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Tuesday, 08 June 2021 20:20

Simon Webb: Kent County Councillor

Many in the education service will still remember Simon Webb, newly elected County Councillor for  Maidstone Rural West in the recent Council elections, from his previous roles working for the Council. He was Area Education Officer for North West Kent for 13 years, and then became Principal Primary Adviser for the Council in April 2013, having been, in the words to me of a senior Officer, 'moved to where he would do less harm'. In fact, his brief tenure of this post was even more controversial, only partly because of the way he publicly marched headteachers who he considered were underperforming, out of their schools into suspension or gardening leave, without notice. It was no surprise when he suddenly 'left' KCC service eighteen months later, taking up a temporary part-time role as Consultant to Jane Porter, Headteacher of Whitehill Primary School, having previously supported her at various schools with which she was involved. She installed him in an office in the school although staff were not clear of his purpose in being there, but she was later permanently banned from being a teacher because of professional misconduct. I was able to follow Mr Webb's later advisory roles in Suffolk and Essex before he became Chief Learning Officer at Connected Learning, a small primary school academy trust also in Essex on a salary of £95,000. He left this in January this year after just under four years in post.    

I covered Mr Webb's sudden departure from KCC here in 2014, and his most famous case here, after which he wrote a private letter, seen by the Kent Messenger, acknowledging that KCC had behaved illegally. The KM article gives a vivid description of his approach. My article, entitled 'Disappearing Primary Heads, Part Six, gave two other examples where he struck in the same way following what appeared to be a KCC policy at the time. Part Four of the series has the National Association of Headteachers passing a motion at their annual conference, proposed by the Kent Branch: 'Conference calls upon National Executive to highlight the number of school leaders being forced from their posts through spurious and unacceptable means by the bullying actions of some local authorities who seek to remove experienced and skilled head teachers to make way for academy sponsorship or other forms of school governance'.

My initial article on the theme was published in April 2014, and features another headteacher, marched out publicly by Mr Webb just before an Ofsted Inspection, allowing KCC to put the blame on her leadership for the poor result. In this case, governors stood up for her and she was reinstated. The article continues: ‘The headteacher joins a select but growing group of headteachers from primary schools where the head has "disappeared" before OFSTED contrary to the protocol in the KCC document’, followed by a list of such schools. The concern of many was not that KCC was taking action to improve standards, but rather the manner of publicly humiliating headteachers who in most cases had given their best to their schools.

To my great surprise, even after I had criticised him so publicly, Mr Webb emailed me after his departure from KCC. In the message he offered to give me inside details of the Council's failings, suggesting his dislike of the Council trumped any feelings he might have had towards me, but unsurprisingly, I felt unable to accept. 

I could go on but my immediate thought is about Mr Webb’s role as a County Councillor. I guess that Roger Gough, Leader of the County Council, who was Cabinet Member for Education during his period as Principal Primary Adviser, is fully aware of his record and will consider carefully whether to use him as a Member in an education capacity, where there are still headteachers with long memories. His Committee Appointments certainly steer clear of the education area. 

  

Last modified on Friday, 11 June 2021 18:50

4 comments

  • Comment Link Sunday, 13 June 2021 12:43 posted by Peter

    from PETER: Please note that I have decided not to publish several comments because of their personal nature. Please do not try and post anything of this type.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 12 June 2021 22:45 posted by Jennie M

    What a talking point this has proved amongst those affected by S.W.'s unique approach to man (and woman) management. Plenty of anecdotes around, some more extreme than the ones you have highlighted. If he tried this sort of approach in the Connected Learning Trust its no wonder he only lasted such a short time.

  • Comment Link Friday, 11 June 2021 12:37 posted by Sheila

    Wow! How dare he. My husband has never recovered from the shame and now suffers from depression brought about by S.W.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 10 June 2021 21:20 posted by Retired Kent Headteacher

    I have read your article in a complete state of shock. The NAHT conference motion truly described the culture in Kent education at the time and Simon Webb as Principal Primary Adviser was at the centre of it. I have only recently retired as a headteacher but still remember the bewilderment when the Head of St Francis Catholic Primary was marched out illegally leaving his wife on the staff and daughter a pupil at the school to face the humiliation of his situation. The fact that this was not a unique case and KCC appeared to condone it played havoc with morale amongst headteachers. And now he is back again with a position of some authority over headteachers who still remember those events with disgust. Peter, you have resurrected a nightmare, which was slowly being forgotten apart from those who were direct victims of the KCC policy.PETER: Let's be clear. I was not opposed to KCC taking robust action to improve standards in their shrinking number of schools. It was the method of doing so which humiliated headteachers who had done their best, but were still struggling to deliver.

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