24 February 2020

A note on our children's alleged lack of preparedness for secondary school

The coffee mornings held before half term by Ashley interim head teacher Mr Clark have (according to some of the people I've spoken to) been useful. In them, Mr Clark made several assertions which were controversial, to say the least.

His ill-conceived "gotcha" on the school canteen's organic food content has already been cited in the resignation statement of Georgia Bailey, the Ashley school caterer.

The idea - first stated in Spring Term newsletter 4 - that 101 responses to the Ashley parents survey represented a quarter of families is just bad maths.

(It might represent a quarter of all families, but it could represent just over an eighth. The actual figure is likely somewhere in-between, depending on how many parents/carers from the same family completed a questionnaire).

Another statement which seemed to animate parents at the coffee mornings was the assertion that with Mr Dunne's curriculum, Ashley children were not being properly prepared for secondary school.

This has aroused strong feelings among parents whose children have been through Ashley school. It moved Laura Sutton to write the following letter to Mr Clark. She has kindly given me permission to reproduce it:

"Dear Mr Clark

I’ve been thinking a lot about what was discussed at the coffee morning last week. 

One thing that has really resonated is the point about the children missing parts of curriculum and not reaching their potential consequently.

Therefore, that is under review and the curriculum recommended by you is to be more closely aligned to the national curriculum benchmarks. Presumably this is to address some missing elements that are causing you grave concern for the future of Ashley children. 

I have two children who have left Ashley. They are twins in year 8.

My daughter, who was never a high flyer at Ashley - but steady, shy and sponge-like - is in all the top sets at her outstanding secondary school. She received a letter last week congratulating her on being in the top 10 girls in a 110-strong female pool for effort, attention and high performance.

My son, who has a one-on-one, as he did at Ashley, is in sets 3 out of 4. He has difficult challenges but passed his year 6 Sats in 2017 and is thriving at secondary well above expectations. He’s also dearly respected for being a kind and responsible boy with huge charm. He’s changing people’s perceptions about disability. 

The education and gentle care they both received at Ashley may not tick every national curriculum box. But it ticked very many other boxes that have made them both into very successful young seniors against their peer groups.

I know countless families where their Ashley children have completely smashed it at Secondary against their ‘full national curriculum’ counterpart peers. I think it is really important that this is given proper weight and not lost in the current reassessment.

A more homogenous education that ticks boxes is no replacement for the unique education our children have had at Ashley under Richard Dunne’s vision.

I think we are all sadly getting used to him being gone permanently. But it was hugely disappointing to hear you talk of how poorly the school has been educating our children when so many of us know that this is not true. I just do not accept this.

Our eldest kids have left Ashley as ‘middle of the roaders’ who are still streets ahead of peer school leavers whose schools follow process in the way I fear Ashley will do so now. A huge mistake in my opinion.

I have one child left at Ashley. He is bright and doing well. I’m sure he’ll help your league tables in a greater way than the twins did. But they all share great qualities, and these qualities are what will be their making - and are what are most important to us. Some are down to parenting. Many are down to their schooling at Ashley. 

Dry national curriculum teaching will not produce these qualities. Diverse and wide personal development - along with a sound all-round academic education - is what makes a great school environment. 

Please do not underestimate or undermine the quality of education that Ashley has been providing for many years. I am seriously saddened that this is not being understood by the GST and possibly now by you.

No institution is perfect. But Ashley has been an exceptional school on many levels for many years. The leavers prove this over and over, year after year. Spreadsheets don’t qualitatively assess this.

If you were to solicit feedback from other parents whose children have recently left Ashley, I expect 90% would say the same as I have. Surely this is one of the most important factors to take into consideration when reviewing the school’s success or otherwise?

Harmony, eco, a kind and an emotionally motivating/nurturing environment is what works above all other local schools - by a country mile. Ordinary schools that follow process fall well short.


Laura Sutton"

I have seen Mr Clark's response to Laura's letter. He acknowledges, but chooses not to address her points.

21 February 2020

Georgia Bailey resignation statement

Well this is very sad. I got the following yesterday from Georgia Bailey. I asked Georgia if she minded if I published it. She told me that's why she sent it.

Georgia works in the school kitchen for the company which supplies Ashley school's food:
"It is with so much regret that I have resigned as caterer of Ashley. I took the post to work alongside an inspirational head teacher, to push the boundaries of how good school food could be.  
Over the last few years we have been able to bring the percentage of fresh, seasonal, organic food to a level I would not have thought possible. This has taken hard work and dedication from a lot of people behind the scenes… I think we’re on our fifth greengrocer. 
However since Richard Dunne was forced to resign it has become clear that there is no longer the interest in maintaining our exceptional service. I have been told that we were deliberately misleading parents about the percentage of organics. This is simply not true. 
I have been told not to engage directly with parents, something that was previously encouraged. 
It seems that everything that Richard did to make Ashley such a unique school is being swept away. 
I feel that I have to stand up and be counted and I hope to continue to support Richard Dunne and his family, and the wider school community in seeking an independent inquiry into what has led to this. 
It has been my honour to feed Ashley’s children and staff and work with a team of people, both inside and outside the kitchen, who have been dedicated to the Harmony Project. 
Georgia Bailey."
I have asked Alex Clark and the Good Shepherd Trust for comment. I will post any response here.

I hope you are all enjoying half term. 

07 February 2020

Majority of Families Demand Independent Investigation


Richard Dune outside Ashley School

Parents demand Good Shepherd Trust investigation

Majority of families at Ashley C of E Primary School in Walton-on-Thames sign petition calling for independent investigation over resignation of head teacher.

Parents representing two thirds of the 400 families at Ashley Church of England Primary School in Walton on Thames, Surrey, have signed a petition asking the Secretary of State for Education to commission an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the forced resignation of Richard Dunne, the widely-respected Headteacher of Ashley School.

The petition was launched on 18 January 2020 by Ashley parents Lou and Tom Bradley. 353 individual parents are known to have signed it so far, representing 271 families - at least two thirds of the families at the school. As of 0900 today, the total number of petition signatures stands at 2147.

Petition organiser Lou Bradley said: “The fact the majority of parents want the Trust independently investigated speaks for itself. Mr Dunne is an outstanding Headteacher and the Trust should be made to answer for their actions. It has left me and so many others in total despair. Mr Dunne should be reinstated as Headteacher of Ashley as soon as possible.”

Last year an investigation into Mr Dunne was launched by the Trust. He was suspended on 10 September 2019 and resigned on 17 November 2019. Mr Dunne told parents, staff and children:

"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.”

Petition organiser Tom Bradley said: “For such an outstanding and inspirational Headteacher to feel that he had no option but to resign from his beloved school due to the fact he felt he wouldn’t get a fair hearing is deeply worrying and the perceived lack of support and empathy he has received from the Good Shepherd Trust is not, in my opinion, aligned to what I believe to be core Christian values.”

The GST held a disciplinary hearing in Richard Dunne’s absence on 18 November 2019 and found him guilty of several counts of misconduct with no right of appeal. An investigation by Ashley parent and journalist Nick Wallis into the action against Richard Dunne and the substance of the allegations themselves revealed serious potential flaws in the Trust’s motivations, methods and evidence.

Tom and Lou Bradley will travel with other Ashley parents to hand in their petition to Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education at the Department for Education in London in the coming weeks. Esher and Walton MP Dominic Raab has also written to Mr Williamson stating his serious concerns about the GST.

Ashley parent Nicholas Neveling said: ”The sudden departure of Mr Dunne as Ashley’s Headteacher last year left me and many other parents heartbroken. This sadness has been compounded by the deteriorating relationship between Ashley parents and the Good Shepherd Trust in the aftermath. An independent investigation into the reasons for the GST’s actions leading up to Mr Dunne’s departure is the only way to repair broken bonds, reset and reconcile."

Ashley parent Francesca Rajan said: “I was deeply saddened by the unexpected departure of Mr Dunne. He was an inspiration to pupils, teachers and parents alike, and it is widely agreed that our school has suffered a great loss. We are seeking transparency and accountability, to enable us to feel part of the decision making process that so greatly impacts our children’s futures.”

Ashley parent Peter Shaw said: “If the Good Shepherd Trust are not willing to submit to an independent inquiry, you have to wonder what they have got to hide. What I want my children to learn at school is that honesty and openness are values that we should live by. What harm can be done by having all the facts scrutinised by an independent investigation?”

Ashley parent, Nick Wallis said: “The Good Shepherd Trust and the Chair of the School’s board of governors tried to claim we were a minority of troublemakers. Now it’s clear the majority of Ashley families are demanding a proper investigation. The Trust needs to do something. There is evidence of a very un-Christian stitch-up. The Trust and its employees need to be held to account.”

Ashley parent Emily Thomas said: “This is about upholding the fundamental values of integrity, respect and distinguishing right from wrong. Sadly, the actions of the GST contradict everyone one of these. We have lost an incredible Headteacher and Ashley School is the pawn in this power play. We are seeking an independent enquiry to find the truth and hold those responsible to account.”

Various Ashley parents are available for interview. High res photos of Mr Dunne outside Ashley School and external photographs of the Ashley School buildings are available.

For more information please contact:

Kaija Larke: 07841166232 / kaija@larkemedia.com 
Nick Wallis: 07976 432174 / nick@nickwallis.com 

Notes for editors:

Ashley Church of England Primary School is a three form entry school with 541 pupils. It joined the Good Shepherd Multi-Academy Trust in 2014.

Richard Dunne is nationally recognised as a pioneering and brilliant Headteacher, under whose leadership Ashley School was rated Outstanding by Ofsted.

Ashley School is part of the Good Shepherd Multi-Academy Trust, run by the Diocese of Guildford. Ashley is its only Outstanding school.

Last year concerned parents launched the Ashley 4 Transparency group and set up a crowdfunding campaign which raised more than £22,500 to help Mr Dunne take legal action against the Good Shepherd Trust. Further fundraising events are planned.

Nick Wallis has published the results of his investigation into the Trust on the blog www.educationaccountability.org - where you can also read the letters Dominic Raab MP has sent to the Secretary of State for Education and the Good Shepherd Trust.