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Saturday, 28 May 2016 23:23

Grammar School Leaders in Trouble: The Rochester Grammar School & Simon Langton Girls' Grammar

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Update: See latest article here. 

According to The Times, Denise Shepherd, who is Chief Executive of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, where she is paid £215,000 a year, was suspended from her post last month. The reason put forward by the newspaper is that the suspension was for alleged snooping on staff email accounts and doctoring parts of an external inspection report.


Rochester Grammar


Meanwhile the controversy at Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School in Canterbury is spiralling to an almost unbelievable level for any school, certainly a state of open warfare the like of which I have never before seen in a school. The protagonists have made extensive claims about the actions of Headteacher and Governors relating to the school’s application to become part of a Multi-Academy Trust whilst absorbing the struggling Spires Academy into the Trust. Kent County Council is being heavily drawn into the controversy with no obvious strategy to ease the problems

Simon Langton girls.......

Thinking Schools Academy Trust
The Times newspaper article reports extensive evidence supporting claims of alleged snooping on staff email accounts and doctoring parts of an external inspection report, along with other allegations which, if upheld, could amount to misconduct.  

The Trust's flagship school is The Rochester Grammar School in Medway and, amongst the other eight schools the Trust runs are Chatham Grammar School for Boys, which is to be renamed Holcombe Grammar School for September 2017 and become mixed. This places it in direct competition with Chatham Girls’ Grammar which, as a small stand-alone school in an Authority full of big Multi-Academy Trusts, is vulnerable and it has been suggested could also be swallowed up by the predator. The monopoly politics of large academy groups appears far removed from the prime purpose of schools, to educate children, not just hot-house them through hoops, and the Trust is currently having mixed success with several of its Medway schools.  

Perhaps unsurprisingly, The Rochester Grammar School website makes no mention of the suspension, but The Times picks out the following section from Ms Shepherd’s introduction: “Our success is due to our strong educational vision… our outstanding and driven leaders, dedicated teachers and support staff backed by a committed team of governors. The greatest asset in our trust is our staff”. It then provides considerable evidence of lack of trust by those same staff  in their Chief Executive. !

Ms Shepherd is one of the most senior Academy Leaders in the South London and South East Region, being one of four elected headteachers to the Board of seven members (two from Medway) which make decisions on Academy approvals. The March 2016 Meetingof the Board approved an Academy Order being issued for Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School to be a Multi-Academy Trust, and also approved it becoming a Sponsor Academy, with conditions relating to CEO development and performance, which leads neatly on to the next item below. Poignantly, it also had as a major discussion item “the Role of Executive Headteachers”. Should have been an interesting discussion!

Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School, Canterbury
You will find some of the background to this story here. 
The situation at the school has reached an almost unbelievable state of crisis, with staff threatening strike action; a student protest in defiance of  the instruction of the school; many parents in open revolt against the headteacher and governors; a very wide range of allegations of about the activities and leadership; the headteacher’s husband who is bursar of Spire’s Academy also taking considerable responsibility for the finances of SLGGS; Kent County Council being drawn heavily into the dispute with apparently contradictory statements coming from the Director of Education and the Leader of the Council; a KCC investigation into the way the Consultation was run perhaps having cleared the school of any mismanagement, and then again perhaps not; the Consultation on becoming an Academy having been scrapped in part on the instructions of KCC and now to be re-run with a meeting for parents on June 8th which promises fireworks! There is also the issue of a school re-build which parents were told was fully approved, but now appears to still have a number of hurdles to jump through. I could go on for some time listing the issues, including many statements by the school that clearly don’t stand up to scrutiny but it is just too complex.

What is clear is that there is an unprecedented breakdown of relationships between many parents and staff on one side, and the Headteacher and Governors of the school on the other. I cannot see how the school can go on without massive change internally, and it is going to take a long time for its reputation to heal. Without passing judgement, I cannot see how the headteacher can continue in post, having completely lost the confidence of so many parts of the community. Even the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys has put clear water between itself and SLGGS, the headteacher sending home a letter to parents which contains a well-argued case for maintaining the status quo at present. No partner support there!

Meanwhile the school has put out an end of term Newsletter on Friday that underlines the appalling Public Relations skills of the school. Whilst completely failing to mention the dispute (understandable in the circumstances) or the fresh Consultation Meeting on June 8th in the diary dates (unforgiveable), the letter is headed by a paragraph which states “The governors of Barton Court Grammar School have announced their intention to launch a consultation with parents, local community and other parties about their plans to open a Free School on the Chaucer site and also to sponsor the Charles Dickens School in Broadstairs”. One wonders which mastermind decided to show that another school was going down a similar path, presumably in the hope of suggesting that what SLGGS was doing was not controversial. Instead what it underlines indelibly is the contrasting complete failure of SLGGS to take parents into their confidence, by attempting to prepare the conversion to academisation in secret. 

Too many other misleading communications including one sent to parents of joining children just last week which said, ".. wanted to congratulate her on obtaining a place at Langton Girls in what has been another oversubscribed year". Except that it hasn't! On allocation in March, the school put up its Planned Admission number to 170 from 165, even though it was only able to make 163 offers, so either 7 or two vacancies, take your pick. For 2015 entry, the school just filled thanks to one girl allocated a place by KCC who hadn't applied. 26 girls were offered places who hadn't put the school first, the school actually starting in September with just 157 girls for its 165 places even after appeals, the higher figure for Barton Court suggesting a shift towards the latter.   

If you want to get more than a whiff of the troubles swirling around the school, try the Academy Status Forum and stand back. Admittedly it is dominated by the rebels, but there are enough allegations with evidence posted to realise there is a very strong case to answer. Its certainly unusual to have a PTFA not allowed to meet in the school, that has to assemble in the car park to discuss ways of raising funds!

One final thought: Kent County Council has recently lost a very expensive legal action after it removed the headteacher of the Community College Whitstable, on grounds that it appears to have been unable to defend.  It will not be anxious to repeat the mistake. 




Read 14513 times Last modified on Monday, 13 March 2017 19:17


  • Comment Link Sunday, 12 June 2016 12:12 posted by Concerned Parent

    Please do not call us rebels!

    The contributors to the Facebook forum are largely concerned parents who have been motivated by the lack of transparency, consultation and communication skills exhibited by the head teacher and GB.

    This would of been a fundamental and important change to the school and we wanted to be treated as stakeholders in this decision which we were denied.

    I'm not a rebel and never have been, I am however a very concerned parent with a third family generation attending this wonderful school.

    Throughout this we were prepared to listen to the pros and cons however none have been provided and the school took an adversarial approach to the parents, students and teachers which motivated us further. PETER: "rebel" is not a pejorative term. It can be defined as "a person who rises up in opposition to an established government or leader". That is exactly what you are doing and there are many, many examples of highly honourable rebellions of which yours is one. But seriously, there are far more important issues than picking up on semantics.

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 31 May 2016 00:52 posted by Stephen Langton

    The astonishing amount of lies that are being told to SLGGS parents is simply beyond belief. ....... a track record of bullying teachers out of the school. Look closely at the teachers that are leaving right now and the real reasons why they've decided to move sideways all of a sudden.

    ........ has lost control of the school, the teachers, the pupils, the parents....... This is all about money.

    S Smith - are you really ......,. posting such drivel as a comment on this website? Only .........would pick out a single part of such a large piece of damning critique and attempt to correct a minor error, and end up being wrong about that too! PETER: Sorry about the edit, but I try not to allow personal comments.

  • Comment Link Monday, 30 May 2016 19:35 posted by S Smith

    Peter, Successful appeals to The Independent Appeals panel have resulted in Simon Langton Girls going over their PAN so this was not a misleading statement from the school as they are oversubscribed for 2016 entry. PETER; Thank you for this, but you are wrong. It is widely accepted that if a school has vacancies on allocation day, it is undersubscribed, as my article makes clear. Any qualified girl who applies after that up until the appeals will be offered a place automatically. What happens at appeal when girls who are not grammar qualified are offered places is not relevant, although I accept the school may currently have its places filled for September only as a result of Appeal Panel decisions. However, if this year is like 2015, it could lose up to 30 children from this total, according to October 2015 census figures, with the Year Group having fallen back to 157, mostly appearing to prefer Barton Court, and the current controversy is hardy likely to help. Sorry

  • Comment Link Sunday, 29 May 2016 12:09 posted by Stella

    The Times article on Rochester Grammar talks about bullying and harassment of staff. Should sound familiar to Simon Langton staff.

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