(These minutes were published at 2.35pm on Monday 25 November 2019)
NOTES OF MEETING with Parent representatives – Ashley CofE Primary School held at St John’s Church, Walton-on-Thames at 6pm on Monday 18th November 2019.
Julia Jones JJ (Parent); Andrew Stocks AS (Parent); Laura Sutton LS (Parent), Ian Birdsey IB (Parent); Alex Tear AT (Interim Chief Executive, The Good Shepherd Trust); Revd Cathy Blair CB (Vice Chair, Local Governing Committee Ashley School); Martyn McCarthy MM (Member, Local Governing Committee Ashley School); Lou Digweed LG (Parent and note-taker); Sally Condie SC (Governance Officer The Good Shepherd Trust and note-taker)
AT opened the meeting at 18.00, indicated his pleasure to attend the meeting and set the administrative arrangements for the meeting. He requested that the notes from the meeting, made by each note-taker, be combined and agreed to produce one final version. He also confirmed that he did not wish or expect the meeting to be recorded and requested all to turn off any mobile devices or other recording devices. All in attendance complied with this request. IB said the Parent group would try and agree the minutes, however, it was not a condition for continuing the meeting or subsequently sharing the minutes with others.
2. Opening Prayer
CB said a prayer to start the meeting.
3. Listening to parents’ concerns
AT advised that the meeting would need to close at 7.15pm, as AT needed to take a call from the Chair of The Good Shepherd Trust (GST) at that time, due to an emerging issue. He suggested that the key point of the meeting was for him to listen to parents’ concerns and suggested that the first 20 mins be dedicated to this.
This was not agreed by the Parents who expressed a view that a much longer period of time was more appropriate to address the various concerns. He also circulated to every member of the meeting a presentation summary, which corresponded and aimed to answer some of the agenda points. IB on behalf of the parents agreed that parents could usefully read through GST’s summary after the meeting to address any agenda points not specifically discussed due to time constraints.
IB, on behalf of the parents, informed the group that the key concerns from parents had been grouped together and, in the interests of time and to allow for a transparent response to parents, a series of statements had been prepared to be put to AT, CB and MM for comment. AT pointed out that he would not give a yes/no answer at the meeting. His aim was to listen.
CB, as Vice Chair of the Local Governing Committee (LGC), interjected to ask all present to introduce themselves. All duly did.
Please note in the meeting that any references made at the meeting to Governing Body or Governors are referred to herein as Local Governing Committee (LGC) and LGC members. Equally any reference in these notes to The Good Shepherd Trust (GST) and the Trust are inter-changeable.
LS expressed her wish that the meeting would be held in a convivial spirit but had reservations that there would be insufficient time at this meeting. AT responded that, he wanted to give parents the opportunity to raise their concerns, that IB raise the questions he had with no further delay.
IB’s first question (1)
was over the Co-Headteacher’s position.
He had received a communication that day to indicate that he had resigned and read out an excerpt from that communication. IB explained that parents had concerns about the leadership position at the school plus the (lack of) support in place for the Co-Headteacher and his family prior to his resignation, adding that the staff are doing a great job in difficult circumstances. He continued to explain that parents have real concerns about how this situation came to be.
IB asked AT, CB and MM whether they personally considered Mr Dunne to be a talented and inspirational Head. AT, CB and MM stated that they were not able to endorse comments made as statements by IB. IB then asked what plans were there now to support him and the staff team at Ashley.
He asked for clarity that the Co-Headteacher’s absence and subsequent resignation has been dealt with by GST’s central team, rather than the LGC. MM confirmed that the LGC had not been involved in the process. When asked by IB what processes and provisions had been made by the LGC in view of the absence and now resignation, CB asked AT to respond.
AT advised the meeting he had not seen the Co-Headteacher's communication today and was not able to comment on this or the current position as it was a confidential matter. He confirmed that the matter of the Co-Headteacher’s absence was being dealt with at Trust level, not by the LGC.
In response to a question from LS as to what arrangements had been put in place by the LGC since September, from the date of the Headteacher’s absence, MM confirmed that LGC meetings had taken place, meetings with GST also undertaken, and arrangements made to cut short the other Co-Head, , time at another GST school to return her full-time to Ashley. She is backed by 2 Assistant Heads, making a senior leadership team that is larger than before. IB stated what is your personal view of the Co-Headteacher as head? Do you think he is an inspirational head? MM replied that’s difficult to comment on. CB added we’re here to represent Governors.
MM advised that the LGC could understandably not comment on such (HR) issues. LS said what we’re getting at is – what happened outside this room is one thing we can’t discuss – in terms of his teaching, staffing, rolling out his successful formula – we want to know if you were on board with his philosophy in that respect? CB replied to say that’s not relevant – we got in this situation and we can’t comment on anything else, it’s between him and his employer.
LS acknowledged that these issues could not be discussed but sought confirmation that the curriculum formula led by the Co-Headteacher would remain. This was reinforced by JD & LD and that this was a key concern (see concern 3 later).
Reservations were expressed by CB at the relevance of this question and JJ commented that the parent group wanted to take away from the meeting that everyone (i.e. Trust / LGC / SLT) was behind what the Co-Headteacher had built and that we are all pointing in the same direction. AT clarified to the meeting that the LGC and the Trust retained strategic responsibility for the school. In answer to the question from parents as to who takes the lead on curriculum, he responded that the LGC take responsibility for that with the Headteacher. He expanded to say that everyone was aware of the Co-Headteacher approach and the success of the Harmony curriculum.
CB said that the governors had no idea why Mr Dunne hasn’t been here since the beginning of term. Parents have speculated. Governors have not met and discussed curriculum this term. All attention has been on staff and how to support them. CB was disappointed that the action of some parents made this more difficult (a point supported by AT). LS indicated that the parent representatives present could not be held responsible for any other parents’ actions e.g. on WhatsApp and that the vacuum created by the Co-Headteacher’s absence inevitably led to speculation. CB said that sometimes people had to accept somethings are above their heads and leave those in charge to make decisions. IB said we want to reassure people the Governors are doing everything they can and asked AT to issue a statement to address this. AT responded that the Trust would not comment or give any statement.
IB asked the LGC members present to confirm they had made the appropriate challenge to GST over any vacuum created and MM confirmed they had. IB raised Dominic Raab’s letter and referred to the need for transparency by the Trust. AT stated that he did not agree with Dominic Raab’s letter and suggested that Mr Raab knew that the Trust would not be able to comment on Mr Dunne’s absence due to employment law. AT stated that he had been in touch Mr Raab’s office and had told the office this was the case.
LS explained that it was important that the Trust should seek to quell the false rumours making the rounds. She gave the example of one of the Parent Governors who told someone that the Co-Headteacher’s absence was due to mental health issues and that he was having a breakdown. When asked if GST would consider an anodyne statement on the Co-Headteacher’s position to help reassure people and protect the Co-Headteacher, AT reinforced that the Trust was not in a position so to do but, when it is, it will.
It was also noted by all attendees that whilst speculation was inevitable, it was unhelpful. AT confirmed that the Co-Headteacher has been offered pastoral care on 2 occasions by the Trust. LS asked for specific details, questioning whether the pastoral care was independent. AT said he would not go into detail. MM confirmed that one of the first things the LGC had done was to ask the GST to provide pastoral care.
IB then raised the issue of the retention of staff as the second question (2)
, reiterating what wonderful staff and leadership in the other Co-Headteacher the school had. The body of parents they represent were concerned at any consequent loss of staff and asked for the Trust/LGC’s retention plan. CB agreed that the retention of staff was important and confirmed that the LGC was totally committed at this time to ensure the continued success of the school and to support the Senior Leadership Team to improve the school this term for the good of the children, noting they have been in limbo like everyone else.
She explained that she was praying for the good of the school, but the Governors could not plan for anything as they did not know what would happen. IB expressed his surprise and concern that the Trust had not planned for the Co-Headteacher potential departure given all the circumstances.
He added that this was serious: a plan was needed to retain staff as this was not a “business as usual” situation where it might be appropriate to be more reactive in nature. CB continued to say that the LGC are committed to support the Senior Leadership Team, which has been ongoing since the start of the Co-Headteacher absence and any change to this as a result of the communication of resignation received will be decided on when they receive that communication.
JJ confirmed that there was big parental support for the Co-Head, as well. MM did respond to indicate that he had been made aware of a number of instances when she has been very upset by pressure from parents/terms used in communications. CB and AT added their disappointment that there has been so much parent input which has negatively affected the situation.
AT added that any healthy organisation should have no difficulties in retaining staff and that Ashley School, alongside all the schools in the Trust has a robust succession plan involving the development at every level of its staff – from NQT to Senior Leadership Team.
He confirmed that extra support has been given from the Trust to Ashley’s Senior Leadership Team this term and that he took the comments in the spirit in which they were offered and would confirm any further plans when the Trust was ready to do so. MM confirmed that until IB read out the letter, all the LGC knew was that the Co-Headteacher was absent.
LS re-raised the Harmony curriculum as a separate concern (3),
asking whether there was a real commitment for Harmony to stay in the curriculum in its current form rather than a different (more religious version) which is being followed in another Trust school.
Parents were concerned that the original version of Harmony followed at the school may not be quite so embodied as in the past and that, following the example of another GST school which has recently adopted it, that it was not in the same format and it would be more tied into more religious foci. AT expressed surprise at the latter concern in view of the fact that Ashley is a Church of England school with a strong Christian ethos, a point endorsed by CB.
AT elaborated on why the other GST school in the Trust, St John’s Dorking, had adapted the Harmony curriculum to more properly fit the children and community the school serves which was in a very different part of Surrey. CB confirmed curriculum is largely the Head Teacher’s responsibility.
Governors are there to support and challenge the leadership team. It was agreed last year that Bible verses would be incorporated into Harmony in tandem with values, after last SIAMS report MM added there is a new Ofsted framework. We’ve been discussing harmony for last year or so – Ofsted are now looking differently at education. Harmony fits really well with that framework.
IB asked CB to reassure parents that Harmony would not change at the school. CB responded to say she could not say that. AT added that would be misleading. If circumstances change, it would be misleading to give that reassurance as Governing body can’t give that reassurance.
AT clarified that the GST Board fully recognises the need for parent consultation and where any change is proposed, e.g. the new statutory Relationship and Sex Education changes, all parents will be consulted, and Ashley’s parents would be consulted are no exception.
IB and JJ thanked him and reinforced the fact that parents positively made Ashley a school of choice for their children in view of its Christian distinctiveness and the Harmony curriculum, and given the leadership issues, did not want a further change. Hence the reason for the reassurances that are being sought.
LS added that parents were concerned that the emphasis on Ashley being an Eco school – and the activities of the children in relation to that – might also change. She personally had noticed a diminution in and absence of certain key Eco activities in the Co-Headteacher’s absence, e.g. measuring and reporting at the end of each week on waste and energy measuring where the children are rewarded with extra play time if they beat set targets.
AT responded that he was saddened to hear this as he knows the children are highly engaged in this area and suggested that maybe it is not as firmly embedded in the school as first thought. LS countered this was unlikely to be the case as it has been in place for at least 9 years and fully part of the school system, a point which AT accepted.
He added that Eco was one important area of school life but there were many other elements of school life that the school must be engaged in. IB explained that people come to Ashley as it is a CofE school and because they like the Harmony and Eco focus, which makes Ashley distinctive and special, distinguishing it from other schools. LS added that this culminates in the Chamonix trip, which is utterly inspirational giving a personal example of her child.
IB raised a specific question on the importance of the Chamonix trip to the children and whether it would be continued. AT indicated that the next Chamonix trip in 2019-20 must have already been planned but, alongside the aspects already discussed, they are not currently in a position to give a positive or negative answer to this specific question.
When further pushed to do by IB, CB objected to the challenging tone raised, which surprised IB, JJ, LS, AS and LD.
LS added that parents need feedback from those in charge of the school, asking: is the school committed to continuing with Harmony, Eco and Chamonix? After further input from LS explaining why feedback from the Trust to these detailed questions would be helpful to the parent body, AT recognised the concern but added that the Trust’s objective was to run really good schools but was not in a position currently to provide detailed information.
AT’s position was that he agreed to meet, in order to listen to parents’ concerns, but not to respond by endorsing or rejecting statements which could be relayed to parents to allay their concerns.
IB explained that the parents wanted to help the Trust and LGC to understand and respond to the concerns raised by parents, suggesting that a statement or newsletter could be issued reaffirming the Trust’s / LGC’s / SLT’s support for Harmony, Eco, Chamonix, etc.
LS observed that no-one can give us assurances on any of the issues and parents were not getting the comfort they were looking for. AT noted that this the parents’ objective of the meeting: the Trust’s focus is on running really good schools and he could not comment further. CB and MM re-iterated that they both want the best for the school and its endeavours, and they knew of no plans at the moment to make any changes to this school trip.
AS raised the next concern (4) from parents – communications.
Parents are concerned at the timeliness of the school’s responses to parents and in particular the change to the use of a generic email, rather than direct email communication to/from class teachers. LS commented that the system was not working and was not appropriate for sensitive communications which raise data protection (GDPR) issues.
AS added that, not having a link to staff, appeared a step back and a needless separation where a close relationship is essential. AT responded by saying he understood that this was brought in the summer term 2019, before the Co-Headteacher’s absence, and was a matter for the School’s Senior Leadership Team to decide, not the Trust.
He suggested that parents use the annual survey to indicate their concerns. LS explained that more regular feedback (and resulting action) was required as it was not appropriate to wait until next summer for a survey. On further specific questions from LS, CB suggested respectfully the meeting move on to those topics that were more appropriate to raise with AT, in view of the restricted time.
IB therefore moved to raise Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND) as the next concern (5)
, stating that the school needs to do more in terms of SEND provision.
Out of an abundance of caution, the next part of the minute has been omitted at the request of the Trust. The group of parent attendees (IB, LS, AS, JJ and LD) have agreed to this purely for the purposes of (i) agreeing this document and (ii) this document being shared with all staff and parents/carers by the School by midday on Monday, 25 November 2019. It is agreed that, as the meeting was held on an open basis, the parent attendees are free separately to share a version of the minutes with this omitted part included, if they so wish.]
IB affirmed the parental support for the SEND council instigated last year, and their willingness to work with SEND lead and give her time. LS added that it was agreed with the school’s leadership team last year that a SEND council would be set up, however, at the first SEND meeting this academic year the SEND lead announced that this would no longer be happening. IB expressed the disappointment of the SEND parents who did not understand the reasons why.
IB expressed parents’ concern over the changes to the composition of SEND staff support and that Teaching Assistant time has been lost, with more SEND staff time associated with EHCPs. CB, as Chair of the LGC Resources Committee, explained that most schools have restructured due to funding restrictions, and these decisions have been made in the least interruptive way.
At this point, with more points to consider, AT confirmed his willingness to extend the finish time to 7.20pm.
IB raised the next concern (6)
on Funds and asked AT to confirm that 100% of the DofE funding available to Ashley school arrives at the school – and is not diverted to the Trust and/or other Trust schools.
AT referred the meeting to the Finance section of his presentation summary on p7 and confirmed that all pupil funding based on pupil numbers, minus a % Trust share, arrives at Ashley without any deductions. IB asked AT to confirm the top-slicing % deduction taken by the Trust.
AT said he thought it was 5% and IB noted that the document shared by the Trust ahead of the meeting stated that a typical range was 3% to 6%. AT gave a high-level overview of GAG and other funding which is based on the number of children and their specific needs. He went onto confirm that all revenue funding received in connection with Ashley CofE School (whether from central bodies or parents in the form of the Governor’s Fund) is ringfenced, used for Ashley children and is not transferred or otherwise allocated to any other Trust schools.
He referred the meeting to the DofE website for further information. On being asked about the Governor Fund, a voluntary contribution fund, MM confirmed that this was used solely for designated CAPEX projects at Ashley School. MM confirmed furthermore that any cost of the secondment of Mrs Stevens to Farnborough Grange was met by the school to which she was seconded.
The last area of concern was on Governance (7)
and whether there was a plan to refresh LGC members and Trustees. MM gave a summary of the composition of the LGC set out on the academisation of Ashley and confirmed that skillset audits/training/succession planning is undertaken.
Two new members have been recruited recently with an Education and Community background. AT and SC on behalf of the Trust confirmed that the standard term of office for a general or Foundation member is 4 years and it is not exceptional for LGC members remain for 10 years or longer. He reminded the meeting that all decisions are taken by all members as one body.
LS asked AT why the Part 1 Minutes for LGC meetings are not as easily accessible as before. MM was not aware as to why this was the case and re-affirmed his commitment to openness. MM stated that we’ve voted on open meetings for last 3 years yet just one person has come, and we had two parents at one meeting.
AT confirmed that two requests have been received for copies, one at the school and one at the Trust and the Trust has responded. He confirmed that the Trust would respond within the prescribed statutory (FOIA) timescales.
CB observed the breakdown in trust which has occurred. The LGC are doing the best they can for the children. There’s a vacuum of information and we need to pull together, stand by stand by each other and pull together. She expressed her hope that we can begin to find blocks of trust to build on and that people should think about their own lack of trust.
AT confirmed that communication was very important to achieve this. AT concluded the meeting at this point (7.23pm), advising the meeting that he is committed to communicating further when he is able to.
These minutes record the key points discussed by attendees at an open meeting on 18 November 2019. They have been reviewed and agreed by all attendees, with one section omitted (as explained above).
On behalf of all attendees, the Trust/LGC has agreed to circulate these agreed minutes by midday on Monday, 25 November 2019 to all staff as well as to all parents and carers of children at Ashely CofE School.
As stated in the redacted version of the minutes issued by the Trust/LGC on 25 November 2019, it was agreed that, as the meeting was held on an open basis, the parent attendees were free to share a version of the minutes with the omitted part included, if they so wished.
To read the redacted paragraphs on SEND, click here
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