29 November 2019

Nigel Stapleton sends letter to parents/carers recognising "unsettling situation"

This was sent on 29 November 2019:

"Dear Parents/Carers,

The LGC fully recognises the unsettling situation that the whole Ashley School community are experiencing following the resignation of Mr Dunne. Some people have responded with strong emotions, which is to be understood given all that Mr Dunne has contributed to the school over the past 18 years.

We would like to assure parents that despite all that has been taking place, the staff have been continuing to deliver the best education possible for the Ashley children. They are finding the situation very stressful and it is requiring them to work much longer hours. For this, the LGC members are extremely grateful. We have played a significant part in supporting the leadership team in trying to maintain a “business as usual” approach.

We are seeking to achieve an outcome where all parents, staff and LGC members are working collaboratively towards a common objective: to do our very best for all the Ashley children. We would like to ask all parents, at all times, to be respectful to staff and LGC members. In doing so they will be modelling the value the children have been learning this term of being “respectful”.

Over the past few weeks several parents have asked to see the LGC minutes. To this end, the LGC at its meeting last Thursday week decided that:

- Part 1 of the termly LGC’s for the remainder of this academic year should be “open”
meetings. At all schools, the LGC meetings are always in two parts: Part 2 deals with confidential matters and is restricted just to LGC members.

- the LGC will accelerate one of the recommendations from a discussion paper on parent engagement that had been prepared over the summer. We will quickly set up an Ashley Parent Partnership (APP). We will shortly issue, for you to give us feedback, the proposed terms of reference and membership structure of the APP. Its key objective will be to provide a forum through which the views of a representative group of parents can be regularly and clearly heard by the senior leadership team and considered more effectively at our LGC meetings. Please note that the APP is to be complementary to the FOA and will not assume authority over the activities organised by the FOA to the benefit of the school.

- as a one-off exercise, reflecting the concerns of the whole parent community at this difficult time, we are attaching to this letter a complete set of minutes for Part 1 of the LGC meeting held last Thursday evening. The only redactions that have been made are when the discussions were about particular staff members or groups of staff, whose privacy we must respect.

- for future LGC meetings we will make sure that within ten working days of the meeting all parents receive a summary of the key issues discussed and of the decisions made by the LGC during Part 1 of their meetings. The full set of Part 1 minutes will be available (in redacted form) to any parent on request, after they have been approved by the LGC.

You will find some of the terminology adopted at the Part 1 meeting to be unfamiliar. So does any new LGC member for their first two or three meetings! Please bear with us: as soon as possible we will prepare a glossary to help you in interpreting the minutes.

Because of other pressures on their time neither the staff nor LGC members will be able to answer any questions you might have from reading these Part 1 minutes. However, we would be pleased to receive any feedback by e mail to governors@ashley.surrey.sch.uk.

You will be hearing more from the senior leadership team over the coming weeks as they begin to roll out the initiatives that they are discussing with the LGC members. We all hope that these difficulties that we have been encountering over recent weeks can be addressed as quickly as possible.
We owe it to our children that the entire Ashley community should pull together and respond to the steps being taken by Jackie Stevens and her fantastic staff to get all these differences behind us as soon as possible. Please be assured that this will be the LGC’s absolute focus between now and the end of this term.

Yours faithfully

Nigel Stapleton

On behalf of the members of the Ashley School Local Governing Committee"

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27 November 2019

Andy Stocks email to LGC after Esher RFC meeting

This email was sent on 27 November 2019 to Nigel Stapleton (LGC Chair) and Cathy Blair (LGC vice-chair):

"Dear Nigel and Cathy,

You will hopefully be aware that a large portion of the parent body met last night to discuss the situation at Ashley School, pay tribute to Mr Dunne and show our unwavering support for the school staff and what they are doing for our children.

One of the key messages that came from the meeting was that parental engagement and working in collaboration with the school has always been, and will always be, in everybody’s best interests.

To this end a vote was held and it was agreed to propose to the LGC that a Parent Council is created.

We have no preconceived ideas of how this might work but we do believe that a sharing of views from a wider parent perspective would be beneficial to give insight into how messages would land and even where the areas of concern lie.

We would like to meet with one or two of your body to discuss this in more detail and to highlight some of the areas which will be seen as very positive steps from a parent perspective, as well as looking at examples of where and how this has worked well in other schools.

Once an engagement structure has been agreed we would then propose circulating to the wider parent group to ensure everyone is equally and fairly represented.

I personally feel that this could be very powerful in bridging the gap that is apparent and I believe it will be beneficial not just in the short term as we overcome recent challenges, but as an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship.

Please let me know your thoughts.

Kind regards,

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26 November 2019

A4T letter sent to parents after the meeting at Esher RFC

Emailed on 26 November 2019:

"Hi All,

A huge thank you for coming along last night to share your opinions, and show your support for Richard Dunne, our incredible staff, and amazing school. Let’s build on the momentum, and ensure we harness the amazing passion and energy of our special community!
There is much ground to be covered. When emailing, please use the relevant subject headers below so we can keep on top of the admin.

Next steps:

•    FUNDING. Top priority is setting up a crowdfunding vehicle for Richard. This is being explored as a matter of urgency and details will be shared asap. If you have any experience in this field please email this address using the subject: FUNDING

•    OBJECTIVES. We are working on a mechanic to allow everyone to input on priorities so we determine where best to focus our energy and resources going forwards. More on this asap.

•    TARGETED WORKING GROUPS. We need helpers! If you’re able to assist in any capacity – from general admin to specific skillsets, do let us know. Suggested areas include general admin, HR, legal, PR/comms, accounting, IT, SEND, charities, governance, research, eco, harmony, lobbying, event management or anything else you feel relevant. Please tell us how you can help, using the email subject: WORKING GROUPS

•    PARENTS COUNCIL. It was agreed by the vast majority of attendees at the meeting last night that we look to establish a formal parents council to work collaboratively with the GST, LGC and school. We will take this forward immediately. Details to follow. If you wish to contribute to this please email this address using the subject: PARENTS COUNCIL

•    DECK INFO. If you would like to receive the deck shown at the meeting, we are happy to distribute. Please email us accordingly using the subject header: INFO DECK.

More to follow on the above.

As always let’s proceed in the spirit of harmony and collaboration, and above continue to show respect to all concerned, especially those with different views. The upcoming Christmas Bazaar will be a fantastic way to show our love for the school.
Thank you again.

Ashley 4 Transparency parents group"

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25 November 2019

Minutes of GST meeting with parents

(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.

In attendance: 

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)

1. Welcome

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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GST Chair releases a statement: "our systems are fair and impartial"

Circulated on 25 November 2019 at 2.20pm:

"Ashley Church of England Primary School - Resignation of Mr Richard Dunne

The Trust recognises the recent concern within the Ashley school community. It has been very frustrating for all involved not to be able to discuss the situation more openly. This has been especially difficult as we fully understand that Richard Dunne has been a highly regarded member of the school community for a very long time and that his resignation is a challenge for all of us to overcome, together.

We would like to take this opportunity to reassure all members of the school community of our commitment to ensuring that every decision of the Trust is taken in the interests of the children in its care. We take very seriously our responsibility to act within our vision, values, policies and legal responsibilities.

We understand that the school community is looking for information and answers. We ask you to understand that it is not appropriate for the Trust to discuss all elements of this matter openly.
The Trust is committed to its duty of care to Richard as a former member of staff, which includes confidentiality. It is also critical as part of ensuring that our systems are fair and impartial. We can assure you that all of the Trust’s policies and procedures have been strictly adhered to which includes providing an opportunity for full participation by those involved.

We also have a duty of care for all our staff at Ashley. We must stress that all members of staff have a right to be treated with respect and courtesy in every aspect of their professional life. We would ask you, as a member of the school community, to do all you can to ensure they are supported in this endeavour. To the very small minority of parents who have behaved poorly towards some members of staff, we would ask you to remember that all the staff are working in your child’s best interests.
The Trust aims to work in partnership with members of our school communities, including parents, to ensure that all our children flourish. We are continuing to actively support the Senior Leadership Team, the staff and the Local Governing Committee during this challenging time for all involved with the school.

We understand that Ashley has an individual character which the whole school community cherishes. We would like to reassure you that Ashley remains a highly valued school within our Trust.
Children remain at the heart of everything we do. Our hope is that everyone in the school community will be able to work together to achieve the best possible outcomes for all the children in our care.

Simon Walker
Chair, The Good Shepherd Trust"

Rev Cathy Blair and Rev Jonny Blair's letter: "We would have responded positively..."

On 25 November 2019, the Revs Cathy and Jonny Blair, joint vicars at St Mary's and St James's churches in Walton issued the following letter to their parishioners.

Richard Dunne lives in Cathy and Jonny's parish and Cathy Blair is vice-chair of the LGC (governors) at Ashley school.

The penultimate paragraph in this letter contrasts with a request I made on 16 Oct to discuss what pastoral care was being offered to Mr Dunne. On 17 October I received a reply via an intermediary stating "Cathy tells me RD pastoral care must come from the trust."

Letter follows:

"Dear [parishioner]

Several parents have asked for clarification on some issues concerning the situation at Ashley school and the church. There is so much speculation and conjecture going around, that we felt it would be helpful.

Firstly, the church involvement.

The first thing to say is that the church of St Mary and St John’s has had nothing at all to do with the absence of Mr Dunne during September, October and half of November. Neither does the church have any say in any strategic decisions taken at the school. The leadership of the church have a strong desire to have a good relationship with the schools in the town of Walton on Thames, and especially with the Church of England primary school, because it is the best for the local community.

We are very sorry to see an influential, well-liked co-Head teacher of 18 years depart a school in this way.

Secondly, Governance and curriculum.

Role as Governor. Cathy takes on the role which is required of the incumbent of the parish in which a Church of England school resides to be a Governor. She is deputy chair of Governors. She has had this role since summer 2016.

The role of the Local Governing Committees (LGC) in Academy schools is to be a support and challenge to the Head teacher and Senior leadership team (SLT) on all local issues pertaining to the running of the school, under the Ofsted categories and in accordance with the SIAMS (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools) requirements.

The LGC role (which includes Cathy) is to oversee aspects of budgeting and finance, building projects and site maintenance, health and safety, safeguarding, staffing etc. The Academy Trust (GST) do such things as provide higher level budgeting, services for training, mentoring, employment of staff, legal and HR expertise and run 16 schools concurrently with benefits to all schools, which the County Council previously provided.

Just to say, that leading up to the resignation of Mr Dunne, the LGC had no more information that the GST put out to parents and staff. The focus of the LGC is on support of the Staff to provide the best possible education for the children.

Curriculum and Harmony. As an Academy, the school has had the freedom to develop a broader curriculum including the eco and environmental package that Ashley school offers. This curriculum will stand the school in a good place under the new Ofsted framework, because there is now a requirement to show that learning is broad and embedded, rather than simply good academic achievement.

Specifically, because I know this has come up, such things as the enriched curriculum including Harmony for which the school is well- known, are the choice of the Senior leadership team agreed with the Governors, not the Governors’ choice. This would come under educational decisions which the Trust and LGC support the SLT in making.

Thirdly, pastoral care.

People have asked whether the church has offered pastoral care. We would have responded positively to any request for pastoral support from Mr Dunne and his family as to any request from parishioners.

We are sorry that this whole situation has caused such anxiety. As your church leaders we would like to assure you that we are praying for you and your children at this unsettling time.  We would hope that you would feel able to approach us and ask any questions if you have any further concerns. We hope this helps.


Cathy and Jonny"

21 November 2019

Letter to Parents from Nigel Stapleton: "The LGC will consider a further meeting with parent representatives..."

Circulated on 21 Nov 2019:

"Dear Parents & Carers

Following the statement from The Good Shepherd Trust (GST) on Tuesday morning regarding the resignation of Richard Dunne, the Local Governing Committee (LGC) wish to assure you that our number one priority is the support of the staff of Ashley School, whose focus must be directed to the welfare of the children and the excellence of learning that they continue to provide.

The LGC understand that this is a very unsettling time for everyone connected with the school and believe that it is paramount that all who have an interest in the School should pull together for to secure the best future for the children.

Members of the LGC and GST met with a small representative group of concerned parents on Monday evening (in response to a request from parents received before half-term) and responded to a range of questions about the school and the leadership going forward. Some agreed notes from this meeting will be issued to all parents as soon as possible. The LGC will consider a further meeting with parent representatives, once the notes from this meeting have been circulated.

In the meantime, we will be focusing our attention on ensuring that the quality of education that the children receive is maintained.

Our priority remains securing the best outcomes and learning for Ashley children at this challenging time. Please be assured that we are giving immediate consideration to how we can communicate with all the parent community in a positive way into the future.

We will write to parents again shortly to let you know how we intend to engage with parent concerns.

Yours faithfully

Nigel Stapleton

On behalf of the Local Governing Committee Ashley CE Primary School

CC: all members of Ashley Staff"


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19 November 2019

The parental response to Richard Dunne's resignation

First published in an A4T newsletter dated: Tuesday 19 Nov 2019:

"We were all devastated to see Mr Dunne’s letter of resignation, and the issues it brought to light.

We are acutely aware of the sorrow and anger expressed so eloquently by so many people over the course of the last 24 hours.

As you know, we had our meeting with the Trust yesterday evening and, following his resignation, we also spoke to Mr Dunne.

Just to be clear on the timing of what happened over the past 48 hours: Mr Dunne sent a resignation letter to the Trust on Sunday evening. He sent it to the school at lunchtime yesterday. Mr Dunne’s resignation was accepted by the Trust.

We understand that Mr Dunne wanted the news to be shared with staff in their post-school staff meeting yesterday, but this did not happen.  We are not sure why, but we can only assume the Trust blocked the resignation letter from being shared.

The resignation letter (which was also addressed to parents and children) was posted on the Ashley Parents’ Facebook group late yesterday afternoon.

Why has Mr Dunne been forced to resign?

The information we have received about what has been happening over the last few months has led us to the conclusion that Mr Dunne has acted in the best interests of the children and Ashley school. Certainly, we have yet to see any evidence to the contrary (and we absolutely do not expect anything to materialise).

From our understanding, the allegations about Mr Dunne’s “performance, regarding procedures and practices” should have been resolvable without his removal from the school.

We have not seen the specific details, but from what we understand any suggestion the allegations are serious does not stand up to scrutiny.

As you know from his letter, Mr Dunne strongly rejects all the allegations against him.

When we spoke to Mr Dunne, he told us he is extremely grateful for all the support he and his family have received. He also very much wants the parents to remain actively involved in challenging the GST and the Governors going forward and in the best interests of the school.

We hope and expect he will continue to be a significant part of our community as things develop."

GST statement on Mr Dunne's departure

At 10.15am on Tuesday 19 November, the GST issued the following statement:

"The Good Shepherd Trust can confirm that Mr Richard Dunne has resigned from his post as Co-Headteacher at Ashley Church of England Primary School. He left the employment of the Trust on 17th November 2019.

We would like to thank Richard for his contribution over the last 18 years and wish him well for the future.

The Trust would like to thank pupils, parents and carers for their continuing support for Ashley Church of England Primary School and its staff team.

We will write to all parents and carers again in due course to provide an update on plans for the school going forward."

18 November 2019

Richard Dunne's resignation letter

Emailed at 5.05pm on 18 November 2019:

"Dear Staff, Parents and Children of Ashley School,

It is with a very heavy heart that I write to inform you that I have resigned from my position at the school with immediate effect.  The Good Shepherd Trust has made a number of allegations about my performance regarding procedures and practices.  I strongly reject the allegations levied by the Trust, but, given the way the Trust has conducted itself so far, I do not believe that I will receive a fair hearing in relation to the concerns they have raised and so I have resigned.

I am also resigning due to the total lack of care my family and I have received from the Trust during this time.  It has made the past few months intolerable and it is not fair on my family for this suffering to continue.

It has been the greatest honour of my life to have led Ashley School for so many years, to have seen the school grow from one-form of entry to close to full three-forms of entry, to have worked with so many wonderful people, both staff and parents, and, most importantly, to have seen so many children flourish during their time at the school.

I am deeply saddened that after 18 years of devoted service to the school, I should be leaving in this way.  I wish you all every success in the future and thank you for so many happy years working together to make Ashley School the special school it is, and I hope will continue to be.

Very best wishes to you all,

Richard Dunne"

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The Regional Schools Commissioner states on what grounds she will get involved

Received 18 November 2019:

"Dear Mr Wallis

Thank you for your email about Ashley Primary School. I have fed the issues you have raised back to the Good Shepherd Trust and they have assured me they are taking your concerns seriously.

I thought it would be helpful to explain the role of the Regional School Commissioner (RSC) and the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in relation to formally intervening in the running of an academy trust. Academy Trusts are independent, self governing, organisations funded directly by the government. The RSC and the ESFA will only take formal action against an academy trust when a school within the trust has been judged inadequate by Ofsted or if a trust fails to comply with the academies financial and governance handbooks.

For the above reasons, I hope you will understand why I cannot intervene further on the issues you and other parents have raised about Ashley school. 

The trust will provide a further update before the end of term.
Kind Regards

Claire Burton
Regional Schools Commissioner
South East and South London"

This email was sent in response to a note sent by NW to Ms Burton on 6 November. This is NW's email:

"Dear Ms Burton

I am the parent of a child at Ashley school in Walton. 

As you know, many of the parents here have written to you with concerns about the governance and direction of Ashley School, particularly, but not exclusively with regard to the absence of its inspirational head teacher, Richard Dunne.

I saw the generic, dismissive and inaccurate two line response you sent to many parents on 29 October by way of reply. You stated that the trust “has issued a statement to parents explaining Mr Dunne’s absence.”

Did you read it? The Trust didn’t explain anything.

I attach a letter from Dominic Raab, the erstwhile and likely next MP for Esher and Walton. You will note he has read the statement the Good Shepherd Trust issued, and reflected on it thus: “I think it is unreasonable for the Trust not to set out any substantive explanation at all for Mr Dunne’s absence after such a long period.” [my emphasis]

He goes on to say it is “incumbent” on the Trust and the school to show more “transparency" with regards to the "leadership and governance" of the school.

He concludes by saying that “given the seriousness of the situation” he is copying the Secretary of State for Education and the HM Chief Inspector of Education, Schools and Skills at Ofsted into his request for more information from the Trust.

I would politely and respectfully suggest that you take on board the contents of that letter and the many emails you will have received from concerned parents. Please, either do something about it or at the very least tell us why you can’t/won’t and/or what threshold would have to be reached before you might be minded to. 

Sending us a miserable two line generic fob-off directing us towards a statement you evidently hadn’t read is disrespectful at best. If your intention was to anger people, you succeeded.

I look forward to hearing from you shortly. And given the seriousness of the situation, I will, of course, be copying this letter to the Secretary of State for Education, the Chief Inspector of Schools at Ofsted, and Dominic Raab.



NW responded to the 18 Nov email from the regional schools commissioner the day it was received with a note of thanks:

"Dear Ms Burton

Thank you very much for that helpful information and thank you very much for contacting the trust.

I will circulate your note to the group of concerned parents I’m dealing with and we’ll work out what to do from there.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to reply and explain how your role works.



13 November 2019

A4T update to parents

Circular sent on 13 November 2019 to the A4T whatsapp group by a working group of parents who volunteered to take on a number of tasks on the 21 October meeting upstairs at the Anglers.

"Hi all

A small working group of Ashley parents had a meeting on Monday evening to discuss everything that’s been happening since we met as a large group at the Anglers. This message is to update you. 
Please feel free to share with others in the school community.

Thank you

Thank you so much for your continued efforts to help achieve any sort of clarity on what has been happening at Ashley school not just since Mr Dunne’s sudden unexplained absence, but during the period leading up to it. Many of you have written letters and emails to people who could and should be taking a close interest in what has been happening and we are extremely grateful to you for all the contributions to 
ashleycofetransparency@gmail.com over the course of the last three weeks.

New mailing list

We have decided to set up an email mailing list for concerned Ashley parents/carers and staff members. If you want to join, please emails 
ashleycofetransparency@gmail.com putting “Subscribe” in your email title. Please put your full name in the body of the email - it is not always obvious from your email address!!

Those parents who attended the meeting on 21 October and who provided their email addresses previously will be signed up automatically, and will get this message by email, as well as reading it on the whatsapp group and the Ashley Parents Facebook page. If you attended the meeting, provided your email address and do NOT wish to receive occasional email updates please email 
ashleycofetransparency@gmail.com with the word “Unsubscribe” in your email title. Or just hit unsubscribe when the first email comes through.

The latest

We still do not have any new information on Mr Dunne’s situation, but we have been working hard to engage the GST and governors.

To bring anyone new to this up to speed here is a recap of what has been happening since that meeting was convened:

21 Oct

There was a meeting upstairs at The Anglers in Walton for parents concerned about the absence of Richard Dunne. Out of that meeting a small working group was put together to address the concerns raised and take matters forward.

One of the problems identified was the lack of communication as to what was going on, despite repeated attempts to secure an open meeting with the GST at the school.

There were also questions raised as to what parents can do - and discussions were had about communicating with people of influence to try to get answers in the absence of information. The email addresses of several organisations and individuals including Dominic Raab MP were collated and parents were encouraged to write to them with their concerns.

There was also an agreement that a letter would be sent to the GST asking for a meeting and for several important concerns about the absence of Richard Dunne to be addressed.

Subsequent to that meeting a letter was constructed by a small group of people which was signed by 309 parents and sent to the GST.
Parents also sent their own letters to the GST, the diocese and the governors.

An email inbox (
ashleycofetransparency@gmail.com) was set up for parents to voice concerns which would be put to the GST at any meeting.
An email was sent to the parent governors asking them to engage with parents with concerns in a formal way.

Subsequent to 21 Oct

An email was sent to the parent governors and the GST to request a meeting.
Emails were sent by parents to organisations with oversight of the GST, Ashley School and our MP.

24 October

A statement was released by the GST which said:
“The Trust and the Local Governing Committee want to acknowledge and thank all those parents who have taken time to write letters and contact us, whether to share their concerns about Mr Dunne’s absence or to express their support for the school and appreciation of its staff.

Both the Trust and the Local Governing Committee are very sorry to hear that there is so much speculation about Mr Dunne's absence from school and that this is causing distress and upset amongst some parents.
In previous communications, the Trust has made it clear that it is not currently able to comment on the reasons for Mr Dunne's absence. To do so would breach the confidentiality that he is entitled to as an employee of the Trust.

The Trust understands that these unusual circumstances can sometimes result in frustration. The Trust shares this frustration in not being able to provide more information at this time, which it recognises is extremely challenging for all parties concerned.

The Trust looks forward to communicating more openly and sharing with parents, when it is able to do so. In the meantime, the Trust and the Local Governing Committee will continue to offer support to the school leadership and staff. The Trust will continue to work to resolve the situation as soon as possible on behalf of all the parties involved.”

Also on 24 October

There was a message in the Ashley school newsletter from Jackie Stevens:

We would like to share our vision statement with you: ‘Together we live, love and learn in harmony’ which encompasses all that we are about at Ashley. We have also written a new school prayer which we hope you like: Dear Lord, Help us to grow in our love for learning, Help us to care for each other, Many hands make a building, Many hearts build our school, Help us all to be the best we can, Help unite us together in Harmony, Amen.”

and a note on Harmony:

“OUR CURRICULUM - We have a wonderful curriculum that we are all very proud of. We do our best to link the learning across subjects in the best way we can. We are proud of the Harmony work that the children produce to enhance and understand the meaning of their learning at a deeper level. At times we will block those subjects, such as RE, that can be tricky at times to link. This means that the children can study them in depth over a shorter period of time.”

5 November

A letter was sent by Dominic Raab MP to the Good Shepherd Trust stating:
“I have read the statement dated 24 October from The Good Shepherd Trust (TGST) regarding Ashley Church of England Primary School and its head, Mr Richard Dunne.

I have received numerous emails and letters from worried parents. I appreciate the issues around privacy that TGST have referred to, but I think it is unreasonable for the Trust not to set out any substantive explanation at all for Mr Dunne’s absence after such a long period.

Whatever the reasons, it is incumbent on both Ashley Church of England Primary School and TGST to give parents a measure of transparency with regards to the leadership and governance of the school, even if there is a limit on the detail that can be shared at this stage. I hope you will be in a position to provide a further explanation as soon as possible.

Given the seriousness of the situation, I am copying this letter to the Rt. Hon. Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, and Ms Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills at Ofsted. I look forward to hearing from you.”

Also on 5 November

A letter was sent by the “majority” of staff (NOT the school senior leadership team) to the GST and the Chair of the school governors Nigel Stapleton expressing extreme concern at Mr Dunne's continuing unexplained absence and paying tribute to his inspirational leadership. The letter also offered unequivocal support to Jackie Stevens.

A source within the school sent a message of support to  parents stating: “most staff share the concerns and are appreciative of what you are doing.”

7 November
A hamper of goodies collected by parents over half term was delivered to the staff. A staff member responded:

“Hello! I’m sure an official thank you will come out but I’d like to personally say thank you SO much for the wonderful goodies in the hampers that you’ve given the staff. We’ve always known what wonderful parents we have at Ashley but this goes above and beyond. Thank you”

And that staff member was right - in the Ashley school newsletter there was a lovely message:

“Dear Parents, the staff would like to send a big thank you for all the treats that you have sent them this week. They are very much appreciated and will be enjoyed for some time to come.”

Also in the newsletter from Jackie Stevens:

“PARENT EMAILS CONCERNING OUR CURRICULUM - I have received a number of emails concerning our curriculum and its delivery. In last week’s newsletter, I did say how proud we are of our curriculum and all the extended learning that makes Ashley the school that it is. The governors have asked me to continue to focus on the wellbeing and education of the children; therefore please do look at the website for any details concerning the curriculum that you wish to know.”

Also on 7 November

A letter was sent by the GST to the parents agreeing a meeting on 18 November with a delegation of four named parents with varying skillsets and children at different years in Ashley.

Another message went out from the parents working group to the parents whatsapp group asking for questions and submissions to the parent delegation, which they would be able to take to the GST on 18 November.

10 November
Parent governors responded to the request for a meeting by suggesting we wait until after 18 November.

11 November
The parents working group meeting approved an agenda for 18 November. The agenda has been submitted to the GST for further discussion. Once the agenda has been agreed by the GST it will be circulated.

It was agreed that a suggestion for a meeting date of 20 November would be sent to the parent governors. At the moment, this is still a meeting between two parents representatives and the two parent governors.

Parents meeting

An open post-GST meeting date and location for parents/carers concerned about the continued absence of Mr Dunne was decided for Mon 25 November somewhere close to central Walton. By that stage we should have been able to circulate the minutes of the GST meeting and get an idea of numbers to sort a suitable venue.

It would be lovely to see as many of you there as possible.

Please share

We are conscious that however you receive this message it is only going to a subset of parents/carers, not every Ashley parent. We have no way of reaching everyone. Therefore if you know a parent/carer who might appreciate receiving this message and might want to come to the meeting on the 25 November, or join the mailing list, please do forward it to them.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and thank you for whatever contribution you have made in any way - many hands make light work. We are immensely grateful. And we hope to get some clarity soon.

Ian Birdsey

Lu Digweed
Jules Jones
David Kendall
Raine Peake
Tabitha Siklos
Anna Simms
Lesley Stockman
Andy Stocks
Laura Sutton
Nick Wallis
Karola Zakrzewska"


11 November 2019

Chair of GST responds to Dominic Raab's letter

Sent on 11 November:

"Dear Dominic,

The Good Shepherd Trust and Richard Dunne

I am writing in response to your letter of 5 November to Alex Tear (Interim CEO).

I am rather surprised by what you have written, since you say that you understand the issues around privacy.

I hope that you will accept that we can say no more to you, or to the parents at this time. In my judgement, we have been as transparent and reassuring as possible, given the nature of what is taking place. As a responsible employer, we are concerned for Richard Dunne, his welfare and his right to confidentiality. We regret that this prevents us from saying more to address the frustration of anxious parents at the school.

In paragraphs 4 and 5 of the statement on 24 October, we have explained: first, that we are not currently able to comment on the reasons for absence, as doing so would be a breach of an employee’s right to confidentiality; and, secondly, that we look forward to sharing more openly with parents when we are permitted to do so.

We are all hoping for an early resolution and ask for patience as the matter is given both the highest priority and our utmost attention.

If you still have concerns over how this matter is being handled by the Trust, then I suggest that we should meet and discuss.

Yours sincerely

Simon Walker JP
Chair of the Board of Trustees / Directors"

05 November 2019

Letter from Ashley School staff to GST and LGC

This letter was sent by Ashley School staff (not including the school's senior leadership team) to the chief executive of the Good Shepherd Trust, and the chair of Ashley School's Local Governing Committee, on 5 November 2019.

It was made public some days after Richard Dunne left the school:

"Dear Mr Alexander Tear and Mr Nigel Stapleton,

We would like it to be formally acknowledged that a number of Ashley C of E staff are increasingly concerned regarding the unexplained, sudden and continued absence of Richard Dunne.

He is highly respected by the school community; teaching and support staff and the parent body, for his visionary leadership. There are many unique selling points that set Ashley apart from other schools. Richard has been the driving force behind our creative curriculum and pioneering sustainability model, which has been developed in partnership with the staff. We feel these are some of the countless reasons why our school has been oversubscribed for many years and why good teachers choose to remain.

Richard’s dedication to the children of Ashley School, its staff and community is inspirational. His passion for providing the best quality experiential teaching and learning is at the core of Ashley School’s ethos.

The staff recognise the dedication of Jackie Stevens during this time and are grateful for her taking on the full time responsibilities of head teacher during this unsettled period. We value her commitment to upholding the vision of this school.

The staff feel great uneasiness and anxiety due to this situation and hope a positive resolution can be reached soon.

We thank you for taking the time to read this."

Letter No 1 from Dominic Raab MP to Alex Tear at the GST

"Dear Mr Tear,

I have read the statement dated 24 October from The Good Shepherd Trust (TGST) regarding
Ashley Church of England Primary School and its head, Mr Richard Dunne.

I have received numerous emails and letters from worried parents. I appreciate the issues
around privacy that TGST have referred to, but I think it is unreasonable for the Trust not to
set out any substantive explanation at all for Mr Dunne’s absence after such a long period.

Whatever the reasons, it is incumbent on both Ashley Church of England Primary School and
TGST to give parents a measure of transparency with regards to the leadership and
governance of the school, even if there is a limit on the detail that can be shared at this stage.

I hope you will be in a position to provide a further explanation as soon as possible.

Given the seriousness of the situation, I am copying this letter to the Rt. Hon. Gavin
Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education, and Ms Amanda Spielman, HM Chief
Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills at Ofsted.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Dominic Raab

cc Rt Hon Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson
Ms Amanda Spielman, HM Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills, Ofsted"