This is the full text of the email sent to me by Alex Clark, interim head teacher of Ashley school, about the appointment of Jennie Ratcliff as the new substantive head of Ashley School. Mr Clark has requested I consider publishing it in full, which I am happy to do.
My response, taking issue with some of Mr Clark's characterisations, is published directly below Mr Clark's email.
On 11 Jan 2021, at 21:45, Alex Clark wrote:
"Dear Mr Wallis,
Thank you for requesting an opinion on Ms Zakrzewska’s assertion that rules were broken in the appointment process regarding the new headteacher at Ashley. I am happy to provide you with a full statement from my viewpoint and if you are looking to publish this then I ask that you consider doing so in full on all of the sites that you have published information about Ashley. I am replying to you on behalf of Mr Kennedy and me.
It is important that you are aware of the status of our Local Governing Committee (LGC) and how it operates. On your website it states that Ms Zakrzewska resigned as a "parent governor”, however none of the LGC members are governors. This became the case when the school chose to convert to an academy in September 2014 when it ceased to be a school in its own right and gave up all governance to The Good Shepherd Trust (GST). This is a completely transparent process and the governing body at the time will have approved and signed the academy's Supplementary Funding Agreement, which sets out the academy's specific requirements. Prior to the conversion, parents were consulted and since then, all aspects of Ashley are wholly the responsibility of the Trust.
Although it is not mandatory, the Trust has chosen to hold academy committees, known in GST as local governing committees (LGC). Some aspects of governance are therefore delegated to these committees, although these aspects are on a reporting basis and the Trust retains accountability. Retaining a school level committee enables the Trust to have a local presence and representation from the community.
When a new member joins the LGC, they sign a Code of Conduct, which outlines:
"We will always be mindful of our responsibility to maintain and develop the ethos and reputation of our school and the Trust. Our actions within the school and the local community will reflect this.
In making or responding to criticism or complaints, we will follow the procedures established by the Trust.
When formally speaking or writing in our LGC role we will ensure our comments reflect current organisational policy, even if they might be different from our personal views.
When communicating in our private capacity, including on social media, we will be mindful of and strive to uphold, the reputation of the school and the Trust at all times.
We will observe complete confidentiality when matters are deemed confidential or where they concern specific members of staff or pupils, both inside or outside school.
We will exercise the greatest prudence at all times when discussions regarding school business arise outside an LGC meeting."
While these are specific points, they remain in context to what you have published Ms Zakrzewska as saying. The Code states: "Ceasing to be a member of the LGC: We understand that the requirements relating to confidentiality will continue to apply after an LGC member leaves office."
I am disappointed that information confidential to the LGC has been shared by an ex-LGC member and published on your website. However, as the interim leader of the school, I am deeply distressed by what is happening at Ashley - and I have to point out that some aspects of the situation that the school now finds itself in are because of relentless pressure from a small group of parents. This is causing additional stress and anxiety at an already difficult time for the school community and it must stop.
I took up my position as interim headteacher at Ashley on 1st January 2020 for a period of two terms until 31st August 2020. My interview for the leadership role in the Trust took place in December 2019 and I was interviewed by the CEO and Trust Board, with LGC representation. Having been successful in securing the role, I led the school through a very challenging period. On 23rd March we went into a national lockdown and this threw in additional challenges for all schools.
During the summer term, I applied for a new role in the Trust as a Director of Education. I was interviewed by the CEO and Trust Board and was successful in the role, which was due to start on 1st September 2020.
We are now into my fourth term at Ashley. Whilst I enjoy the role of headteacher and, in particular, at a school such as Ashley, this has only ever been an interim position and the time has come for me to move on. The school needs a substantive leader who is able to develop the vision and ethos of Ashley long-term.
Headteacher appointments are made by the Good Shepherd Trust. The Trust has advertised the headteacher post at Ashley three times since I have been here. Leadership roles in schools are advertised nationally and ours has been no different. In the first round, there were no applicants. The second attempt attracted just one application from a candidate in the USA without any experience of headship. The third attempt in the summer attracted three candidates, two were interviewed but neither appointed. The process in the summer term had LGC representation as expected.
With a huge site with fantastic opportunities, a strong, stable staff, supportive parents and a large Trust with further development opportunities for leaders, the position at Ashley school is very attractive. However, my belief is that the job of a headteacher is, at the current time, a very difficult role. The level of accountability is immense. Education often seems politically driven and is not yet a system-led profession.
Ashley school is sitting on an outstanding Ofsted judgement from 14 years ago when it was a one-form entry school. The criteria for inspection has completely changed in that time and any headteacher is going to know that this judgement is now outdated. On top of that prospect, any search on the web brings up unrest in the school. It's going to take a strong person with resilience and determination to want to lead Ashley.
Following the third attempt at recruitment, another GST headteacher expressed an interest in leading Ashley. Mrs Ratcliff is ready to move to a larger, more challenging school. After discussion with the Trust and with the Chairs of both schools' LGCs, Mrs Ratcliff's move was agreed and our LGC had the opportunity to meet her several months ago. As headteachers are appointed by the Trust, Mrs Ratcliff is already in that position and so a full recruitment process was not necessary.
Clearly, moving from Surrey Hills All Saints to Ashley leaves a post vacant at the other school. The recruitment process for her replacement is underway at Surrey Hills All Saints (led by the Trust). Mrs Ratcliff will take up her role at Ashley from 19th April, when I move to my role as Regional Director of Education where I will be supporting Ashley as one of my schools going forward.
In considering the post at Ashley, Mrs Ratcliff had several meetings. With this and the process the Trust went through, involving the LGCs at both schools, it took several months. We were ready to make the announcement at the end of term in December but did not want to be accused of doing it as we went into the holiday period. We therefore agreed that the announcement would be on the first day back in January. Unfortunately, this coincided with the announcement of another national lockdown. We understand that it is a stressful time for everyone and we in no way wanted to cause any additional pressure.
With ongoing challenges from the pandemic, it is an extremely difficult time for all schools, and I am thrilled that Ashley, its pupils and its staff are going to be in the safe hands of an experienced and well-respected GST headteacher going forward.
I hope that this clearly explains to you that Mrs Ratcliff’s appointment was made in the best intentions and followed all guidelines.
I now ask that we can put an end to the accusations and allow Mrs Ratcliff the opportunity to do her job and lead Ashley with the fantastic leadership that she has demonstrated throughout her career. There is no limit to what can be achieved at Ashley if we all work together. We sincerely hope sharing this information with you now brings this time of conflict to a close.
On 12 Jan 2021, at 04:54, Nick Wallis wrote:
"Hi Mr Clark
I am deeply grateful to you for your considered and comprehensive response. I will publish relevant elements of it on all platforms.
I was struck by your sentence: "I have to point out that some aspects of the situation that the school now finds itself in are because of relentless pressure from a small group of parents.”
First of all I don’t agree with that characterisation. Remember on 7 Feb 2020 the majority of families at Ashley school called for an investigation into the way Mr Dunne was defenestrated. This was ignored.
Secondly your assertion that “some aspects of the situation” are the parents’ fault ignores the fact that most aspects are the GST’s fault. This remains completely unacknowledged. The failure, after more than a year, to address those faults and do the right thing are what has maintained the parental outrage.
All the GST had to do was recognise it had treated a well-respected head teacher appallingly, driven a wedge through a happy school community, and offered Richard Dunne his job back with a proper apology. As far as I am aware the GST hasn’t even bothered to apologise to Mr Dunne for senselessly, and possibly maliciously, ruining his career.
On the issue of head teacher recruitment, I take on board your comments (which I think you first gave shape to in the coffee mornings you held last year) that the head-ship of Ashley is a tough gig. Who would want to take on a school on low-ish pay, with an outdated Outstanding rating? The unresolved “unrest” you refer to is a bed the GST made. Had they engaged with parents (rather than treating us an annoying irrelevance, or worse, blaming us) and made the right decisions about Mr Dunne there would be no “unrest”. I don’t understand why the GST has not resolved the Dunne situation to everyone’s satisfaction. It has had every opportunity. Yet it still seems to be blaming parents for the environment it created. I would love to have the opportunity to write joyous and complimentary things about the governance of the school and its parent MAT. The GST has given me no material to go on.
On the issue of whether or not Ms Ratcliff is suitable for the school - it’s not something I’m going to get too involved with, but when you call her “experienced and well-respected” you are going to have to set that against what is already public about her record and experience. The minority of parents who don’t care about Mr Dunne very much do care about a head teacher from a one-form entry inadequate school being put in charge of their child’s education.
As I think I have said to Mr Kennedy before, if you want to go some way to heal this, apologise to Mr Dunne, offer him his job back, investigate the people who suspended him and investigate the complaints against Nigel Stapleton properly. The GST has the power to do this. It just chooses not to, and if you can’t see why that outrages normal, decent, Christian people, then the situation is worse than I thought.
Finally - I want to pay tribute to you and your staff for the superb job you have done steering us through the pandemic. Nicola and I were just saying last week how impressed we have been with the level of organisation and clarity you and your team have brought to a rapidly changing situation. It is very much appreciated. Some of the parents you put at fault for the current situation are in the middle of fundraising a large amount of money for you and your staff, to show how grateful we are. I have, of course, contributed.
To read Karola Zakrzewska's resignation statement in full, please click here.
To read more about Ms Ratcliff's tenure at Surrey Hills primary, click here.