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Saturday, 29 May 2021 20:18

Appointment of New Headteacher at Fairview Primary School

Update: A comment posted under a previous article claims the Vice-Chairman of Governors was not informed by his Chair of the shocking criticism of the governing body in notes of a meeting of staff convened by Medway Council, and dismissed them as either false or held by a small minority. 

The Governors of Fairview Community Primary School, the third-largest primary school in Medway, have appointed Mrs Karin Tillett as headteacher after a highly controversial recruitment process, the background to which is explained in previous articles, most recently here and entitled: ‘How not to Appoint a Headteacher’. This includes a series of ever-changing arrangements for recruitment and for criteria laid down for the qualities of the new headteacher, as governors sought to narrow down the ‘really strong field of current headteachers with relevant experience, NPQH and CPD/research’.  In the event just two candidates were interviewed, one not fitting these criteria. 

I have been commenting on education matters in Kent and Medway for over 15 years, but have never seen a rogue governing body like this before. In my opinion, it ignores the welfare of its pupils and staff in pursuit of a narrow agenda to join a small moderately performing academy trust although as a maintained school it is still accountable to Medway Council which doesn’t appear to care, perhaps because it just wants to see the back of the school. The Governing Body and Medway Council have chosen to ignore formal complaints about the headship appointment procedures and academisation

I do not apologise for covering the events at Fairview in such detail; it is a unique and in my eyes gripping story of how an out of control governing body can behave, apparently with impunity, which has been avidly followed by a large number of readers of this site. 

The appointment of a new Headteacher
Mrs Tillet is currently head of Hilltop Primary Academy, a school with some of the lowest progress grades at Key Stage Two in Medway. The Academy Trust is happy to release her early for September although this post was advertised for January 2021 to meet notice periods, which may well have put off other applicants. One major attraction in Mrs Tillett’s appointment will be her experience of academising at Hilltop whilst she was still Deputy Head at the school, which converted to an academy in the Skills for Life Trust, lead school Greenacre Academy, in February 2018.   
 
My previous article considers a range of failures by the Governing Body, which employed its Human Resources Provider to manage the process on behalf of the school up to the point of interview. This was truncated, with just two candidates to consider, governors reportedly exposing the candidates to minimal interaction with staff, a majority of whom are strongly opposed to the whole process but have little influence on the Board of Governors. Neither Executive Headteacher nor Headteacher are members, being employed by the Compass Partnership of Schools who manage Fairview at present on behalf of Medway Council, and only attend non-controversial parts of meetings, so it is difficult to see how any educational input is provided, apart from one member who is a Kent headteacher.  After the initial recruitment process was scrapped at the shortlisting process without explanation, a re-advertisement was arranged, then cancelled because of 'the level of interest in the post’, so it is surprising that just two candidates were forthcoming (although I understand a third was invited for interview but withdrew).
 
Complaints by parents about the process to governors and Medway Council at the beginning of April, made according to the procedure laid down on the school website. have still gone unanswered, but according to the Complaints Policy (Section 7.2) should have been handled by an independent investigator. Parents now have the right to refer the complaint to the School Complaints Unit (SCU), set up by the DfE, although this does not re-investigate the complaint; it merely has the power to require the school to do so. In other words, maintained school Governing Bodies have almost complete power to behave as they wish, subject to the sanction of removal by the Local Authority, which in this case appears to have no interest in this matter, and indeed is ignoring the complaints itself! 
 
 I must confess I was wrong in assuming the Governing Body had some master plan for appointing a favoured candidate. It now doesn’t appear that way, although it has emerged that governors were looking for a local candidate. This narrowed the field considerably and was certainly diametrically opposite to the previous disastrous headship appointment at Fairview which lasted just five months in 2018, following a strategy by Medway Council of seeking out high performing London deputy headteachers for their primary schools. The Compass Partnership of Schools was then appointed to sort out the mess, which even the current governing body concedes has been a great success.
 
Compass Partnership of Schools
The three governors at the heart of this decision have put forward three main reasons for wishing to dispense with Compass and replace them by The Westbrook Trust, outlined in what is now looking a very out of date response to questions in an 'Answers to Questions' document posted on the school website before the 'consultation' meeting back in September and which has served as a template for responses ever since, with its singleminded determination to promote the Westbrook connection. The current reasons are: firstly the additional costs of running an Executive Head as under the Compass management scheme; secondly the wish to join a local Trust; and thirdly that Compass comes across as a more corporate identity than Westbrook. They have completely ignored the views of parents and staff in blind confidence that they know best, reportedly quashing parental views, as well as ignoring their complaints, and ignoring staff opinions set out in the shocking notes of a meeting conducted by Medway Council, back in March, which shows a complete breakdown in trust. Before shortlisting, candidates who visited the school were shown around by  a governor without an educational background to be able to respond to questions and did not have meetings with any of the three school leaders, employed by Compass, so it is difficult to see what they learned about the post. 

As Ms Tillett is taking up the post in September, the contract with the Compass Partnership will now be terminated in August, leaving the school short of a Deputy Headteacher to support her although ‘there is full confidence that experienced, proven leaders would be available to be provided, if required’. So if the school joined The Westbrook Trust by September, this could fill the gap! If not, the school is in for a tough time, with relationships as they are. 

We don’t know if the meeting between the Director of Education at Medway Council and Mr Woods, vice-Chairman of Governors to 'finalise the strategic direction of the school', took place before the interview as promised but as Rebecca Smith, named as Director of Education, although in reality just School Improvement Officer for Fairview, was on the Interview Panel for the new headteacher, perhaps it was all sorted out there and then. On the other hand, what was there to sort out, as governors march blinkered on without deviation or doubt to their chosen destination. 

 Regional Schools Commissioner
It is a reasonable assumption that the governors will stick to their obsession with trying to join The Westbrook Trust, although the evidence I have presented in this series of articles strongly challenges the reasons put forward in the 'Answers to Questions' document prepared last summer. Surely the RSC and her Headteacher Board will be unimpressed with the twists and turns leading up to the appointment of Karin Tillett, and certainly don’t measure up to the RSC view in rejecting the application that: It was noted that the LA had formally raised concerns surrounding the governing body’s decision making, specifically around transparency and community engagement. Members raised concerns that the governing body was at odds with the school community. The RSC was minded to ask the LA to work with the school to address the concerns’. No signs of that happening at all, as exemplified by governors' complete failure to honour their promise to 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’.  Parental concerns are still running high, as can be seen from the unanswered complaints; staff concerns are demonstrated in the shocking notes of the March meeting.
 
In any case, as I noted in my previous article, it may be too late for Westbrook, as government policy has moved on and is looking for schools to join up with larger Trusts ideally with 12 or more schools. In addition, surely the RSC will take a dim view of governors' total failure to 'address the concerns' of parents and the school community, including staff. These concerns will no doubt include the governors' failure to report back on the meeting with the Director of Education for Medway to settle the school's strategic direction. Indeed, it could be too late for The Westbrook Trust itself, as the government puts smaller Trusts under pressure to come together in larger units. 
 
Finally
In my previous article, I invited governors to correct me on any factual inaccuracies. I am pleased they have found none, but am happy to make the offer again. 
 
However, the decision has been made to appoint a new headteacher, the first step on the road to academisation; now the school and its Governing Body have got to make the best of it. In spite of my concerns, I do seriously hope in the interests of the children of Fairview Community Primary School that it does all work out in the end for them.
Last modified on Monday, 31 May 2021 19:21

5 comments

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 02 June 2021 23:26 posted by Matthew

    How can the governing body continue with integrity, given all the factual demolition you have provided, accompanied by a barrage of social media criticism. Oh, I was forgetting, integrity is no longer a criterion for membership of Fairview Governing Body.

  • Comment Link Monday, 31 May 2021 19:26 posted by COG of an academy

    Hello Peter, I think you’ve covered everything. KT’s academisation experience as a DH will not offer her or the GB any advantage; firstly she would have had little or any input and it is such a well-trodden path now that the sponsor Trust does all the work. The idea that the GB wants to shop local for everything is an important point and clearly shows a lack of strategic knowledge or experience. It is likely that Westbrook will be swallowed up by a larger Trust in the future and u nlikely that Compass would be; as for being too corporate, that is what the law demands and they are clearly doing it correctly. When you join an academy Trust you are swapping the Borough for the best and most secure structure you can find otherwise you shouldn’t become an academy.

  • Comment Link Monday, 31 May 2021 05:43 posted by Jessica (parent)

    You don't believe this appointment was a fix. I beg to differ. If as governors claim, there was such a strong field of applicants, how come only two were interviewed, only one of whom conveniently measured up to governors criteria and with the added bonus of knowing on interview day that she was able to come at the drop of a hat. This ought to be investigated, but by whom? Medway Council - don't make me laugh!

  • Comment Link Sunday, 30 May 2021 23:17 posted by Very worried parent

    To be told they were interviewing a new head for a January appointment to now moving the goalposts to a September start is making this even more of a worry.
    -When is the transition period between the two? I would assume the new head needs to finish up and transition her school to....(a new head? When would they appoint them) and our exceptional team at Fairview would not have prepared to have the last term of the year as a transition time, because they had been told they would have a further three terms in post.
    - How has the new head been allowed to leave her school without the four month notice period? Could this suggest this was already agreed and the interview process hasn’t been “halted” as previously suggested.
    How is she simply allowed to get up and go without a replacement In the wing? Or is this all part of it and this had already been organised?
    - An unplanned 6 week transition is surely not enough to share the information of such a large school?
    - Is Hilltop her only headship? Isn’t that a two form entry, much smaller school (not to mention with poor data). How does this experience compare to that of the current head?
    - if the interview panel were the governors as you said, that means only HH would be “qualified” in education? How are they equipped to interview and decide upon a headteacher??
    - How can Medway abs the governors not follow the complaints procedures and allow these governors full power?
    I could go on and on...
    None of this makes any sense.
    I am certain though that the dedication of the current team will be missed by all.

  • Comment Link Sunday, 30 May 2021 21:43 posted by A mum

    In your experience do you think that compass could have a type of NDA that could explain why we are not getting the full reasons from the governors as to why compass could not be considered? I am quite worried we are going to have another period of upheaval. PETER. Whilst I have no inside information, it sounds rather far fetched to me.

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