I have three children, two of whom have already gone through Ashley School. The youngest is still there. In the ten years I have been associated with Ashley School, I got to know its former head teacher, Richard Dunne, quite well.
He was extraordinarily good at his job. He knew the names of all the children at the school within days of them starting. He would greet them at the gate with a smile and a welcome for all. He led the assemblies we attended with enthusiasm. He made the effort to engage with parents and give them a better understanding of what he was trying to achieve at Ashley School. He uncomplainingly attended almost every single out-of-hours event at the school and let parents use them as an opportunity to talk to him about anything and everything they wanted to.
These are all the hallmarks of an outstanding head teacher, but Richard Dunne was more than that. Being a gobby sort, I was often roped in to MC various events at Ashley School, including the Christmas Bazaar and Summer Fete. Mr Dunne was always there to say a few words or formally launch proceedings. During these events we would often chat, not just about what my children or the school was doing, but about his philosophy of education and how it related to children and the world.
He spoke in very clear strategic terms as the outstanding educationalist he no doubt is, but this was not just an academic philosophy, or a template to lay over a school. It was evident he fundamentally cared about the individual children he was bringing his ideas to, and had a fierce desire to help them succeed. It was this which made me realise he was really special and which made him turn out such excellent students.
I credit Mr Dunne with giving my children the best possible educational start in life. His staff, his leadership and his vision made Ashley School a quite wonderful place to be.
And now he's gone.
After 18 years of outstanding service, Mr Dunne should have left with a celebration of his achievements and the praise of staff and parents and ringing in his ears. Instead he was removed from the school over a series of mysterious allegations which he has said he completely rejects. (UPDATE: One of the allegations has now come to light - the Richard/Charlotte Dunne catering racket - have a read of that).
For a man of Richard Dunne's stature to be treated this way is concerning. The lack of communication about Mr Dunne's absence allowed horrible rumours to circulate the playground.
Back in September I assumed he had suffered a family bereavement or had been given leave to undertake an educational project away from the school. Instead he had been cut out of a school he had given 18 years service to and was sitting at home, traumatised. The Dunnes' fourth child is still at Ashley School. The pressure on this family over the last few months must have been almost unbearable.
In mid-October I was contacted by a parent who told me Mr Dunne's absence was not his choice. I started asking questions. The absence of information was worrying. I posted a note on the Ashley parents facebook page (which was soon removed by the admins on the apparent orders of the school governors). You can read it here.
Despite the misinformation coming from his employer, parents began to realise Mr Dunne was not absent for personal reasons. He was at home, vulnerable and isolated, dealing with what he later called "a number of allegations about my performance regarding procedures and practices."
You don't lose an exceptional head teacher unless you are doing something very wrong or unless the head teacher is doing something very wrong.
The truth will out. Possibly on this website, which I hope will become a resource for everyone interested in this story and the wider subject of accountability in education.
The Start here page - more introductory stuff about the story, rather than my relationship to it.
Timeline - starts with a message from Ashley School co-heads Jackie Stevens and Richard Dunne sent to parents on 9 Sep 2019 stating: ""We are both very much looking forward to working together in our co-headship role."
Richard Dunne's alleged catering racket - the GST accuse someone "senior" at Ashley School and their "spouse" of personally profiting from school funds by thousands of pounds. But is everything really as it seems...?
Finally, the allegations against Mr Dunne - I finally got my hands on some documentary evidence. On the face of it, the allegations against Mr Dunne,don't really seem to stack up. And there is evidence of a witch-hunt.
Ashley School website.
Good Shepherd Trust website.
A4T facebook page - operated by the A4T comms team.
About - how and why I got involved.
Richard Dunne - who is this geezer, then?
Other websites I am responsible for:
www.postofficetrial.com - which follows the extraordinary story of what the Post Office has been doing to its Subpostmasters over the last 20 years.
www.nickwallis.com - my TV and radio credits etc