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Tuesday, 20 July 2021 19:21

Two Warning Notices issued to Governing Body of Fairview Community Primary School by Medway Council

I have discovered that the Governing Body of Fairview Community Primary School has been served with two separate formal Warning Notices about its disgraceful conduct by Medway Council. These along with other correspondence supplied to me by a Freedom of Information Request leaves no doubt that Medway Council needs to take urgent action to dissolve the GB.

The first Warning Notice, issued in January, considered that: ‘In the council’s view there has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed.  The second Warning Notice, three months later, contained:  'I am writing to you as the significant concerns to which I referred in the warning notice I issued on 4 January 2021 have not been adequately addressed by the Fairview community primary school governors'. The second also formally warns the Governing Body that if its tough requirements are not met within a strict time limit, Medway Council will ‘consult on the authority’s intention to provide for governing body to consist of interim executive members’, i.e. sack the GB.  The correspondence demonstrates a GB attempting to carry on regardless of these two official notices.

Fairview Community 

It is difficult to comprehend the arrogance of these people, few with any educational background, who wish to keep control of Fairview Primary when they clearly do not have the competence to do so.  The appointment of an assistant caretaker as the staff governor (with no disrespect to him personally) and no other candidates put forward surely reflects the contempt of the teaching staff for the GB.

I have never in my sixteen years of advising families and others about education issues in Kent and Medway seen anything like the litany of failure described in the second Warning Notice about the conduct of a school Governing Body. 

This article is the latest in a series about Fairview Community Primary School, the previous one here, each with links back to its predecessor.

Warning Notices
Warning Notices can be issued to schools by the Local Authority under the 2006 Education Act in three circumstances. One of these is: 'There has been a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed or governed which is prejudicing, or likely to prejudice, such standards of performance' (Statutory Guidance, Page 9 with further details following), which applies here. Details are set out on page 11, including: 'If the governing body fails to act following the issue of a warning notice, the LA may then consider; co-opting of additional governors, withdrawal of financial delegation or the replacement of the governing body with an Interim Executive Board'. Medway Council was considering Option Three (below). I have not come across these before and am seeking to establish their frequency from the Council.
Leadership
The school has now lost its three highly regarded leaders appointed by the Compass Partnership of Schools, whose contracts have been terminated at the end of term: Executive Headteacher, Headteacher and Deputy Head. A new headteacher for September was controversially appointed from what in the end appeared a very thin field of candidates in spite of claims to the contrary. There is no Deputy for September, one plan being put forward is for senior staff each to take responsibility for one day a week, to help make up for the abrupt loss of leadership experience in Fairview matters, from September onwards.
 
First Warning Notice (FWN)
This was issued to the Governing Body, and its Chair, Mr Chris Gilbert, on 4th January 2021 and reproduced here. After the introduction above, the FWN continues: ‘Therefore, the council requires the school – if the governing body wishes to pursue further its decision to convert – to re-consider the consultation. It must invite the council’s head of school effectiveness to its meetings to discuss and agree a proposal, and must consider properly her advice and guidance. I require a plan of action that meets these requirements, to be sent to me within 15 days of the sending and receipt of this letter by you, as the chair of the governing body’.

However, instead of the GB meeting the Council requirement, Chris Kiernan, Medway’s Assistant Director of  Education and SEND, was forced to write in correspondence after the second WN: ‘I am not going to tolerate a re-run of the response in January, which was first an attempt to question the validity of the WN, and then to try to persuade me to withdraw it’.

Second Warning Notice (SWN)
This was issued on 9th April, following the GB’s failure to respond to FWN adequately.  ‘These concerns have not been addressed in the three months following the warning notice. The warning notice has expired and therefore I am writing to you to set out the issues I require your board to address through this letter, which has the status of a warning notice…..The key issue is that the school’s governors has failed to accept responsibility for the criticism that staff, parents and the local authority have made of their attitude and behaviour since the period of consultation’. I will not repeat most of the clear but lengthy criticisms of the actions of the GB as you should read these yourself, except to note that:
  • (1) Medway Council required the GB to pause the selection process for an established head teacher pending appropriate consultation with (the Council’s Lead Officer), the Compass trust and the Westbrook trust’.
  • (2) At one meeting, after Medway Council representative’s explicit instruction not to move to a vote on joining the Westbrook Trust, the chairman obtained the unanimous view from governors that they confirmed their original decision.
  • (3) Governors repeatedly attributed the written feedback from staff to an inability to respond to change.

The reason for (1) was that Medway Council clearly had the same view as myself: the appointment for a permanent headteacher should be delayed until after the process of academisation had been concluded. For the school was currently being run by a highly competent leadership team provided by the Compass Partnership and a new headteacher might not fit with the views of a new academy trust. It was only on the 26th April, a day or so before the appointment was announced that the Medway Deputy Director of Education reported that he now had no problem with the appointment going ahead, subject to conditions. It is not clear why the Council changed its mind, but it looks as if they backed away from a showdown. 

With regard to (2) ‘During the meeting, despite (the lead Council officer) asking you, the chair of governors, not to invite governors to vote and provide a decision, without warning you spontaneously asked each governor to express whether their view remained in favour of their decision to join the Westbrook Trust or if it had changed. All governors voted to confirm their original decision’.

(3) Demonstrates governors' utter failure to value their staff. No wonder there is a breakdown in relationships. 

 Interim Executive Board
The Regional Schools Commissioner has the power to require the governing body of a maintained school to be constituted as an IEB, which can be triggered by a Local Authority request, here (page 24). Given the complete breakdown of trust between the Governing Body of Fairview, and Medway Council, together with the staff and parents of the school, this appears to be the logical next step. My FOI only took correspondence up to 5th May, and I am currently waiting for an update, so it is not clear where matters stand at this point.
 
The Governing Body.
The chairman of the GB, Chris Gilbert, DL, took eight weeks leave of absence from the GB around the end of April ‘for personal reasons’ (DL, in this case, stands for Deputy Lieutenant of Kent). It may not be connected, but this decision follows personal criticism of him in WN2: ‘ It is of serious concern to the council that that on several occasions feedback by both the RSC and LA has been misquoted or interpreted in different way from which it was intended. Meetings are poorly chaired with discussion lacking focus and incisive identification of agreed action. Governors have been permitted to express anger towards staff, parents and the local authority for views which differ from their own, whilst you, as chair, have failed to encourage objective reflection or receive feedback that may challenge but is necessary to clarify or move thinking forward. Governors have continued to operate without transparent decision making or recognition or their individual and collective responsibility’. Other concerns are voiced in the correspondence. The WN continues: ‘Throughout meetings governors have consistently minimised or dismissed evidence from parents and staff, stating that there were many parents who supported governors in their decisions but had not responded to the consultation. Governors repeatedly attributed the written feedback from staff to an inability to respond to change’.

It is especially unfortunate that there appears to be only one member of the GB with an educational background, although another is Director of Finance at a small secondary school trust in Medway. The unopposed election of an Assistant Caretaker to represent the staff appears a calculated snub to the GB.

The GB members appear totally unfazed by the extensive criticisms of their attitudes and actions coming from all directions. In their reply to WN1, the Chairman notes: ‘It was however, noted that a small but vocal minority of stakeholders opposed to the Westbrook Trust proposal were able to dominate some of the meetings and subsequent dialogue which impacted negatively on the overall communication strategy with all shareholders’. Translation – we know we are in the right, although the description of events is very different from reports back to me about governors trying to railroad parents. Throughout the correspondence, Medway Council repeatedly confirms it has no criticism of the behaviour of The Westbrook Trust in this matter and that it wished the school to become part of a trust as per its (the council’s) policy, but was hindered by Fairview's GB.

There is an intriguing triangle at the centre of the Governing Body, featuring Kate Allen, parent governor and previous chair of the GB, but still an influential member. She stood down as chair because she is married to Oliver Allen, CEO of The Westbrook Trust, the trust which governors wish Fairview to join. He is also Chair of Governors at Snodland CofE Primary School, in Kent, whose headteacher, Holley Hunt, is the Local Authority governor, appointed by Medway Council, on Fairview Primary GB. 

The governors held a meeting earlier this week on 19th July, and it remains unclear whether Chris Gilbert (co-opted governor) has resumed his chairmanship of the GB and led this meeting, or whether it is still in the hands of the three joint interim leaders, Chris Woods (co-opted, vice chair), Kate Allen and Tracey Scott-Fox (co-opted). Presumably, the GB thinks that now it has struggled through the appointment of its new headteacher, the path is open to go ahead with the Westbrook proposal next term without the distraction of the Compass leadership on site. I don't think members get it. Even at this point, the GB has failed to address the serious criticisms in the two WNs, they have completely lost the staff, Medway Council is highly critical of their performance, too many parents do not trust them and they have done nothing whatever to persuade the Regional Schools Commissioner they are a body competent to make such a decision. 

The other members of the Governing Body not previously mentioned are: Tracy Dearing (co-opted); Nicola Oliver (parent); and Revd Brian Senior (co-opted). 

KentAdvice
Unsurprisingly, this website featured in several of the messages sent between interested parties. Oliver Allen, CEO of The Westbrook Trust, dismissed the articles observing: 'I won't pay too much attention to the blog as there are some inaccuracies'. He doesn’t say what these are but ‘inaccuracies’ suggests they are small scale, if indeed they are real. As regular browsers will know I take some pride in getting my facts right and regularly ask readers to report any errors. As a result, I have written to Mr Allen to ask him to list them and will make corrections when I receive the list. 

Perhaps more importantly and understandably, Mr Allen expressed his worries about the increasing reputational damage to the Trust over this scandal. I have not criticised the Trust's actions anywhere, and agree with the Council position that the Westbrook Trust appears to have done nothing wrong. What I have done is looked at its performance and small size in a developing situation nationally where the Regional Schools Commissioner is now favouring larger stronger Trusts to be the destination of new academies.  

A comment posted after a previous article has: 'I shared the report in this article with the stand in chair of the GB, who said he had not seen it and that the allegations were false or only held by a small minority'. How out of touch can he be. 

Conclusion
I despair. In any accountable setting or business enterprise, such an organisation would be shut down forthwith before it causes more damage. Too many Academy Trusts are rightly criticised for their lack of accountability, but here is a Local Authority Board of Governors carrying on regardless.  

 

 

 

Last modified on Wednesday, 21 July 2021 17:52

3 comments

  • Comment Link Saturday, 04 September 2021 18:55 posted by Darren

    A huge problem here is the influence and conflict of interest of husband and wife duo, Oliver and Kate Allen. Kate stepping down was merely a token action, and she still retains as much, if not more, of a negative influence upon the school, pupils and parents. Having dealt with them both in different capacities over the years, sadly I can confirm that they only have their own interests at heart. PETER: There is more to come when I have time.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 22 July 2021 06:00 posted by Jerry

    This is almost unbelievable, except that you have the evidence. It is an outrage that the governors can act in this way oblivious of any accountability to the school, the Local Authority or the parents and children of Fairview. Surely the scandal deserves wider exposure in the media.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 21 July 2021 17:30 posted by Kent headteacher

    Was there ever an exposé of the misbehaviour of a school governing body like this one? Congratulations Peter, but what a shocker. I can't work out if Medway Council is for or against you on this one. PETER: In answer to the first, I agree. In answer to the second, I still don't know.

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