Ashley school's longest-serving governor resigned in June. You may not know this, because the school has chosen not to tell you. Here, Martyn McCarthy explains the reasons for his resignation:
"On 29th June 2021 I informed the Chair of the Local Governing Committee that I was resigning my position as Lead Governor for Child Protection & Safeguarding, Special Educational Needs & Disability, and Mental Heath & Wellbeing. I had been a governor at Ashley School for nearly nine years, firstly as a Parent Governor, and when my term ended in 2017 I was asked to stay on as a Foundation Governor by the former Headteacher, Richard Dunne. I am the sixth member of the Local Governing Committee to resign since the Good Shepherd Trust (GST) removed Ricard Dunne from his position. To date I’ve not received a formal acknowledgement of my resignation from the Local Governing Committee or The Trust.
I gave several reasons for resigning. One thing all my reasons had in common were the actions and inactions, and poor practice and judgement relating to decisions made by the Good Shepherd Trust in relation to Ashley School over the last two years. The most obvious of these was the way in which The Trust wrongly removed Richard Dunne from his Headteacher post after eighteen years outstanding service to the children at Ashley School. Since I resigned, The Trust have sent a formal but half-hearted apology to Richard. This was long overdue and, following the Teaching Regulation Agency’s letter that exonerated Richard, The Trust have still not conducted a review into their own conduct as promised.
With hindsight I should have resigned with Karola Zakrzewska in January (wrongly, I thought I could continue and help change the outlook of the GST from within). I hoped to sit face to face with an Ofsted inspector and relay most of my concerns to them. The catalyst for my resignation was the recent departure of one of the Assistant Headteachers. In my experience, I’ve not known a teacher or senior leader to give less than half a term’s notice when leaving. They certainly don’t give less than a week’s notice. The GST removed Richard. His loyal, long-serving and outstanding Deputy Headteacher then felt that she should leave last July. Other staff have disappeared without any explanation. I feel that the latest senior leader to leave the school left for a different reason than the one given to parents and LGC members.
When we chose to join the GST they were a great fit for Ashley. We only partnered with them to develop Richard’s Harmony curriculum and they were very supportive for several years, until an interim CEO was appointed. It’s been downhill since then and Richard was the first casualty. As a publicly-funded organisation, the parents and LGC have asked The Trust to be more transparent on numerous occasions over the last two years. Despite promises to improve they are still far from transparent.
Other reasons I gave in my resignation letter include:
The Trust refused to tell the LGC what had happened to Richard Dunne throughout the autumn of 2019, after he disappeared from Ashley in the September and only telling us about the ‘disciplinary’ allegations and charges after the formal panel hearing (in his absence, after he had felt pressured to resign). Despite the fact that the LGC had no part to play in Richard’s removal and questioned the GST throughout that period, often asking them to add substantive facts to their letters to parents and governors, the GST released a statement to the local press last summer in which they wrongly seemed to implicate the LGC in the decision to remove Richard.
The GST then served a ‘Notice to Improve’ on the school (unorthodox, as usually a NTI is only served on a Trust by the Department for Education), that most of the senior leaders and governors at the time thought was absurd. The reasons why the NTI was unnecessary has previously been documented on Nick Wallis’ blog and I personally felt that it didn’t benefit the children. It was the GST’s attempt to further discredit Richard and cover the GST, should Ofsted arrive for a long overdue inspection. Two governors resigned.
I agree with the two points on which Karola resigned from her governor role in January of this year:
Firstly that the LGC were purposely (and with disregard to our published Scheme of delegation) sidelined from the recruitment process for the current Headteacher. However, now she is in place, Jennie has my full support and I wish her well.
Secondly that the LGC voted in the summer of 2020 to retain open governor meetings (meaning parents could attend) as we had done for the previous three years. Two weeks later the GST apparently decided that all LGC meetings across The Trust should be closed meetings. This decision was taken behind the backs of Ashley’s LGC and although we asked for information on how this decision was reached (and parents have also asked through Freedom of Information requests) nothing was provided.
I know that the majority of parents will agree with most of the concerns I’ve highlighted above. It’s my opinion that The Trust have continually shown contempt for the parent community and LGC members over the last two years (the same community that have previously been so supportive of Ashley and the Trust, raising more than £40000 a year for the school).
Just before the first COVID lockdown in March last year I spoke to every LGC member with regards to potentially leaving the GST. This September will be seven years since Richard, myself and the full Governing Board at the time took Ashley into the GST under an arrangement where, as the jewel in their crown and only Outstanding school, we were sold academy membership on the understanding that we would enjoy a degree of autonomy. This is how it remained for more than five years, until they attempted to destroy an outstanding headteacher, professionally and personally.
They have continued to interfere where they aren’t needed, fix things that weren’t broken, sideline and undermine the LGC, lose several of our best key staff and a large number of students and families. The result of my poll last year was that all governors were happy to explore whether the GST were still a good fit for Ashley. We felt we should consider approaching the DfE with our concerns and ask for them to consider a different academy sponsor. It would have been remiss, even negligent, of us not to consider our future relationship with our academy trust. Then the pandemic struck… but I would urge the LGC that it’s a conversation they still need to have, alongside the excellent support they will continue to give to the school, Headteacher and senior leaders.
Overall I believe that before, during and after Richard Dunne’s departure, the Trust has appeared only to remove resources from the school and this has caused instability and an absence of leadership. The removal or departure of some of our most experienced teachers and leaders does nothing to support the school’s previous culture of high standards and attainment. The way in which they easily removed Richard was terrifying and a warning to all remaining staff.
When Richard disappeared the Trust did not adequately manage his absence or communicate with staff, parents and governors; this only finally happened in part due to repeated requests from the LGC and parents. Parents in particular felt they were not being told the truth, which led to some teaching staff and all LGC members to experience very uncomfortable interactions for a prolonged period. Several individuals had concerns over their mental health. This was very stressful for all concerned and, being on notice of this, action should have been taken by the GST. The lack of care of our staff and LGC members by the GST was seen by one governor (who resigned) as unsettling, affecting loyalty and future staff losses within senior leaders and key staff. They felt deeper instability would follow. That governor was spot on with their remarks. Part of the mistrust between governors, staff and The Trust after Richard’s departure was as a result of the NTI.
Despite requesting the data on which the decision to serve the notice on the school was made, a believable reason has never been received. Previous Trust-led assessments of progress and attainment only a short time before the NTI did not give cause for concern. Additionally, the school has lost its Green Flag status (we were one of only nine Ambassador Green Flag eco schools in the country only two years ago). Artsmark Gold status has not been achieved nor the International Schools Award. None of these inadequacies benefit the children.
At times we must acknowledge and learn from our mistakes to enable us to move forward. Unfortunately the GST seem unable to do so."