contained in a brief letter from the Chairman of Governors. Apart from some general features which most schools would claim, we are told that Governors are extremely invested in the school and are highly strategic in their role, ensuring that a newly appointed Headteacher will be greatly supported’, whatever that means. The letter finishes with ‘I know how much research and preparation goes in to Headship applications and it is important to make sure that Fairview Community Primary School is right for your next step in your career, as well as for us to find the right candidate. We look forward to hearing from you and showing you our school in action. A pity that governors did not put any such effort in researching and preparing the school profile.

If on the other hand, candidates have done this research they will surely know that the job security of the post is extremely precarious for, if the school is taken on by an academy chain later in the year as planned, their face may not fit. At the present time, Fairview is still a Medway maintained school, so the Local Authority has final responsibility for the appointment and appears to be part of what is looking suspiciously like a conspiracy, taking no account whatever of parental opinion. It appears that the Council may be behaving in an unprincipled way and is now engaged in what appears to be an unlawful job fix. Still, if the school becomes an academy, this sort of thing appears to be no longer a problem. 

Department of Education: Recruiting a Headteacher
This is a government guide to the recruitment and selection of headteachers and other leadership roles. It provides non-statutory guidance but is sprinkled with words such as 'essential', and 'important'. It would be very boring to list all the areas where the Governing Body of Fairview Primary is failing to follow this guidance, but a few examples follow. The opening paragraph opens with a clear statement 'Recruiting a headteacher is arguably one of the most important tasks a board will undertake' and ends with 'It is therefore essential for boards to have recruitment processes in place that will enable them to attract and recruit the right headteacher for their school'. 'Professional recruitment practice is critical to achieving successful recruitment outcomes. Identifying the best headteacher for a school will not always be easy or straightforward, particularly in a competitive environment. It can be challenging to ensure that recruitment is done well. It is often a lengthy process requiring significant resources'...'it is important to allocate sufficient time to ensure the right appointment decision is made for the school' - not in this time scale.  'All schools should have an up to date recruitment policy based on good practice' - and although there is not such a policy in the school's published list, it would be good to see it. 'Regardless of the context, boards should consider how to make their school as attractive as possible to potential high quality applicants...Preparing the application pack is an essential element of the process and will be critical in persuading candidates to apply for the post. The pack will present the vision and strategy of the school'. The scanty details of the post appear to show a complete lack of interest by the Board in achieving this aim. The Board has failed miserably to follow the advice on 'Advertising and promotion' and 'School Context'. What is most frightening is that presumably, they are taking advice from Medway Council and if this level of ineptitude is the norm, it is hardly surprising that Medway's appointment record leaves so much to be desired.  When I was a headteacher, I would have spent more care on appointing a basic scale teacher. 
Compass Partnership
My previous article explored in some detail the strong performance of Compass Partnership but, as important as anything are the three staff they have deployed at Fairview, who set the excellent standards boasted of by the Chairman of Governors.  These are Executive Head, Sophie Powell, Headteacher, Natasha Tilley, and Deputy Head, Beth Tanton, who will presumably all depart if the Compass contract comes to an end in the summer. I have had several messages from parents expressing their appreciation of the work carried out by these three teachers, including from a comment below: 'Losing all three in the summer will rip the heart out of the school, which will take years to rebuild. Let's be clear. It is these three that have built up this excellent reputation and unique spirit that the Chairman boasts about, not the governors. How many other disillusioned teachers will leave the school adding to the breakdown'. On the other hand, I am not sure what the contribution of the Governing Body has been in its invested and highly strategic investment in the school which appears merely to have introduced a discordance with the parent body as identified by the RSC.
 
Westbrook Trust
Meanwhile, the Governing Body appears still to be intent on joining the underperforming Westbrook Trust.  It would obviously have helped if the Governors had followed through their promise to communicate the answer to ‘why The Westbrook Trust?’ but they are now silent on the matter; perhaps they are finding it difficult to answer. Medway Council now appears to have come off the fence and is supporting the takeover, which may be why they have permitted this incredibly rushed headteacher appointment, knowing the answer. It will be very interesting to see the background of the successful candidate, given that formally Westbrook has no stake in the appointment.

It remains unfortunate that the wife of the CEO of the Westbrook Trust remains on the Fairview Governing Body as, although she has stepped down as Chairman of Governors there is still an apparent conflict of interest.

Governing Body
Over half of the current governing body were also members in November 2017, and so will have played a major part in the appalling decision to appoint the short-lived replacement for Mrs Debbie Willis as headteacher in January 2018, along with Medway Council. The arrogance shown by the current members in taking control of the appointment process,following the criticism by the Regional Schools Commissioner, shows they have learned nothing. One of the new governors brought in after the 2018 debacle was Chris Gilbert who carries the title of Colonel from his voluntary work with the Kent Army Cadets and is a Kent Deputy Lieutenant. How did he get mixed up in all this? He succeeded Kate Allen as Chairman after she stood down last year because of the possible conflict of interest with the Westbrook Trust.
 
Concluding Questions
One of the problems for governors is that, according to the Chairman, the Compass Partnership has carried out an excellent job managing the school and bringing it up to its current high standards over the past two years, otherwise the decision to join Westbrook Trust would have gone through without a murmur from parents. Governors clearly don’t want ordinary people such as parents knowing their business and so have operated in secret since the humiliation of being turned down by the RSC. Medway Council having perhaps inadvertently contributed to the RSC decision to turn the application, now appears to thoroughly back the governors. Four questions.
  • Why the determination to dump Compass at the end of the school year when, as the Chairman of Governors writes, ‘Fairview Community Primary School has an excellent reputation in the local area and is oversubscribed. The school has a community spirit unique to a school of this size?' This is a complete turn around by Compass through its two school leaders, after the chaos of 2018 when morale fell to rock bottom.  
  • Why the obsession to throw in their lot with the underperforming Westbrook Trust? What evidence is there to fulfil the Chairman's belief that they will 'further develop the school in order to reach the outstanding status it deserves'? (on the other hand two of the five Compass Schools have a most recent Ofsted rating of  'Outstanding).
    No answer has been provided, in spite of the written promise to share the reasons with parents in a 'period of reflection in which they will take this opportunity to respond to the most frequently raised themes highlighted, including Academic Standards, transparency and the question of why The Westbrook Trust with more regular communication’.
  • Why the rush over the appointment of a new headteacher, accompanied by a complete lack of enthusiasm to look wider for candidates? The only logical reason can be that they have someone in mind who will welcome the Westbrook Trust with open arms? If not, what is it?
  • Why is Medway Council going along with this? Why are they tolerating the governing body’s actions? The answer may lie in their unwritten policy of trying to persuade all primary schools to become academies and this appeared the simplest solution, but this is certainly not the way to meet their pledge to residents 'Serving You'. 

Surely before governors move on this appointment, parents are entitled to the answers to these four questions. 

Last modified on Monday, 17 May 2021 18:46

8 comments

  • Comment Link Sunday, 11 April 2021 16:49 posted by Sarah

    Peter, from what you say, it appears that a decision not to go for Westbrook and all the disadvantages it so clearly brings lies solely with the governors. So how do we persuade them? PETER: All I can think of is lobbying, collectively and individually, NOW, for if as I suspect they have a candidate for headteacher in mind, it will be more difficult to head them off afterwards. I am afraid it is not for me to suggest how you go about this. Medway Council is shameless, but you could try politicians with a local stake.

  • Comment Link Friday, 09 April 2021 17:28 posted by parent

    Without laboring the obvious argument about corruption / incompetence of the Governors even more I think the effects of change in senior leadership at this particular time needs to be given serious consideration. The effects of covid on kids education is enormous and the true harm may be years away from being fully understood, by which time it will be too late. What the kids need right now is a period of continuity, consolidation and familiarity to help the teaching staff bridge the knowledge gap that’s built up over the last year. So why bring in a new Head teacher now when the one we have is already doing a fantastic job. Why replace Compass when they are doing great things during difficult times. Its ludicrous to even consider such changes right now and let’s not forget that we may have new covid variants and further lockdowns in the future. It’s the kids education at stake here so lets give them some stability and an environment that is conducive to learning.

     

  • Comment Link Friday, 09 April 2021 08:11 posted by Fairview Parent

    I share the concern of others with regards their commitment and impartiality and I fear personality issues are clouding judgements too, as illustrated by a previous comment in this chain. I also consider that the governors have not done as they said they would (perhaps were told to) and 1. Had a strategic pause; 2. Be transparent; 3. be collegiate/inclusive

    Given the current circumstances the sensible thing to do is renew the current arrangement for an extended period (say 3 years or more). The governors really ought to take a moment of reflection and realise they are thinking emotionally rather than rationally.

  • Comment Link Friday, 09 April 2021 00:13 posted by Sarah

    Don't forget that the Deputy Head is also employed by Compass. Losing all three senior staff in the summer will rip the heart out of the school, which will take years to rebuild. Let's be clear. It is these three that have built up this excellent reputation and unique spirit that the Chairman boasts about, not the governors. How many other disillusioned teachers will leave the school adding to the breakdown. Of course none of this will worry the governors as they have no stake in Fairview and can simply walk away, no doubt saying 'we did our best', except that they didn't!

  • Comment Link Thursday, 08 April 2021 21:14 posted by Patty O’Door

    Shaming them is quite strong, to be fair there is a clique in the playground, the same faces sucking up to the head teachers on the other side of the roped off barrier on most mornings, the same parents who have created an anti academy FB page encouraging all to object to change, the same parents who try to force their opinions on others, the same parents who have shouted down presentations at school and via zoom, the cynic in me wonders if these morning pow-wows are a way of compass feeding parents with information.

    Compass were only ever a short term solution, compass are using Fairview as a foot in the door to expand their business in Medway, two head teachers and a executive head teacher come at a cost, a cost that could be better spent fixing the roof about the toilets in the main school building. For me I would rather have a local academy running the school whose schools sit the 11+. PETER: But you don't comment on the behaviour of the Governing Body. Are you happy that they break their promise to communicate to parents on a variety of matters? Are you happy with the arrangement to appoint a new Headteacher at such short notice? Do you think this will ensure you get the best candidate? are you happy that there are no arrangements to appoint a new Deputy Headteacher? Are you happy that losing all three senior staff at the end of next term, who have successfully run the school for two years, and replacing them with people who don't know the school, its ethos or way of operating?.....These are the issues. Slinging mud at other parents has no relevance to the subject at hand.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 08 April 2021 20:40 posted by Parent at Fairview

    I just feel the governors are being petty because they are not getting what they wanted. They say they want a substantive headteacher to provide direction and stability, don’t they see they have that already.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 08 April 2021 20:37 posted by Corrupt Governors

    This is an absolute outrage. The governors are corrupt and need desperately to be replaced. They are ruining the school. Parents are already talking about removing their children having lived through the debacle of 2018. We DO NOT want the under performing sh*t show that is the Westbrook trust and we do not want this bunch of idiot governors making decisions against the wishes of the parents.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 08 April 2021 15:36 posted by Fairview Parent

    The governors have formed an ‘us against them’ little clique and have lost sight of the ground truth. They are blindly railroading, taking no account of the environment or the wishes of the wider community. It is probably better at this point to maintain the compass service (nothing broken so nothing to fix) and then replace the governors, taking account of 1. Level of interest (I.e. how invested are they in the future of the school); 2. Involvement in the previous catastrophe; 3. Specific and value added skills to support the school and 4. Any conflict of interest (within the environment and with each other I.e. aim to avoid people who are in a relationship with each other). PETER: There is no case here from removing governors according to the rules. You could try shaming them.

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