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Monday, 17 May 2021 18:21

How not to Appoint a Headteacher: Fairview Community Primary School

Update 19th May: Due to the level of interest in this post, governors have decided not to re-advertise see below. Short-listing has already taken place. 

Shortly after the process to appoint a new headteacher at Fairview Community Primary Primary was supposed to have ended, Chris Woods, Vice-Chair of Governors sent a letter to parents. In spite of several broken promises by governors to keep Fairview parents regularly informed of important matters, the only hard information provided was that he would meet with Rebecca Smith, Head of Education at Medway Council (but see below) to 'finalise the strategic direction of the school' (is this code for joining The Westbrook Trust?). He doesn’t even mention the headship fiasco, described in a previous article, even though the process was halted immediately before interviews for the post took place.

Fairview Community

 

 We learn that he is ‘doing this in my spare time, alongside a very demanding job’ also offered as an excuse elsewhere in the letter and separately to staff, so surely someone else with more time ought to have taken over the role at this critical period!  Meanwhile, a very different letter has been sent to staff, also discussed below, which reveals the confusion, contradictions, and indecision about the headship and academisation, as governors appear to be trying to pursue their own agenda. 

Between them, the two letters once again confirm that this is a rogue governing body, behaving disgracefully, although its actions now appear to be endorsed by Medway Council, which is several times used to prop up decisions. Surely, it is now the responsibility of Medway Council to dissolve the Governing Body and replace it by an Interim Executive Board, one of the few sanctions they have available. 

Rebecca Smith, Head of Education at Medway Council: Actually she isn't. Instead, she is the Medway School Improvement Officer for Fairview Primary, probably without the seniority to finalise the strategic direction of such a school, given its complex situation. 
 
In my article of  7th March, I published the following commitment of the Fairview Governing Body to try and overcome one of the objections of the Regional Schools Commissioner to academisation. 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’. Over two months later I have seen nothing whatever to indicate Governors have any interest in fulfilling or even starting on this promise.   
 
Letter to Parents, sent 28th April.
It is clearly unfortunate, as explained in the letter, that the Chairman of Governors, Chris Gilbert, has had to take absence for personal reasons for eight weeks leaving the school leadership chaos to be resolved by the Vice-Chair, Chris Woods, who is currently sharing the Chairmanship with two other governors. Mr Woods told parents in the letter that he will be leading the ongoing discussions relating to leadership’, although giving nothing whatever away about what these are (See below). The last that parents had been told by governors, earlier in April, was that a new headteacher was to be appointed at the end of that month.

He apologises that some information relating to the school leadership has been posted on social media following premature disclosure by Medway Council, but no other indication of what this was, although it is now in the public domain. A social report states that: Chris Kiernan, Medway Council Assistant Director. Education and SEND had written to a parent as follows: ‘As I have said I do not wish to repeat publicly private conversations I have had with governors. However I am assured that, after considering comments I have made, the governors have paused the recruitment process', a rather important disclosure. Surely parents, who are important stakeholders, to use Mr Woods’ term, deserve much better than to be kept in the dark for more than three weeks, having to learn the facts from social media or this website.   

He concludes by telling parents, to whom it will come as a great surprise, thatI will keep communicating on a regular basis and provide opportunities for discussions’, having failed to do so thus far.

Letter to Staff, sent this month.
After stressing again the burdens of office, the letter reports that A decision has been made to temporarily pause academisation selection until a permanent head teacher has been appointed to the school. Chris Gilbert wrote to you all to advise the head teacher vacancy was being advertised last month, and we are pleased that there has been strong interest’’, which only opens up a multitude of questions, which may also be of interest to parents.

To be clear, the academisation process was halted by the Department for Education, because of concerns that included the governing body being at odds with the school community and not by the governing body. Parents have heard nothing further about the process, in spite of promises to the contrary. Further, the governing body has seriously mishandled the appointment process of a new headteacher already, updated below. Now it appears that the whole strategic direction of the school is to be finalised at a meeting with the Director of Education for Medway, whose outcome is only to be reported back subsequently to the remainder of the governing body. However, although the above quotation from Mr Woods makes clear the new headteacher should be involved in ‘academisation selection’  which I take to mean choosing a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) to join, although it may mean something else, it puts candidates in an invidious position. for they have to consider taking on a post where there is no job security as MATs too often remove the incumbent head when taking over a school.

Staff are now in ignorance of whether the school has a strategic direction that has previously been determined by a few governors (without consulting staff or parent stakeholders), or whether the two people meeting together are going to come up with that strategic direction themselves. It appears the driving forces in the governing body (including those already with connections to The Westbrook Trust) are still determined to force the school to align with the Trust, failing to recognise they have no mandate from stakeholders to do so. Still, as the letter to parents makes clear, governors will be told the decision after the meeting, and only then will parents be updated about the decision. It is hardly surprising that there are reports emanating from staff that there is no longer trust between them and governors, a very sorry state of affairs. 

However, the tide appears to be going out as far as the Westbrook Trust goes, as Department for Education policy is now swinging strongly behind new academies joining larger Trusts, and Westbrook only has two primaries and one infant school.

The Appointment of a New Headteacher.
I appreciate that I am looking at this appointment from some distance, and accept I could be misreading it. However, to put it bluntly, the whole thing is becoming increasingly bizarre and I don't believe I am wrong.

I devoted a previous article to this subject, my original title being ‘How not to appoint a headteacher, but it appears reasonable to use it second time around with the latest evidence. At the time I wrote: ‘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!!!’.

However, on 26th April, Natasha Tilly, the headteacher who is employed by The Compass Partnership (not the governors who carried responsibility), wrote to staff to inform them that the recruitment process for a permanent headteacher had been paused for the time being.

The above letter to staff contains further details.  Apparently and perhaps sensibly, Governors no longer wish to rush the process of appointing a headteacher and are now looking for a start time in January 2022. Governors are reported as being pleased there was a strong interest in the post, which raises the question of why they did not go through to interview in April. It is reported that several candidates were shown around the school. One does wonder how many of these candidates are now willing to accept a post which they will not take up for a further seven months, with such an insecure future? A successful appointee may even be tempted away in the intervening period.

Recruitment is now being handled silently with both the local authority and the school’s HR provider, Kape HR, supporting a 'rigorous recruitment process' apparently behind the scenes. For bizarrely it does not appear to include re-advertising so it is unclear where fresh candidates will come from.  Governors consider the fresh search for a new headteacher will be open to all interested individuals (shouldn't they be appropriately qualified?), but how do they find out about the post with no fresh details or closing date.  Then, ‘A short list of candidates will be considered in a 2-day assessment at the end of May which will include interaction with staff and pupils, and test all aspects of leadership’. Such a procedure is the norm in headship appointments and I remain amazed that no such prelude to the interviews was considered the first time around.

The staff letter records that: When determining the strategic direction for the school, and a Trust partnership that will be with the school in the long term, we believe that it is important not to base the decision on short/medium term leaders. It is this that was key in the Governors decision to pause the academisation process and focus on recruitment of a permanent headteacher, open to all interested individuals, that will be with the school whatever academisation decision is reached in due course. This is a governing body tying itself up in knots! Later on in the letter, Mr Woods acknowledges that ‘We are incredibly grateful for the stability, quality, and impact that the current leadership team have provided the school’. That leadership has now been delivering this for over two years, smoothly moving from short to medium term leadership but incredibly, governors are looking for a different partner with whom they know (?)  they can have long term confidence, the Compass Partnership somehow failing the Test. It is as if they have already made up their minds!

Update, 19th May: The rigorous recruitment process described above, open to all interested individuals, has not re-started after all, because the level of interest in the post means there was no need to re-advertise. So all those new potential interested individuals can look elsewhere. What a farce! One can only wonder how much the school's HR provider was paid for this onerous task. What it all does for me is to strengthen my suspicion that some governors know who they wish to appoint to the post. I have my own candidate in mind, but accept I may be well off the mark. 

One can only speculate what Kape HR, who have provided specialist HR advice and support through this shambles of a recruitment process, have contributed. Under recruitment and selection, the company website includes: 'We will partner with you throughout the recruitment process to help create robust processes which will help you maximise your chances of recruiting the best people fit for your organisation. We can assist you with the following: Defining the role (job analysis, prepare the job description and person specification); Attracting applicants (content and design of application packs, place recruitment adverts, liaise with recruitment agencies; Managing the application and selection process (review application forms or cvs, select candidates, optional assessment methods as well as managing candidate responses and requesting references);  Supporting the Governing Body with the recruitment and selection process for Headteacher recruitment'.

Finally
This website contains many stories of Kent and Medway schools that have encountered troubles over the past ten years, usually brought about by Academy Trusts, Headteachers, Governing Bodies or Local Authorities (in no particular order). However, I cannot recall another case where a school, so well run by its professional leaders, has got itself in such trouble through governors pursuing their own agenda. 

I am more than happy to receive correspondence from the Governing Body or Medway Council,  correcting any of the factual information I have provided above. For I have not written it with any purpose other than to expose what is going on at Fairview Community Primary School, for the benefit of the children. They will certainly suffer if the current well-established leadership of headteacher and deputy headteacher, underpinned by the Executive Head, walks away. To quote from Chris Woods' letter to staff: 

We recognise that across the school community some strong bonds have been built with the interim leadership team, who have undoubtedly made a massive contribution to the school, bringing stability and focus which, in turn, contributes to the development of all our children at the school through particularly challenging times.

Parents must be desperately hoping that the Compass Partnership does not tire yet of this game playing by the Governing Body and pull out of the school in the summer, as a recent contract allowed. The Governing Body would then have a great deal more to answer for. Still, as Mr Woods notes, the governors are all volunteers and so can walk away without penalty. Families and staff would find it much more difficult.

 

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 May 2021 16:35

6 comments

  • Comment Link Thursday, 20 May 2021 18:15 posted by Michael S.

    Interviews for the headship are taking place next week. One can only wonder what is going in short listed candidates' minds as they contemplate the level of incompetence and dubious decision-making by the governors for whom they are prepared to work. Peter's suspicions look well-founded. I wonder who he has in mind. PETER: Although I have written the name of my candidate down, I am afraid it stays with me!

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 19 May 2021 23:49 posted by Sheila K,

    I completely agree with your assessment Peter. The Governing Body is not fit for purpose and should be closed down by Medway Council as you suggest. Alternatively, members should recognize what a state of disrepute they are reduced to and disband themselves for the sake of the school and its children.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 18 May 2021 20:20 posted by Luke Denham

    As a parent of 2 children attending the school, I have closely followed the articles on here since the academisation process began. I joined the Governors video call last year and have raised my own concerns to them about the approach taken to academisation. I was also quite shocked by the process to recruit a permanent Head; a 2 week application timeframe is simply inadequate for such a key role to my mind.

    As a result, I wholeheartedly share in the deep frustrations and bewilderment of other parents at how such key decisions are being handled.

    Recently a position for Parent Governor has opened, but surprisingly for such a large school only two parents have put themselves forward. I am one of them.

    I feel optimistic but apprehensive about taking it on, but my intention is to provide a voice to effect the necessary change from within and to work with the Governors to address the many valid points raised on here as well as in the playground. I, like all other parents, just want the school to be successful.

    Although I don't have a background in education or local politics, I am prepared to put my head above the parapet and step up to the challenge ahead.

    I am sure there will be future articles on progress at the school and if I am fortunate enough to get the position then I will continue to read them and take note of the advice given. That said, I hope to play my part in changing them into being positive reflections of how the relationships between parents, pupils, staff and governors at Fairview are developing and growing stronger. PETER: Well said. I can't comment on the position of the other candidate, but if they hold similar views, Fairview Primary will be the better for either appointment. P.S. I am certainly not opposed to airing the views of the second candidate here also.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 18 May 2021 00:00 posted by Brittany Ferry

    Seeing what a wonderful job and how much they have enjoyed their work with Fairview, I wonder if Mrs Tanton or Mrs Tilley will apply for the position of head teacher? PETER: I suspect they are more than happy working for Compass Partnership, which appears to be a reliable employer with a good track record. . .

  • Comment Link Monday, 17 May 2021 21:26 posted by Fed_up_at_fairview

    Peter - thank you once again for taking the time to write about this ongoing saga for us. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head and I for one would be very interested to hear what the governing body/ medway council may say to the contrary. If only we could start a petition to dissolve the governing body...

  • Comment Link Monday, 17 May 2021 20:35 posted by Bored and ready for change

    The Governing body of Fairview is well past its sell by date ....feels like whatever they are trying to achieve it’s like flogging a dead horse. They are trying to “do something”, recruiting a new head, ambitions to become an academy all whilst having no idea what their strategic roadmap might be. Mr Woods is a very nice man. It would be in his personal best interests to walk away from this. It appears to the audience of parents that this nice man is being pushed front of stage by Mrs Scott-Fox and Mrs Allen (who when she was Chair, left Mr Woods to fuss and stumble over words when questions were posed when we were 1st introduced to Compass).
    Embarrassing behaviours - not something I want my kids to be associated to in a school and it’s ethics.

    Where are the other named Governors of Fairview in all of this?? Where are their voices and representation of the crap we are currently being fed by the 3-amigos https://www.fairviewprimary.co.uk/meet-the-governors/

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