17 January 2020

Finally, the allegations against Mr Dunne

Richard Dunne
Ashley School's head teacher of 18 years, Richard Dunne, was suspended on 10 September 2019 after a number of allegations were made against him by his employer, the Good Shepherd Trust.

On 18 November 2019 Mr Dunne wrote a letter to staff, parents, carers and children stating that he strongly rejected all the allegations: "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."

Without being told what Mr Dunne was alleged to have, er, done, it has been difficult for everyone to work out why he was turfed out of the school. I think we have a right to know. I have now spoken to enough people and seen enough documentation to at least be able to give you the exact wording of the allegations against Mr Dunne and the dread crimes they allude to. I have also seen Mr Dunne's response.

But first, some context.

In 2014, one of the biggest fans of the Good Shepherd Trust was Richard Dunne. Ashley School, under Mr Dunne's leadership, had developed an independent and successful ethos, but that ethos was under threat. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, had a clear idea of what a primary school curriculum should look like. It would mean big changes for Ashley.

With a view to escaping the clutches of local authority control, the school approached the Good Shepherd Trust. They were pushing at an open door.

On 1 Sep 2014, the school became part of the trust and Nigel Stapleton, the Chair of Ashley's board of governors, became a GST trustee. Everyone was happy. The GST had its first outstanding school and access to a highly motivated and experienced senior leadership team. Richard Dunne felt free to continue developing and implementing his educational philosophy at Ashley, based on the principles of natural Harmony and environmental awareness.

For the first three years all seemed to be going well, with the school being left to develop its own unique curriculum. The first signs things were changing came with a significant increase in meetings at the GST offices in Guildford in 2017/8, which required Mr Dunne's attendance. Mr Dunne felt, after a while, that the meetings were not in the best interests of Ashley school. He became increasingly convinced the trust was far too focused on empire-building, and was losing sight of what he understood it to be about.

Allegations of bullying

At the same time, there was also a curious dynamic developing around Ashley's board of governors (now officially known as the Local Governing Committee, or LGC). Governors' meetings became combative affairs, with Nigel Stapleton, and Rev Cathy Blair, (the governors' vice-chair) setting the tone.

One former governor said he saw an: "aggressive and confrontational attitude take hold, driven by Nigel and Cathy which, with hindsight, I wish I had challenged more robustly at the time... Richard [Dunne] was often spoken to in a very confrontational and aggressive way, which was tantamount to bullying. It became so aggressive at one stage that Cathy was told to apologise to Richard which she reluctantly did, but it wouldn't surprise me if she had an issue with him ever since."

The clerk to the governors at the time was Sienna Alcock. She describes Nigel Stapleton as being "aggressive" and treating Mr Dunne in a "demeaning" manner. She also felt that the governors, particularly Mr Stapleton, were "micro managing" the school - over-reaching their strategic remit.

In the summer of 2017, Ms Alcock was invited to become a foundation governor. She accepted, but was still concerned about Mr Stapleton's behaviour. 

During a meeting with three other governors, set up to discuss the toxic environment at the LGC and the behaviour of Nigel Stapleton and Cathy Blair, Ms Alcock offered to become temporary chair of the LGC, to try to relieve some of the tension and give the school a fresh start.

This idea was taken to Nigel Stapleton. He wasted no time in having Ms Alcock removed from the picture. Instead of receiving the paperwork for the next governors meeting, Sienna Alcock received nothing. When she enquired as to what was going on, she was told she was no  longer going to be an Ashley governor on 1 September 2017 as agreed. No letter, no warning. Ms Alcock says "it was clear my attempts to speak up about the situation were met with an attempt to silence me." She later complained. The GST refused to investigate.

In the course of putting this piece together I have discovered that a number serious allegations about the behaviour of Nigel Stapleton towards Richard Dunne and others have been made known to the Good Shepherd Trust.

One of those complaints, by a former member of Ashley staff, alleges that Nigel Stapleton was "rude and aggressive", "intimidating" and "inappropriate and offensive" towards her, concluding that she felt she was "being bullied out of my job." The trust again refused to investigate.

In the last few weeks, Alex Tear, the CEO of the GST has reiterated that "The trust is committed to its duty of care for all staff, including former staff" and Simon Walker, the Chair of the GST has stated: "I take allegations of bullying of any kind very seriously."

Yet the trust appears to have done nothing to investigate complaints about Nigel Stapleton, and don't appear to be taking multiple allegations of bullying very seriously at all. 

The asset-stripping

In September 2018, the GST removed Ashley's deputy head teacher Jackie Stevens from the school for half the week. This was to help run the trust's ailing Farnborough Grange Infant School in Hampshire. Mr Dunne was told he too would have to take time out from Ashley to assist at Farnborough Grange as the School Improvement and Intervention Board Chair, running meetings at the school every other week.

The same month the School's Business Manager, Di Goodhugh, was asked by the trust to attend regular meetings in Guildford to discuss a potential role for her as the trust's Head of Finance. This meant that from the beginning of Autumn Term 2018, Ms Goodhugh was absent from the school approximately half the week. This had a significant impact on the ability of the school office to operate effectively.

In October Di Goodhugh informed Mr Dunne she was leaving to become the GST's Head of Finance with almost immediate effect. Although the trust's business manager Gill Farmer stepped in to help out part-time, the school had been left in the lurch. Both the school's full-time office staff resigned in the following weeks.

At the end of 2018, the trust instructed Jackie Stevens to become full time head teacher at Farnborough Grange for the rest of the academic year. Mr Dunne was told he was going to be made an executive head, initially responsible for Farnborough Grange and Ashley School, something he did not want to do.

In January 2019, Mr Herbert, the school’s Premises Manager, announced he was going to be absent from the school all term to recover from two major knee operations.

Ashley School was now without a premises manager, a full time business manager and a deputy head teacher. The school's leadership was stripped down to Richad Dunne, an Assistant Head, and a two days-a-week business manager - 12 management days a week in total. By comparison Ashley currently has a head, a three day-a-week deputy, two assistant heads and a two day-a-week business manager - 25 management days a week in total.

On top of the day-to-day business of running the school, Mr Dunne knew he had a challenging year 6 cohort coming through, and he says he was being put under pressure by the trust to maintain Ashley's results record. He felt unsupported, and was struggling.

The protected disclosure

On 9 January 2019, Richard Dunne wrote an email to Nigel Stapleton, outlining his concerns about the situation and the trust's actions in what he felt was the asset-stripping of the school. Fatally, and perhaps na├»vely, Mr Dunne questioned whether it was in Ashley's best interests to remain in the Good Shepherd Trust. Mr Dunne later described his email as a confidential "cry for help". In his eyes, he was making a protected disclosure.

Nigel Stapleton replied to the email, copying in the chief executive of the trust, and one of the trust's directors of education, Kate Evans. Mr Stapleton told Mr Dunne: “it appears to me that you are, in your current perception of your role, living in a “Bubble” and taking little recognition of the realities of the educational world." He concluded “what worries me still more is if this reflects accurately your motivation and commitment to GST. If it does, then the future looks bleak!”

Mr Dunne says he was "utterly stunned" by Nigel Stapleton's response in copying in his bosses, and felt that from that moment on, the trust had marked his card. Maybe he was right.

But you can't get rid of a head teacher just like that. You need dirt.

The problem was, Mr Dunne didn't seem to be doing much wrong. Staff were loyal and committed, results were good, parents* were happy and he was developing a national reputation for his work on the Harmony curriculum.

But if you're really determined...

The evidence gathering

Over the early part of 2019 Kate Evans became more visible at Ashley. Rather than spend her time with Mr Dunne, she instead seemed to be having regular conversations with another member of staff. Let's call her "Ms X".

As the trust began going over the school and Mr Dunne's personal record with a fine toothcomb, Ashley school's year 6 Chamonix trips were approaching. Mr Dunne was leading one of them, and any safeguarding problems on the trip would give the trust a field day. Whilst the children were in Chamonix, Ms X was receiving secret texts from another a (now departed) member of staff alleging  safeguarding lapses. The allegations were passed to the GST without Mr Dunne's knowledge.

The trust appointed one of its directors of education, Amanda Johnston, as investigating officer. Donning the gumshoes, Johnston PI began to record video interviews to gather evidence against Mr Dunne. This little exercise hit a bump when Ms Johnston pointed her camera at Jenna Caswell, an Ashley special needs assistant, who was on Mr Dunne's 2019 Chamonix trip.

Jenna Caswell left Ashley School at the end of the last academic year and is now a police officer. She has been to Chamonix a number of times, and is adamant that in 2019, there were no safeguarding issues whatsoever. Jenna described it as an "amazing week", adding that "the children loved it and they were all safe and well."

Whilst on the trip Jenna spoke to her colleague about the constant texts and asked her why she was sending them. Her colleague said she had been asked to send them by Ms X.

After everyone had returned to England, Jenna was approached by Ms X to become a whistleblower against Mr Dunne. She refused.

Amanda Johnston was perhaps unaware of this when she invited Jenna to take part in a filmed interview. 

During the interview Jenna gave her both barrels. She not only made it quite clear she did not witness any safeguarding lapses in Chamonix, she made a counter-complaint against Ms X for her constant attempts to undermine Mr Dunne (which apparently started well before Chamonix) and Ms X's efforts to encourage other members of staff to do the same. Ms Johnston didn't appear to be interested in Jenna's comments about Ms X.

Jenna has not been able to find out what happened to her on-camera complaint against Ms X. It doesn't look like it was investigated.

Because it has been so difficult for any current staff member to speak out (save the letter most of the non-management staff sent to the GST last year), I asked Jenna (as someone who spent many years at the school and who only left last year) what she thought of Richard Dunne.

She said: "He opens the children's eyes. He lets them see what is happening to our world around us. He explains the importance of us looking after our planet. The Chamonix trip is the best trip I've ever been on - to see the change in the children of achieving climbing a mountain, going on a cable car, new experiences and probably the first time they have been away from their parents. My daughter did this trip the week before us, and she came back with a whole new outlook on the world. He inspires the children to make a change."

The co-headship

Whilst the trust was compiling its allegations, it had to deal with a request from Jackie Stevens. Mrs Stevens was not having a good time at Farnborough Grange. The stress of dealing with a difficult school and the considerable amount of travelling time was getting to her. She wanted to return to Ashley.

A solution presented itself. Mr Dunne was keen to continue the Harmony work he had been developing and sought a clear distinction between sharing the curriculum beyond Ashley and his day to day job leading the school. Mr Dunne and Jackie Stevens had been colleagues for more than a decade and trusted each other completely. After much discussion, a new leadership structure with two co-headteachers and two assistant heads was agreed with the trust. Despite the horrors of 2018/9, it looked possible that Richard Dunne would be able to put the year behind him and work with Jackie Stevens to get Ashley motoring again.

But what the trust giveth with one hand, it also taketh away. Before the end of summer term, Richard Dunne was told he was the subject of a "fact-finding" investigation.

The suspension

On 9 September 2019, in the first week of Autumn term, Mr Dunne and Mrs Stevens told parents in their first newsletter of the year, how they were "both very much looking forward to working together in our co-headship role."

A day later, Richard Dunne was summoned to an "informal" meeting at the GST's offices in Guildford. He was met by the trust's interim CEO Alex Tear and  Kate Evans.

Mr Dunne was handed a list of 18 allegations and told he was suspended. His lanyard, keys and laptop were taken away, denying him access to his emails and essential documentation.

The trust and school then misled parents by telling them Mr Dunne was absent from school for "personal" reasons. They were told not to approach him.

Mr Dunne was understandably distraught. He had led the school for 18 years and was at the heart of a community of supportive families who thought highly of him. Mr Dunne's daughter was still at the school. Suddenly he was sitting at home, cut off from the job he loved.

At first Mr Dunne sought his union's help, then he went to a lawyer. He asked the trust to push back his disciplinary hearing to 18 November as he needed to gather the evidence to support his case. He made a subject access request (SAR) to the trust. This request would compel the trust to hand over all the information they held on Mr Dunne, including any communication between trust and school staff.

As the hearing approached, Mr Dunne still had not received all the documents he had requested. He asked for the hearing to be pushed back again. The trust refused.

The hearing

On the 17 November, concerned he didn't have the documentation he needed to prove his case, and by now reasonably sure he wasn't going to get a fair hearing, Richard Dunne sent a letter of resignation to the trust by email.

On receipt of this letter, summoning all five of its values - trust, love, courage, respect and integrity - the GST decided it was not sufficiently clear to have confirmed that Mr Dunne had definitely resigned. With this strange doubt lurking in their minds, the trust decided Mr Dunne's disciplinary hearing could still go ahead.

The disciplinary panel solemnly assembled in Guildford on the morning of 18 November. Richard Dunne was not present. Nor was his lawyer. Those who did attend were:

Yvonne McLeod (GST director, expert in distribution, logistics and change management)
Louise Pollock (GST director, economist and mindfulness teacher)
Amanda Johnston (GST director of education and disciplinary panel's Investigating Officer),
Joanne Cambra (GST HR director and adviser to the Investigating Officer),
Richard Hiron (from Judicium Consulting Limited, as HR adviser to the panel)
Chloe Benson (Notetaker)

The hearing was chaired by Simon Walker, chair of the GST's board of trustees.

Immediately, 11 of the 18 allegations presented to Mr Dunne at the beginning of term were dropped. This was partly thanks to Jenna Caswell, who had provided a statement to Mr Dunne's lawyer, and the patient work of Mr Dunne himself, who had collated some of the evidence he needed.

However, seven allegations remained.

The allegations in full

The panel considered the remaining allegations put to Mr Dunne. They were:

1) boundaries are blurred between parents and staff, with inappropriately casual relationships and attitudes to school, possibly resulting in safeguarding concerns;

2) the school is vulnerable with statutory matters not adhered to;

3) safeguarding is not a priority;

4) you instruct other senior leaders to exclude pupils when only the Head teacher has authority to do so;

5) you may have failed to sign in and sign out on several occasions from September 2018 to date thereby failing to comply with the School's procedures;

6) only registering to attend a DSL [designated safeguarding lead] course in July 2019 despite being instructed to register on 16 November 2018 and again on 14 May 2019;

7) you may have breached the Academies Financial Handbook by commissioning a service (with payment) to a company of which you are a Director and failing to declare this interest, including after intervention from the Trust's Finance Manager.

All the allegations were upheld. Mr Dunne was issued with an "outcomes letter" on 21 November telling him he had been found guilty of gross misconduct in his absence, but as the trust had now managed to convince themselves he had resigned on 17 November, he no longer had any right of appeal.

On a quick read, allegation...

1) appears to allege either Mr Dunne or his staff are too nice,
2) and 3) are a little opaque,
4) is either true or untrue,
5) is quite extraordinary,
6) could do with some context, and
7) is, of course, the infamous catering racket, where Mr Dunne was found guilty of not signing a form he had requested, but not been given.

Each upheld complaint was accompanied by references to evidence which was not present in the documentation I have seen.

On 13 December Mr Dunne sent a letter to the GST in response to their disciplinary panel's findings.

Using the outcomes letter and Mr Dunne's response, I have tried to set out below the main thrust of the disciplinary panel's findings and the main thrust of Mr Dunne's responses as clearly as I am able. It really is quite a read. Here goes:

Allegation 1) boundaries are blurred between parents and staff, with inappropriately casual relationships and attitudes to school, possibly resulting in safeguarding concerns;

The trust said:
"parents and carers were able to access the School premises quite freely and that DBS checks were routinely not undertaken in relation to members of staff and volunteers (including your own wife). These clearly posed a significant risk of harm to pupils."
Mr Dunne said:
"The reasons given by the disciplinary panel for upholding this allegation do not relate to the allegation that there are inappropriately casual relationships with parents. Instead, the evidence relied upon relates to the DBS checks of staff and volunteers and parents being able to access the School’s premises... this is because there was no evidence that I had caused the blurring of boundaries between parents and staff nor that I had created inappropriately casual relationships with parents... For completeness, I also categorically refute the allegations that parents were able to enter the School’s premises freely except for the beginning and end of the school day when they would come in to drop off and collect their children. It is the School’s policy that parents must sign in and out of the School if they are to be on the School’s premises during the school day. All staff are aware of this policy and the signing in / out process is managed on a day-to-day basis by the School office (not myself) when parents come into Reception."
On the specific allegations concerning Mr Dunne's wife, Charlotte, Mr Dunne says:
"My wife has been a volunteer at the School for 18 years and whenever she provided support to the School to help with pupil’s reading, she was always with the Class Teacher and a Teaching Assistant. She was never left alone with the children and instead was always supervised. This means that there was no legal requirement for her to have a DBS check. 
Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that whilst it may be considered best practice, there is in fact no legal requirement for a DBS check to be renewed. However, notwithstanding this, when the School’s Business Manager flagged to my wife that her DBS had “expired”, my wife completed the necessary paperwork and provided it to the School’s Business Manager for processing. My wife was therefore of the understanding that everything had been actioned, but the School’s Business Manager failed to process the form and my wife’s DBS check was therefore not updated."
Allegation 2) the school is vulnerable with statutory matters not adhered to;

The trust said:
"your conduct gave rise to safeguarding concerns, serious neglect of health and safety procedures, serious breach of confidence, serious misuse of position, conduct that brings the Trust's name into disrepute, conduct that risks the viability of the Trust and gross negligence."
Mr Dunne said:
"I do not accept that the School was vulnerable to statutory matters, and the Trust has not provided evidence of this... no details of what I have allegedly done have been provided."
Allegations 3) safeguarding is not a priority;

The trust said:
"your conduct over a period of time demonstrated a clear lack of understanding and a clear lack of interest in the safeguarding processes and procedures that the Trust and its policies have made clear is paramount for the protection of the pupils that come to the Trust for education in a safe and secure environment... you demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of the appropriate procedures to be followed and of the urgency in ensuring that the pupils under your care were protected."
Mr Dunne said:
"This allegation is categorically denied. Firstly, I wish to make it clear that before the Trust’s witch-hunt commenced against me there had been no safeguarding concerns raised against me by staff or parents during my 18 years’ service at the School. Safeguarding was always a priority to me and I believe this is evidenced by the fact that when I joined the School’s Safeguarding Committee in January 2019, I increased the number of meetings so that they were held every other week rather than once a month."
"In relation to the Single Central Record, I accept that a Safeguarding Audit found that it had not been kept up to date. However, this in no way infers that safeguarding was not a priority to me. The day-to-day responsibility for the Single Central Record had been delegated to the School’s Business Manager and the Deputy Headteacher who was the School’s DSL. I believe that they had both failed to keep the Single Central Record up to date because they had been out of the School so much working on Trust matters. However, once I became aware of the issues with the Single Central Record, I took over responsibility for it and ensured that any missing information was rectified as quickly as possible. I liaised closely with the School office and the Trust Business Manager regarding this and can confirm that it was in an immaculate state by early in the Spring Term. Once all the issues had been rectified, I would also regularly check it over to make sure that this remained the case on an on-going basis (which it did)."
Allegation 4) you instruct other senior leaders to exclude pupils when only the Head teacher has authority to do so;

The trust said:
"In your role of Head teacher of the School, you are expected to be aware of the relevant processes and procedures for excluding a child of school age. The Panel reviewed the witness evidence and the documentation available, including your own evidence and found that you had delegated your exclusion responsibilities to other senior leaders."
Mr Dunne said:
"I would like to make it clear that I do not believe that this allegation is factually accurate as it suggests that this is something I did on a regular basis when in fact I believe it relates to one occasion where I spoke to [Ms X] about a potential exclusion that may need to take place at the School before I had to leave to go to a SIIB [School Improvement and Intervention Board] meeting at Farnborough Grange. I therefore categorically deny that this was a common practice within the School. I would also like to make it very clear that I was fully aware that I was the only person who could exclude a pupil at the School and this is evidenced by the fact that, to my knowledge, there has never been an exclusion that has taken place at the School whilst I was Headteacher that was actioned by anybody other than myself."
Allegation 5) you may have failed to sign in and sign out on several occasions from September 2018 to date thereby failing to comply with the School's procedures;

The biggie. The trust said:
"given your seniority in the position of Head teacher, it was your responsibility to ensure that proper standards of behaviour were set and to act as a role model for staff, pupils and, to some extent, parents and carers as well. The Panel also took into account the factual evidence which demonstrated that the system for signing in and out of the School was working at the relevant times."
Mr Dunne said:
"This allegation is categorically refuted. It was well known within the School and the Trust that the new signing in / out system that was introduced at the School in August / September 2018 had teething problems and did not work properly. These problems included an inability to sign-in / sign out as well as some staffs cards not working. My card did not work and I was therefore unable to sign in / out for an extended period of time. However, whilst I was waiting for a replacement card, I would always let the School office know that I was in work so that this could be accurately recorded, and I would always wear a lanyard as I had done for many years. With regards to signing out, it was again well known within School that almost on a daily basis, there would be a block of staff who would not show up as having signed out (even though they did) and this resulted in the default time of 23:59 being allocated. I therefore simply do not accept that when my sign out time is shown as being 23:59 that I failed to sign out and instead assert that it is because the system failed to work properly."
Incidentally, the signing in and out system has since been abandoned and replaced.

Allegation 6) only registering to attend a DSL [designated safeguarding lead] course in July 2019 despite being instructed to register on 16 November 2018 and again on 14 May 2019;

The trust said:
"The Panel found that there had been significant delay between your receiving a legitimate management instruction to attend a course to ensure that you could effectively lead the safeguarding procedures at the School, during which time you were reminded of the need to do so.  
The Panel was also mindful that your own evidence demonstrated a clear lack of appreciation and understanding of the importance that the safety of pupils at the School is paramount before anything else must be considered."
Mr Dunne said:
"This allegation is refuted as it is simply not true. Firstly, I do not accept that I was given a management instruction to attend a DSL course on 16th November 2018. This is because I was not part of the School’s Safeguarding Committee at this point in time and the meeting that took place on 16th November 2018 was in relation to Farnborough Grange and my role as Chair of the SIIB. Both my previous lawyer and I repeatedly asked for the evidence that showed I was asked to attend the training in November 2018 and to date, the Trust has failed to provide this.  
I joined the School’s Safeguarding Committee in January 2019 when Jackie Stevens, who was the School’s DSL, was seconded to work at Farnborough Grange full-time. As soon as it became clear that Jackie would not be returning to the School for the remainder of the Academic Year, I registered to attend a DSL training course. I attended a DSL training course on 12th March 2019 and also went to a Spring Term DSL Network Meeting the following week on 19th March 2019. I believe that these timescales are wholly reasonable in view of the fact I was trying to run the School with a significantly reduced Leadership Team, as outlined above. 
With regard to the follow-up DSL training, when I was questioned by Kate Evans in May 2019 as to why this had not been completed, I explained to her that it was because the training provider in March had told me that the follow-up training would take place during the Autumn Term and to hold off until then. Upon Kate learning this, she directed me to attend the follow-up training with a different provider and I booked the course within 24 hours of her request having been made. The different provider had no availability for May or June and I therefore attended the course in July 2019. 
Finally, I believe it is important to make clear that whilst I was in the process of completing my DSL training, the School still had 3 DSLs - Tiffany Holder, Louise Athersuch and Maggie Rebbeck, as well as two other staff members (Katy Luxford and Joanne Hart) who had DSL training at the School. Therefore, the School was in no way left vulnerable in terms of suitably trained DSLs, especially in view of the fact there is a legal requirement for a school to only have one DSL."
Allegation 7) you may have breached the Academies Financial Handbook by commissioning a service (with payment) to a company of which you are a Director and failing to declare this interest, including after intervention from the Trust's Finance Manager.

Ah, the catering racket. This allegation was signposted in Nigel Stapleton's end of term letter to parents on 18 Dec 2019. Charlotte Dunne's magnificent reply was circulated before Christmas. Read both here.

In the outcomes letter of 21 Nov, this is what the trust said:
"The Panel considered the frequency of the authorisation of the payments and the length of the period over which they were made. It was found that you had authorised payments to a company in which you were both a Director and in which you exercised significant control, without complying with the requirements set out in the Academies Financial Handbook. It was found that this was a serious misuse of your position and demonstrated a severe disregard for both statutory requirements and the rules of the Trust. Moreover, the Panel found that your conduct in this regard held the potential to cause serious reputational damage to the Trust, which in turn could cause severe detriment to its credibility and its funding."
Mr Dunne's response was:
"I understand that this allegation relates to my wife’s company, RJ and CJ Consulting Ltd, of which I am a Director but had no involvement with on a day-to-day basis at the time of the allegation.
It is important to highlight that both the School and the Trust have known about my wife’s company and my link to it for many years. It was never something that was hidden and instead was something that was widely known. This is because since 2009, and at the request of Nigel Stapleton, my wife was asked to do the catering for the Governors’ ‘thank you’ meal for staff at the end of the School’s Academic Year. My wife did not do this every year but did do the catering in 2009, 2012, 2015 and 2017. This was not something that I suggested or was involved in. It was instead something that was commissioned by Nigel Stapleton as the School’s Chair of Governors. It is therefore incredulous that the Trust is now trying to infer that they were not aware of my interest in this company, especially given that Nigel Stapleton is also the Chair of the Trust’s Finance Committee. 
In addition, my wife also did the catering for workshops that were run by an outside organisation called the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts on the School’s Premises. Again, this was all above board - the School Business Manager knew what was happening and the Governors were aware of these events and my wife’s role in doing the catering. Some of the Governors even attended the workshops. My wife’s invoices for these events were not even addressed to the School and instead were addressed to the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Furthermore, once concerns regarding this arrangement were raised by Di Goodhugh, my wife stopped providing the catering to Prince’s School of Traditional Arts and the catering was instead provided by a different third party. 
For clarity, this decision to change the catering supplier took place in November 2018, almost 9 months before the allegation was made against me.
Once again, I believe that this has been an attempt by the Trust to manipulate the allegations / evidence in order to make a finding of gross misconduct against me when it is simply unjustified to do so. My involvement in my wife’s company was wholly above board and has been since 2009 when her services were first used by the Governors. 
I accept that a 'declarations of interest’ form was never completed about this, but when this was flagged to me by Di Goodhugh, the Trust’s Head of Finance by this stage, in June 2019, I confirmed that I was happy to complete the form and asked for her to provide me with a copy of it. Email evidence can confirm this. However, she never did. Instead it became an allegation against me."
So there you have it. It's easy to see why Richard Dunne (and some of the more perceptive parents, to use Nigel Stapleton's phrase) believe this has been a total stitch-up. 

That's not to say Mr Dunne may not have made mistakes. If you scrutinise everyone's actions and activities at work, especially if they are under pressure and under-staffed, you'll find occasions where errors are made. Striving for perfection is a lovely idea, achieving it at the best of times is impossible. We are all human.

Dealing with oversights, errors and omissions is about proportionality. It's hard to see the proportionality in finding someone guilty of gross misconduct for not signing in or out of school when they say they simply weren't able to.

Mr Dunne alleges this lack of proportionality and fairness goes deeper. In his letter of 13 Dec, he says:
"the Trust failed to follow fair and reasonable processes.... [including] failing to provide me with any real detail as to what the allegations meant so that I could not properly defend myself... suspending me without justified grounds and providing me with no support or access to my emails during my suspension... inviting me to a disciplinary hearing and capability hearing within the same invite letter even though they are entirely separate processes and should have been dealt with in accordance with their separate corresponding policies; failing to postpone the disciplinary and capability hearings... failing to raise allegations in a timely manner; failing to speak to me on an informal basis about any of the concerns before deciding to deal with them formally many months later; failing to provide any kind of support for me to help address any of the allegations; and failing to consider all the evidence available and instead relying on the evidence that achieved the Trust’s desired outcome..."
Whilst Mr Dunne was suspended the staff at Ashley sent a letter expressing their increasing concerns about Mr Dunne's absence, reminding the trust that:
"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."
309 parents also sent a letter to the trust noting:
"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."
The governors were conspicuous by their failure to offer Mr Dunne any public support whatsoever.

This is about accountability. I am publishing this piece in the public interest. There needs to be an independent investigation into the Good Shepherd Trust so that conversations, communications and decisions which led to the suspension of Mr Dunne can be scrutinised. If there is evidence of a witch-hunt, the relevant staff can be disciplined and Mr Dunne can receive an apology.

Also, given the serious nature of the allegations against Nigel Stapleton (a GST trustee and chair of Ashley's board of governors, let's not forget), they ought to be pursued with the same zeal the trust applied to Mr Dunne's investigation.

One respected former member of staff told me:
"The way the Governing Body and the GST treated Richard is deplorable. I am sad to say whilst working at Ashley, I saw a great man, who dedicated his life to the teaching profession and Ashley School, treated with a complete lack of respect. I have little faith in their stewardship of the school."
If the trust and the LGC have behaved by the book over the last three years, then no one should have anything to worry about.

My concern is that if the GST and LGC are not properly investigated, they will be free to treat staff, parents and possibly even children in the same manner they treated Mr Dunne, and I am not sure I want that.


As you might expect, before I published this piece, I gave the Good Shepherd Trust, Nigel Stapleton and Cathy Blair the opportunity to respond. I received the following on Thu 16 January from Nick Clarke, the trust's PR man:

"I’ve passed your questions to the Good Shepherd Trust. They have asked me to refer you to the previous statement issued to all Ashley School parents on 25th November. The Trust will not be responding to further questions or queries in relation to this matter."

Nigel Stapleton and Rev Cathy Blair have not acknowledged my requests.


Some parents have set up a petition asking for an independent investigation of the GST's actions. You can read what they have to say and sign it here.

Richard Dunne is crowdfunding his legal fees to take on the GST. You can contribute here, but only until the end of Jan, when it closes!

The GST response to the above piece.


You can read the 25 November statement to parents here.

This is an open letter to the GST/LGC demanding a full, independent investigation into what the GST/LGC have been up to.

This is a detailed timeline of events.

And if you're wondering who Richard Dunne is, click here to watch one of his TEDx talks.

* please assume all references to parents includes carers (and on occasion also ex-parents/carers. Once an Ashley parent, always an Ashley parent!)


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