On 4 Jan this year, Paul Kennedy, the Chief Executive of the Good Shepherd Trust, wrote to parents announcing Jennie Ratcliff as the new substantive head teacher of Ashley school. She will take up her post after Easter 2021.
Ms Ratcliff is currently head teacher at an inadequate one-form entry GST school in the Surrey Hills. Mr Kennedy said Ms Ratcliff:
"is excited about her move to Ashley and the career development it brings. Mrs Ratcliff wishes to work with the community to develop and enhance the excellent education that the school provides. She is also delighted that the school has a strong LGC to support the school’s leaders."
I don’t know Ms Ratcliff. It is my natural inclination to take people as I find them. But that natural inclination changes when you are being asked to trust a person with something you have responsibility for.
Jennie Ratcliff is about to be put in charge of my youngest child’s education. I would be deserting my duty as a parent and journalist if I took everything I was told at face value, especially given what we already know about the Good Shepherd Trust’s duplicitous behaviour. Sometimes a bit of research can stop you from being a mug.
Btw, springing the appointment of a new head on parents and staff during possibly the single most stressful day of the school year so far smacks of the ongoing contempt the GST has shown Ashley school over the past couple of years.
It is a matter of public record that Jennie Ratcliff, who was appointed head teacher of Surrey Hills CofE Primary in 2013, took a "good" school and over five years rendered it "inadequate". Surrey Hills currently cannot fill its reception places.
On the day of the announcement of Ms Ratcliff’s appointment to Ashley I was put in contact with a former Surrey Hills parent. We had a long conversation. She remains aghast at what Jennie Ratcliff did to their “lovely little village school" during her tenure.
My correspondent described Ms Ratcliff as “wholly incompetent” and said “the staff turnaround at the school since she joined has been horrendous. All the good teachers have left.”
She told me there is a group of existing and former Surrey Hills parents who might be willing to be quoted on the record about Ms Ratcliff’s abilities, though they said there was also a contrary feeling amongst some parents that maybe they shouldn’t say anything, in case it meant Ms Ratcliff’s appointment was successfully resisted by Ashley parents and she ended up back at Surrey Hills.
I have no reason to believe the views I was given were not honestly held, but of course, they may not be representative of anything more than a tiny minority of current and ex-parents.
Ms Ratcliff also did not notice an active paedophile (subsequently jailed) operating as her deputy head teacher in 2016. That’s understandable, paedophiles can be sneaky. But an Ofsted report stated her knowledge around safeguarding was “not secure”.
Her leadership when dealing with a subsequent safeguarding issue in 2018 was criticised again by Ofsted, which said the school’s leaders “cannot guarantee that pupils are safe" because they have "not always robustly followed procedures for dealing with allegations against staff”."
If I were a fan of a football team and this was the calibre of manager the board had foisted on us, I would have questions. Though like any dutiful fan, I continue to support Ashley school (in terms of what it stands for, the time I give to the Ashley Parent Partnership and financially).
I have no personal animus towards any individual, and I am not going to get involved in any campaign to stop Ms Ratcliff’s appointment, partly because in 18 months I am out of here and neither she, nor the GST’s moral bankruptcy will be my problem any more.
Also, Ms Ratcliff might come in and be an inspirational force for good, or a half-decent plodder. Whatever, It’s certainly not in the GST’s interests to let her fail. I wish her well.
The appointment of Ms Ratcliff has led to the resignation of a parent member of Ashley school's Local Governing Committee. Karola Zakrzewska says the GST's own rules for appointing head teachers were not followed.
Ms Zakrzewska appears to have a case. In Ashley School's "Scheme of Empowerment (Delegation)" which was approved in December 2019, under the heading: "Appointing Principal School Leaders (Executive Headteachers and Headteachers)" it says the Local Governing Committee will have a "representative on the appointment panel". According to Ms Zakrzewska, this did not happen.
I have asked the GST to respond to this specific point. They have done so adding more information about Ms Racliff's suitability for the post, here.
If you want to know more about how we lost an inspirational head teacher who turned Ashley into an outstanding school, please read the timeline.