18 October 2019

Letter to GST signed by 309 Ashley parents

By email and registered post:

"Dear Mr Tear,

18 October 2019

Ashley Church of England Primary School, Walton on Thames

We, the undersigned parents of children attending Ashley CofE Primary school, wish to request urgent clarification with respect to the leadership and future direction of teaching at our school.
Next week Ashley CofE Primary school breaks up for the October half term, which will be over six weeks since our Co-Headteacher, Mr Dunne, was last at school. We fail to understand how a “staff related issue” (as you refer to in your letter to the parents and carers of Ashley school dated 15 October 2019), requires such a prolonged absence from school and the lack of transparency is of increasing concern to us. 

Ashley School is a fantastic school with a unique, successful teaching environment and a wonderful school community which depends on parental engagement both through involvement in the classroom and fundraising. The school and parents have always had an excellent relationship with Mr Dunne at the very heart of this and we are anxious about the negative impact that his continued absence is having on the morale of the school community. 

We wish to express our strong support for Mr Dunne, who as the Headteacher of 18 years standing is not only integral to and synonymous with Ashley School in a professional capacity, but is also a parent to a young child at the school. It is our sincere hope that Mr Dunne will return to his position at Ashley school once the “staff related issue" is resolved.

With the above paragraph in mind, we make the following requests:

1. That this issue is handled as a priority and that a timescale is communicated to us as soon as practicable.

2. That representatives from the Good Shepherd Trust attend an open meeting in the school hall to discuss the future direction of Ashley School under the Good Shepherd Trust leadership.

3. That you confirm precisely what “additional support" the Trust is providing at this time.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned (309 names follow)

cc. The Trustees of the Good Shepherd Trust, Ashley School LGC."

16 October 2019

Nick's Deleted Ashley Parents Community Forum Facebook Post

I wrote the following on 16 October 2019 and posted it on the Ashley Parent Community facebook forum. It was apparently removed by the admins on the instruction of the governors so I posted it on my own facebook page.

"This post has been written in the spirit of peace, love and understanding with the very best of intentions, which are to see Mr Dunne back in post at school, if at all possible, asap. It is a personal view, though I suspect it is shared by at least a few other parents.
I had a long and useful conversation with school governor Melvyn Mills and head teacher Jackie Stevens last night about the prolonged absence of Mr Dunne and the lack of any useful information as to why.
I was struck by how much respect both Jackie and Melvyn showed for Mr Dunne. Both have known him longer than I have (and I reckon I’ve known him a good 10 years now).
Indeed I have been taken by just how much love and support Mr Dunne appears to engender amongst the school community. I always thought he was a decent sort and a great head teacher but to find out that so many other people feel the same has been life-affirming and useful.
Obviously no one can speak for everyone and I’m sure the man’s not a saint, but standing in the room with Melvyn and Jackie and hearing about the governors’ respect for Mr Dunne and the staff’s respect for Mr Dunne made me think it’s time do something before someone, somewhere up the chain makes a bad decision which is difficult to reverse.
First though I would like to address the statement made by the GST that Mr Dunne is absent for “personal reasons”, and that they’re not going to comment further in order to protect his privacy.
If Mr Dunne were absent for personal reasons, he would say so. At the beginning of term he would have sent out an email or issued a statement via the school or GST saying “I am really sorry but I am going to have to take a leave of absence until further notice. It is for personal reasons and I would be very grateful if you would respect my privacy at this time. The trust are working hard to put in place a superb top team to manage Ashley in my absence…” etc etc
But he didn’t.
Also, when this all blew up, Mr Dunne could have issued a statement via the trust or the school saying - “thank you all for your concern, but I really am away for personal reasons, I’m really sorry I’m not back yet, but I do hope to be soon, please don’t worry about me”.
He hasn’t.
If an organisation tells you someone is absent for personal reasons and you cannot get that confirmed by the person in question, you are being played.
If an organisation tells you that they cannot comment further in order to protect the privacy of someone who suddenly seems unable to speak for themselves, you are being played.
The organisation is likely only protecting one thing - itself - and is using its clout to control the narrative and flow of information.
Quite how we’ve managed to cede all the executive power in the school hierarchy to an organisation which only came on the scene very recently and appears to be able to make our long-serving head teacher vanish is a question for another day, but I am certain that the longer this goes on, and the less pressure the GST feels, the more likely it is Mr Dunne will not return.
I don’t want that.
Jackie made it quite clear last night that both she and Richard were very happy with the co-head teacher arrangement and were looking forward to the new school year.
If you want Mr Dunne to remain as Ashley co-head teacher, we need to put pressure (in the politest possible way) on the GST and whoever they answer to (Dept of Education? Bishop of Guildford?)
If you don’t want Mr Dunne to remain as Ashley co-head teacher, doing nothing, saying that we don’t know what’s happened or suggesting we wait for an update is definitely your best option. 
I would far rather feel foolish for getting completely the wrong end of the stick, than find out in the next update that Mr Dunne has gone and that's that.
If our pressure makes it harder for the trust to get rid of him, and makes it an easier decision to work to get Mr Dunne back into the school, it might help.
At the moment the path of least resistance leads to a secret decision, one year’s salary, big fat NDA, goodbye, sir.
1) Assuming they feel as strongly as Melvyn does, I would like the governors to take a lead on this. I would like them to write a letter expressing their profound concern at the continued absence of a gifted head teacher, and I would very much like the most senior member of staff and the most senior governor (who isn’t conflicted) to sign it on behalf of all staff and all governors. As most of us know a letter of support is going to the GST from parents very soon. I’m not sure if the governors feel able or would achieve anything constructive if they threatened to resign en masse, but if they feel strongly enough about the situation and have any power, they should be thinking about how to exercise it.
2) I would also like the relaxing of the arbitrary GST-imposed rule which stops staff talking to parents. I am quite convinced that none of the staff or governors know what is going on, so presuming the staff would like to keep their boss we need to be able to talk to each other to work out what to do next.
3) I would like to know what pastoral support the governors, GST and the parish is offering Mr Dunne and his family.
4) I would like more information. It is surely not beyond the wit of the GST and its lawyers, (possibly in agreement with Mr Dunne’s representatives) to issue a statement which offers a reasonable amount of information to parents. Pretty much any other sentence than “personal reasons” would bat away the wilder speculation, calm everything down and not in any way prejudice what may already be a legal dispute. If this is an operational disagreement, or an employment dispute, say so. There is no tribunal or legal process in the land that would object to a clear, succinct setting out of the situation. It doesn’t have to be a secret.
5) Whatever happens to Mr Dunne, a public meeting, attended by the GST to discuss the future direction of the school under their leadership would be very helpful, but I’d rather it were held before Mr Dunne’s situation is finalised.
The danger is that a difference of opinion between an inspirational head teacher and his interim boss (if that’s what it is) leads to an entire community losing its inspirational head teacher, whilst the interim CEO moves on to his next role, blithely unaware of the damage done.
If you want to get involved, marshal your top line contacts amongst the diocese, GST, governors, council, staff, unions, lawyers, MPs, royal household (!) employment experts and parents. Talk to them. Ask for their help. Keep the pressure on the GST.
I know brighter minds than mine are already looking at the governance of the GST, its complaints procedure and other interventions, such as Freedom of Information requests. All of these have their place and can put pressure on an organisation to come clean and do the right thing. Or, at least, not do the wrong thing.
Finally - my thoughts to the staff at Ashley school. They are in a horrible position which is not of their own making, and unlike us, their jobs and careers are potentially at risk if they step out of line. I would not blame them the slightest jot for wanting to stay away from the whole thing. But I think those staff who feel strongly about Richard should be protected by their school (and all of us) and should be allowed to show their support, because it might actually make a difference.
Sorry for the lengthy post. Thanks for reading."