03 September 2020

Tiffany Harding - and what Nigel did next...

Ashley School, former home of Sonia Berglund

Sonia Berglund was Badger class (y2) teacher at Ashley School for the 2018/9 academic year.

Ms Berglund got in touch with me recently after reading some of the reports on this website. An encounter she had with Good Shepherd Trust director Nigel Stapleton was obviously playing on her mind.

After a number of conversations about her experience of Ashley School, I asked Ms Berglund if she would mind emailing me the letter she sent to the Teaching Regulation Agency in support of Richard Dunne.

Ms Berglund sent me her letter and says she is happy for me to publish it. She thinks it's important people know what she witnessed.

The Tiffany Holder referred to in the letter is Ashley's former Assistant Head Teacher, Tiffany Harding (Holder was her maiden name). Ms Harding left Ashley School in July 2020 to become Deputy Head Teacher at a nearby school. A nice promotion for her. Ms Berglund initially came into contact with Mr Stapleton in his capacity as Chair of Ashley School's Local Governing Committee.

Here is Ms Berglund's letter to the Teaching Regulation Agency in full:

"Wednesday 13th May 2020

To whom it may concern, 

I am writing to you regarding the allegations that have been made against Richard Dunne by the Good Shepherd Trust. I was a member of staff, working full-time at the school, and living on the school site during the academic year 2018-2019. In order to show my impression and understanding of what was going on at the school, I have provided a list of key events which occurred during the period September 2018 to October 2019. I would particularly like to draw attention to the behaviour of the assistant headteacher, Tiffany Holder, and the undermining influence she exerted on staff behind Richard Dunne’s back. I believe the way she behaved was wholly unprofessional and had a direct impact on the allegations that were made against Mr Dunne.

- September 2018: I had a meeting with the assistant head, Tiffany Holder, in which I raised issues relating to my working relationship with my fellow Year Two teachers. Following this meeting, it appeared that Miss Holder was making decisions regarding how my year group ran as well as re-organising how other year groups in the school ran without taking into consideration the opinions of Mr Dunne as headteacher. I was also aware that Miss Holder acted differently in the presence of Mr Dunne when she behaved in a polite way as opposed to when she was with staff when she could be very disrespectful of him.

- December 2018: Miss Holder acted in a highly unprofessional manner during a staff Christmas event.  She recalled a past conversation with Mr Dunne concerning school supplies and undermined his authority over the instructions he had given her. She ridiculed him and his vision for the school and expressed how she found him repulsive. 

- January 2019: Following a conversation I had with Jackie Stevens, the Deputy Head, regarding my desire to do more Harmony work in the school, in line with Mr Dunne’s vision, Miss Holder began ignoring me and stopped talking to me because she did not agree with this vision. For example, shortly after this, I can recall a moment where she spoke to me in an aggressive and superior tone during an assembly. It made me feel very uncomfortable.  She also discussed her feelings about me with a number of teachers, who, as a result, stopped interacting with me at work. I found this behaviour to be like a bully.  Moreover, she behaved normally in front of my mentor but with hostility when my mentor was not present. Again, I felt that she was behaving like a bully. 

- September 2018 to January 2019: During this period, Jackie Stevens, the Deputy Head, was told by the Trust that she had to split her time evenly between Farnborough Grange School, another Trust school, and Ashley School. Mr Dunne was becoming more stretched and his workload increased. 

- January 2019 to July 2019: In addition to his usual workload, Mr Dunne was also overseeing a number of new elements in school because Mrs Stevens was now full-time at Farnborough Grange. We also had no site manager in the school as he was sick. These additional responsibilities included supervising the lunch hall on a daily basis, assessing the NQT teachers and having regular meetings with mentors after school. He was also planning the weekly assemblies and staff meetings in which we reviewed the school’s policies and practices. He was present on all fronts at the school. 

- January 2019 to July 2019:  Miss Holder now had more responsibility in the school. She constantly made out that she was running the school behind Mr Dunne’s back and she became increasingly authoritative. Because I had had some bad experiences with her in the Spring term 2019, I tried to avoid her. I was still very concerned about her bullying behaviour. She was very power driven and this seemed to go against the culture of the school. She sometimes crossed the line between what was professional because she would speak in an aggressive way.

- June 2019:  Mr Dunne led a school trip with Year Six students to Chamonix. During this time Miss Holder acted suspiciously and often seemed very nervous. I could see that something was wrong.  She was also aggressive towards me, using a controlling tone during a safeguarding meeting I had with her.  At the meeting, she was particularly interested in Mr Dunne’s role with a safeguarding issue I had back in January. I felt as if she was trying to build some evidence against Mr Dunne. What I found out later was that she had been building a case all week against Mr Dunne while he was away in Chamonix. This has really shocked me and I can see now that she and the Trust were working against Mr Dunne. I have read the allegations against Mr Dunne and I do not think they are true with regards to safeguarding because I saw him put in place safeguarding measures during my time at the school, particularly in ensuring parents left the premises promptly at the start and the end of the day. Mr Dunne also supported me with safeguarding issues in my class, in relation to two SEN pupils.

I would like to share one final important disclosure because I believe it is extremely serious with regards to the allegations against Mr Dunne. 

- October 2019:  The Chair of Governors, Nigel Stapleton, invited me to a club in Central London to discuss my future career plans. We had a private table and I had to dress up smartly. When I met him, the only thing he really wanted to talk about was Mr Dunne. To my great surprise, the first question he asked me was whether Mr Dunne had been seducing me. I felt very uncomfortable with what he had said as he was making it sound as if Mr Dunne was irresponsible. There was no problem with Mr Dunne and yet I felt as if Mr Stapleton was not going to end the conversation until I had said something negative about him. Throughout the conversation Mr Stapleton was very complimentary to me and sometimes this felt quite awkward. He was also staring at me a lot, looking at my legs, my eyes, my hair. I felt disgusted by what he was doing. We discussed a number of events that occurred at Ashley School and I felt that he wanted to see if I could provide him with information that could discredit Mr Dunne’s reputation. 

Mr Dunne was a fantastic mentor and leader during my time at Ashley and showed his commitment to the school despite the strains and challenges he faced as Headteacher. I hope that my account of key events reflects that there is no basis for the allegations made against Mr Dunne and I believe that he sought to resolve any issues and concerns raised by staff which were communicated to him. 

I am happy to discuss this further if it would be helpful to this case.  

Yours faithfully,

Sonia Berglund"

Private member

Ms Berglund's penultimate paragraph in the letter above is a little startling, so I asked her to tell me more. Ms Berglund said the meeting with Nigel Stapleton took place in a private room in the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London on 21st October 2019. She says the meeting lasted about 2.5 hours, during which Mr Stapleton's behaviour was "predatory" and "inappropriate", though he did not touch her other than to greet her and say goodbye. 

For much of the time the two were together, they were alone. As the meeting progressed Ms Berglund says she began to fear for her personal safety, and half way through she stood up to leave. She told me Mr Stapleton intimidated her into sitting back down. She said she left the meeting "terrified".  Ms Berglund says Mr Stapleton texted her for a number of weeks afterwards, seeking another opportunity to meet up and further discuss her career. Ms Berglund says she stayed polite and replied to some of his texts whilst remaining professional. The texts stopped shortly before the end of last year. On 18th July this year, out of the blue, Mr Stapleton attempted to call Ms Berglund. She ignored his call.

As we know, the Good Shepherd Trust have already received a number of formal written complaints about the behaviour of Nigel Stapleton in relation to alleged bullying. These complaints were dismissed without investigation. Earlier this year Mr Stapleton stepped down from Ashley's governing committee with the GST's "deep" gratitude for his "many positive contributions". Nigel Stapleton remains a director of the Good Shepherd Trust.

I have contacted Tiffany Harding, Nigel Stapleton and the Good Shepherd Trust for comment on Ms Berglund's statement. 

I asked Mr Stapleton specifically why he chose to ask Ms Berglund if Richard Dunne had tried to seduce her. What evidence or information did he have which could possibly have led to that question being asked? I also asked if he made a habit of taking young teachers (male or female) to his private members club to discuss their careers.

I asked the GST if they had sanctioned Mr Stapleton's meeting with Ms Berglund, and if so whether he was tasked to find out information on Richard Dunne which might help their case against him. I also asked if the GST knew Mr Stapleton often met up with young teachers to help discuss their careers, and if so, whether it was part of a wider GST programme, or just Mr Stapleton acting on his own initiative.

The Trust have told me they will not be commenting, Ms Harding has not replied to my requests for a response and Nigel Stapleton has not acknowledged my questions.

Where are we now?

It is coming up to twelve months since Mr Dunne was suspended. In November last year a GST kangaroo court (itself assembled on the flimsiest of pretexts) found Mr Dunne guilty of several counts of gross misconduct, in his absence. 

The GST then referred their allegations and findings to the Teaching Regulation Agency, a move which could have led to Mr Dunne being banned from teaching ever again. After looking at all the evidence, the Teaching Regulation Agency's Decision Maker threw ALL the allegations out in the first instance saying that none of them "even at their highest... amount to potentially serious misconduct".

By way of response, the GST told the Surrey Advertiser they were going to spend the summer "reflecting" on their "internal processes and judgements" so that they could "move forward."

No recognition of the devastation caused to an individual, a community and a family. Just a bit of "reflection" and off we go. Less said about it the better. 

Over January and February this year parents representing more than half the families at Ashley school demanded an independent investigation into the GST's actions. Any right-minded chief exec would commission one immediately. Of course it's not going to happen.


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