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Wednesday, 24 September 2014 00:00

Disappearing Primary Heads, Part 6: St Francis Catholic Primary, Maidstone and others

Most of the cases of “disappearing primary school headteachers” who have been removed by Kent County Council, sometimes in an inappropriate manner, cannot be reported as the headteachers sign agreements not to speak out in exchange for inducements to ease their departure. I have written several previous articles about this situation.

However, one has surfaced this week where Simon Webb, an officer of KCC, is reported to have acknowledged in writing that the Authority did not have the powers of intervention to carry out the initial suspension of a primary headteacher and also his wife, both employed at St Francis Catholic Primary School in Maidstone. The allegations are carried in the Kent Messenger.

st francis


Also below, I cover the case of a headteacher who cannot be named because she has signed a termination agreement, whose suspension also appears  to seriously break employment law and procedures; and catch up with the story of St John's CofE Primary in Canterbury.

Kent County Council's justification for the unreasonable way they have treated so many of their primary school headteachers, often appearing to go outside employment law, appears to be that there is no other way of forcing up standards and indeed KCC reports that Key Stage Two standards have risen this year to match national standards. Good news indeed,after so many years of poor overall performance in the county but at what price? Is the removal of around 5% of Kent's primary headteachers leaving many of the schools in a state of disruption really the central factor in  school improvement across the county, with all the other initiatives by Kent to raise standards not playing  a part.......

The headteacher of St Francis Catholic Primary School in Maidstone, was suspended in May last year, after a KCC officer asked the chairman of governors to meet him in the school. Without explaining the reason for the meeting, the officer then carried out two suspensions, publicly marching the headteacher and his wife out of the school. It appears he was not aware that their daughter was a pupil in the school and had to deal with the consequences of hearing about her parents’ public humiliation from other children. Shortly, afterwards, the officer visited the school and, as is too common in such situations, threatened the staff with disciplinary action if they spoke publicly about the case.  

As St Francis was a catholic voluntary aided school at the time (it is in the process of converting to become a sponsored academy), the headteacher was an employee of the governing body, which had an accountability in employment terms to the Catholic church, but not of KCC. Three governors, the Chairman, vice chairman and another, resigned in protest about the methods used. KCC has subsequently claimed that it consulted the Catholic Diocese of Southwark before making the decision, but this is denied by the Diocese, which is reported to have sent a letter expressing grave concerns that due process was not followed.

Seventeen months later, the school still has the deputy head operating as Acting Headteacher, so what has been achieved to improve standards?

The Local Authority’s action was mainly sparked off by the school being placed into Special Measures in March 2013, although there was a second issue which it was alter established was without foundation. A depressing monitoring report four months later in July 2013 criticises the Local Authority heavily for its failure to improve standards over that period, although one would have thought this was a priority. By July 2014, there was however considerable improvement, the Monitoring Inspection of that month recording: “Most of the work to improve teaching continues to be driven by the acting headteacher and acting deputy headteacher”. Unfortunately, it also makes clear there is still much to be done elsewhere in the school. Because of the failure to follow the rules over the suspension of the substantive head back in May 2013, amazingly, he is still in post over a year later although still suspended and, presumably, continues to draw his salary.

One wonders how many other headteachers are still being paid because the LA has acted improperly in removing them. Certainly, such cases exist, and I am told the Local Authority is carrying out an internal enquiry into how many such heads exist who have not reached agreement on their departure.

There is also the strategy employed by KCC officers to remove responsibility for headteacher suspension from their own figures, hence the discrepancies between KCC’s figures and mine. This is achieved by getting the governors or, if not compliant, replacing the chairs, to take on that responsibility.

One example arose last spring when a headteacher was summoned to a different school to be met by Simon Webb, and suspended. Previously the chairman of governors had been removed from office and replaced by another who technically made the decision to suspend, neatly removing the decision from KCC statistics. She was barred from re-entering the school and no explanation was offered to parents to explain the sudden departure. There was no paperwork to justify this decision and the headteacher received nothing in writing from the Authority until the termination agreement, which had been negotiated with her Union, was sent through in August. The headteacher, who had given long and distinguished service to the Authority and the school, was not even allowed a leaving do to say goodbye to parents and staff. To this day no epxlanation has been given to parents about the sudden departure of their children's headteacher. In this case, the school had not failed its OFSTED Inspection but had been found to Require Improvement, although KCC protocol for removing headteachers makes clear it does not apply if a school is found to be Requires Improvement. Naturally, I have not been able to talk to the head concerned since she signed the departure agreement agreeing to keep the process confidential, so am not aware if there have been further developments.

St John’s Church of England Primary Nothing new here, as in April this year, Simon Webb was the officer attempting to explain to parents why Jo Warnock, headteacher of St John’s Church of England Primary in Canterbury was publicly marched out of her school two days BEFORE Ofsted, so was not in a position to give her point of view to the Inspectors.

St Johns CofE Canterbury Kingsmead



The Kent Messenger reported that she had been ‘given’ three months ‘agreed’ gardening leave and I have written two articles on the school. It is clear that Miss Warnock refused to play ball with the Authority by signing an agreement, and returned to school within a month, although KCC’s decision to replace the governing body with a high powered Interim Executive Board of just six members, cannot be making her job any easier. So why did the Authority announce an agreed three month gardening leave? If they were worried about her competence why not wait until OFSTED had reported, then if necessary begin competency proceedings, the legal route to remove a headteacher if agreement cannot be reached. I don't think think this story is finished. 

Last modified on Sunday, 03 November 2019 07:26

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