Last week, former Ashley School head teacher Richard Dunne published an appeal for help. "The Good Shepherd Trust has sent a number of allegations about me to the Teacher Regulation Agency" he said, "I believe this is an attempt to get me struck off the teacher register."
These allegations relate to those the Good Shepherd Trust (GST) raised against Mr Dunne whilst he was head teacher last year. The TRA has informed Mr Dunne it is conducting an investigation, which is where Mr Dunne's appeal for personal references came in. Last week, he wrote:
"My legal advisors (who you so kindly crowdfunded), tell me that character references in these investigations matter a great deal, as the Trust is questioning my professional and personal integrity. In this instance, the more I can get and send on to the TRA, the better."
I am delighted to report that in the space of one week Mr Dunne has received more than 220 references from parents, past and present, staff and former pupils of Ashley school. This is a phenomenal number, and I think everyone connected to Ashley school can feel rightly proud. As you might expect, Mr Dunne is thrilled. He asked me to pass on the following message:
"I have been overwhelmed by the number of character references since my request went out last Wednesday. I want to thank you all for your extremely kind messages of support. I have been really humbled by your very kind words."
I asked on an open forum if anyone would mind forwarding me their references for publication. There follows is a small selection of what came through. I have anonymised them, but all are from current Ashley parents. See if you can spot mine. See if you can spot yours!
The one-in-a-million character:
"I have known Richard Dunne for under two years but over this time I have only ever seen great things from him. He was an inspirational head teacher at Ashley and his leadership is sorely missed at the school... The Ashley community is one of a kind and Richard has been the one behind building and growing this community. He was (and still is) 100% dedicated to the children – not just their education and safety but also pushing boundaries in terms of teaching them about Harmony and how to make the world a better place. He is a one in a million character and his mistreatment at the hands of the GST is deplorable."Inspirational, moral, honest:
"I have therefore known Richard Dunne for 12 years. As a family we have been incredibly fortunate to have had Mr Dunne's inspirational leadership for both our children in their formative primary years. His dedication, kindness and integrity is unquestionable.
He lead the school from the front and knew every child's name within a week of them joining which made them all feel secure and safe... Having volunteered with the FOA (the parent association) for many years, I worked with Mr Dunne closely and found him to be incredibly fair, open and honest in all his dealings and meetings... I would not hesitate to vouch for Mr Dunne as an inspirational, honest and moral character."I've just realised he's going to get quite a big head reading all these:
"I am a parent of a set of twins in Y3. We were privileged to be accepted at Ashley; having the children educated under the leadership of such an inspirational head teacher made a dream come true. Our children received the best education in a safe, happy and sustainable environment where they have grown learning more than just what the National Curriculum expects.
Ah, well, he deserves it:Mr Dunne’s ethos is close to our hearts; he is a world-class visionary who continues to inspire us and our community, regardless of the utterly unjust upheaval he and his family have to endure because of the Good Shepherd Trust's unfounded accusations. We would do anything to have him back at Ashley, we trust him with our children’s lives."
"I am a parent at Ashley School; my children (age 11 and 10) have been at the school under the leadership of Richard Dunne since reception. I have been a teacher for 20 years, and Richard is one of the most inspirational, caring and genuine educators I have come across during that time.
During his time at Ashley he cared about each and every child at the school, knew them all by name and was liked and respected by teachers, children and parents. He also showed compassion and empathy for parents, like us, who have found themselves in difficult situations. He was available when he needed to be, and was always smiling in the playground at the end of the day. My children have had an amazing start in life thanks to Ashley school under Richard’s leadership.
I am shocked and appalled at the allegations against Richard, and welcome an independent investigation so that the actions of the GST can be questioned and Richards good name can be cleared."This one is genuinely moving:
"I am a Paediatric Nurse with 30 years experience and I am a Designated Children’s Safeguarding Officer. In my previous role I worked for 10 years in the School environment in this capacity and I have a good awareness of safeguarding issues within schools.
Richard is a person of impeccable character and with the greatest integrity. I, like many parents, had absolutely no concerns of any type of safeguarding issues. From a professional point of view Mr Dunne has only ever wanted the very best for the children and he really cares. Despite a three form entry he made it his business to learn all of the children’s names. His love of the job and compassion for what he did was so obvious to all who knew him, parents, children and staff alike. During his management of the school, I never encountered a safeguarding issue or concern. The school community was always regarded as a safe and secure place for our children. On a personal level I can assure you Richard Dunne’s integrity is not a trait exclusive to his professional life. Out of work Mr Dunne is a generous, kind, honest and caring man. He is truly one of the most honourable people I have ever met.
The allegations against Mr Dunne have been made public for some time and they are quite simply absurd... why the GST were not able to address these minor concerns in a rational, responsible and efficient way is completely baffling to me. The GST’s shambolic mismanagement has led to an innocent man being professionally persecuted in order for the GST to attain their own agenda. The fact the TRA have even been involved is ludicrous.It is impossible to explain how much our school has changed since the loss of our hugely respected, valued and incredible Headmaster. Richard Dunne is irreplaceable. He was once aptly described by a parent as ‘the beating heart of Ashely School’ and since his departure the school is less vibrant, less cheerful, less passionate, less spirited as a result, a loss acutely felt by parents, staff and children.
I am aware your organisation plays no part in investigating any suggested misconduct of Academy Trusts but I implore you to play no part in removing Mr Dunne’s teaching registration. For Richard Dunne to be lost from education forever would be a catastrophic error of judgement and a travesty. "
And this one's mine:
"Mr Dunne’s passion for making the world a better place inspired the children around him. My two girls left the school incredibly well-educated and ready to take whatever came next. They are thriving at secondary school, largely thanks to him. My third child is still at Ashley school and it is a matter of profound regret that this year Mr Dunne has not been there with him.
To give you some more testimony of how highly he is valued, on 25 November 2019, more than 300 parents and teachers packed themselves into a room at Esher Rugby Club to support Mr Dunne. At that stage no one knew the flimsy allegations which had been cynically cobbled together as part of the Good Shepherd Trust’s desperation to try to pin the slightest infraction on him.
Mr Dunne’s former assistant head, the much-loved Dan Cadman, who is now a deputy head at another school, said a few words at the front of the room. Mr Cadman worked with Mr Dunne for 7 years, and as a fellow professional, his words will carry more weight than mine. Speaking off the cuff, he said:
"I would just to affirm to everyone here, as I think you know, your children were or are always safe at Ashley School. Safe, happy and having the time of their lives. And I have been with Richard scaling mountains - literally, not figuratively - and on field trips, sports day preparations and a whole host of things, and safety and the happiness of the children has always been at the forefront, so please don't think for any moment that your children were not safe.”
He went on to say:
“Richard is a visionary. And it’s quite special to have a visionary as a head teacher. He could and will go on to do incredible things and to have someone like that as a head teacher of a local primary school is something quite special and very sad for you all to be losing. He inspired me to move on and leave a school I was so happy in, to be a leader, and to do what he is doing.
"He has inspired many teachers… to come to our school, often travelling large distances just to work with him. Your children have left Ashley School or are at Ashley School with an incredible belief about themselves. They have a real sense of how to protect our planet which we hear more and more on the news is important. They know how to work well with each other and they know how to look after themselves… At the same time they do fantastically well in their learning. Very, very good schools are able to find that balance.”
Ashley was a very, very good school. Mr Dunne was an outstanding head teacher. The Good Shepherd Trust went out of their way to go through Mr Dunne’s record with the finest of toothcombs in order to string together the almost pitiful allegations you have before you. They were kept from Mr Dunne and he never had a proper opportunity to discuss or address them before he was suspended.
The trauma Mr Dunne’s suspension inflicted on him and his family has been horrible to witness. Mr Dunne was a pillar of the community, and when his mysterious absence was announced we were told it was for personal reasons, and that he should not be contacted. He was deliberately isolated. It has taken great strength of character not to hide, or break down completely. Mr Dunne is a man of great integrity, removed from his job by the improper use of unaccountable power."
Mr Dunne needs any further references by Monday 11 May to forward to the TRA. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a 'To whom it may concern' message and he says he will forward your email to the TRA via his lawyers.
Please note that anonymous references will not count, but your reference doesn't have to be signed in the traditional sense - full name and email address is fine. Just state who you are and what your relationship to Mr Dunne is.
If you are a member of Ashley staff and worried about recriminations, a parent lawyer on the Ashley 4 Transparency team has raised this directly with the TRA. The TRA have confirmed that all references are treated in absolute confidence and are not disclosable by them to your employer. You can read the written confirmation of that here, or email Misconduct.TEACHER@education.gov.uk for further assurance.
Mr Dunne tells me every reference will make a difference. If you know him and you haven't already sent a note (it can be an epic like some of the ones above or it can be 3 - 5 lines long), please consider doing so.