17 July 2020

New LGC Chair resigns

Revs Cathy and Jonny Blair
Since the Good Shepherd Trust have taken over the school, they've managed to lose its well-respected head teacher, promote the chair of the Local Governing Committee into their organisation (despite the serious and credible concerns about his behaviour) and fail to find a replacement headteacher.

On top this, they put the school into special measures [the Notice to Improve], ruined staff morale, lost their long-standing deputy head-teacher and drove a wedge through the parent community, most of whom have publicly called for an independent inquiry into how recent events have been handled.

Now the LGC chair the GST brought in to replace Nigel Stapleton has walked, after a matter of weeks.

In a message sent to parents yesterday our interim head teacher said:
"On Friday, the local governing committee (LGC) chair, Chris Howard, decided not to continue with the role into the next academic year. His experience and skills have been gained in local authority (LA) maintained schools, where governance and responsibilities differ widely. We were, of course, aware of these differences but felt Chris’s varied experience would benefit the Trust. However Chris now feels that he cannot add sufficient value in an academy setting, at least to his own satisfaction. That said, we have benefitted from his knowledge and experience immensely since he joined us in March and I am personally very grateful for all his support, leading our LGC through a very challenging period."
And who has been appointed interim chair after Chris Howard's departure? A conciliatory hands-across-the-water mediator with all the skills required to mend the broken bridges and start the long journey towards fixing the problems? Not quite.

The new LGC chair is the Reverend Cathy Blair. The one who behaved so badly towards Richard Dunne during LGC meetings she was asked to apologise, who (at a staff meeting the morning after Richard Dunne resigned) shouted down teachers who tried to protest, and who has lost significant members of her congregation, disgusted at the way she and the Rev Jonny Blair have handled matters.

A former member of her congregation had already written to Rev Blair after Richard Dunne was completely cleared of all the GST's charges by the Teaching Regulation Agency. I suggest Peter's letter now has more urgency than when it was written.

I liked Chris Howard. I went to meet him at his home in Hurtmore. We sat in the garden with Mrs Howard (a former teacher) and chatted for two hours. He was exactly the right person to start the gradual process of helping the school recover from what the GST has done to it. We left on very good terms. To find the GST has managed to lose him already is gutting, to say the least.

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An open letter to Rev Cathy Blair

This is from Peter and Sara Shaw, who used to attend St Mary's Church in Walton:

15 July 2020

Dear Cathy

In light of the recent decision by the Teaching Regulation Agency that all the allegations made by the Good Shepherd Trust against Richard Dunne have been dismissed. And now that the Disclosure and Barring Service review has also been completed, and Richard has no case to answer, we believe it would be good for you to reach out with a public apology to Richard and his family.

Richard has suffered a great injustice that has put him and his family through 10 months of unimaginable anguish. As Vice Chair of Ashley School’s Local Governing Committee and one of the vicars of Richard’s parish, we think that would be the Christian, and decent, thing to do.

We were, and still are, hugely saddened and disappointed that you and Jonny did not act to defend or support Richard when he was forced to resign from the school. You have stated in the past that you had nothing to do with his absence. But as a senior member of the LGC, and as Christian leaders in the community we believe you should have taken a principled stand against the GST’s actions. We also know that you did not (according to Richard) offer any counselling support to him and his family.

So, now that these allegations have been independently dismissed by the regulatory bodies, it is now your opportunity to make amends and show humility and leadership. You probably know the huge damage this had done to relations between the community in Walton and St Mary’s and St Johns. If you don’t know then let us assure you that many people are horrified and angry at the church as a result. The fact that Richard has now been exonerated will only fuel people’s mistrust of the church and its leadership.

You have the opportunity now to make amends and demonstrate that the message of Jesus is about justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. If you don’t act now then the damage already done will only increase and the church will suffer even more as a result. We know of many current and past members of the church who are saddened and confused by your inaction, ourselves included.

So, do the decent thing and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with Richard Dunne and his family.

Yours in Christ

Peter and Sara Shaw

15 July 2020

Exonerated. Vindicated.

Two weeks ago Richard Dunne, former head teacher at Ashley CofE primary school, received a letter from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The letter said that having reviewed the evidence it had been sent by the Good Shepherd Trust (GST) on 10 Dec last year, it saw no need to take any further action.

Mr Dunne is not and will not be barred or limited in any way from working with children in future. Good news.

However the DBS reserved the right to review the decision based on any findings by the Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA).

The TRA investigation was a bigger deal than the DBS review as both the GST and Mr Dunne had the opportunity to submit additional evidence beyond whatever the GST had sent to trigger the TRA investigation.
Charlotte and Richard Dunne

Mr Dunne spent many hours putting his case together, and sent it off several weeks ago, along with the 380 letters of support he received from parents, ex-parents, staff, ex-colleagues and former pupils.

Yesterday Mr Dunne received the result of the TRA investigation.

All allegations against him have been thrown out. 

The letter says:

"The Teaching Regulation Authority has completed its investigation. The determination meeting has concluded that your case should be closed with no further action."

The TRA says someone called a Decision Maker looked at everything, and had to ponder whether any of them "even at their highest... amount to potentially serious misconduct" [my italics]

After listing every allegation (including the Chamonix trip safeguarding nonsense, the alleged catering racket and Mr Dunne's alleged failing to book on a safeguarding course) and noting the further representations made by both the GST and Mr Dunne, the TRA says:

"Having considered all the information, the Decision Maker does not consider that this case should proceed to a Professional Conduct Panel. [The] TRA now considers this matter closed."

So the Decision Maker's conclusion was that the GST allegations were so weak, they should be slung out at the first instance.

This is a huge victory for Mr Dunne and indeed all the parents who have been campaigning on his behalf. Let's not forget he was suddenly removed from his job in the first week of this school year and was left completely (and deliberately*) isolated. He and his family have been put through hell with no apology or support from his employer.

Now - ten months on - two independent investigations have found the GST's allegations to be baseless.

I have spoken to Mr Dunne. He told me his over-riding emotion is one of relief. He wrote to me to say:
"We are so pleased that the nightmare of the past year is now over. It has been the most difficult time of our lives and I cannot put into words the pain and the suffering we have gone through after 18 years at the school. We have grieved so much. What the Trust did and the way it went about it was wrong and I hope now that they will be held to account for their actions. I have said all along that if there were any concerns last year, they should have been discussed through a fair and dignified process. That did not happen. Instead, I was put under unreasonable pressure to manage the largest primary school in the Trust with a reduced leadership team and I was told to oversee another Trust school. In addition, because I challenged the way the Trust was working, I was targeted behind my back over several months. The lengths to which the Trust went to find any fault in anything I did was extraordinary. At last, justice has been done. The sadness is, that this should never have happened. It has caused so many people so much upset. I want to thank the amazing Ashley School community for all their incredible support during such a challenging time."
Mr Dunne says he is going to sit down and have a good think with his family about what to do next. He still has a claim in for constructive dismissal, and I suspect the two letters he has recently received don't do his case any harm at all.

* See timeline, 3 October 2019.

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13 May 2020

The Good Shepherd Trust, bullying and Nigel Stapleton

Nigel Stapleton (centre) at the 2019 Ashley Xmas Bazaar with fellow governor Melvyn Mills (l) and Mr Dunne's successor (before he was announced), Alex Clark.
So, farewell then, Nige - outgoing Chair of Ashley School's local governing committee (LGC) and local Walton Big Dog.

Before the coronavirus hit, Nigel Stapleton was due to chair one last LGC meeting before his departure. I have had it confirmed that will no longer happen, and the next LGC meeting will be chaired by the new man, Chris Howard.

Nonetheless, Mr Stapleton remains a Good Shepherd Trust (GST) director, partly responsible for the strategic direction of Ashley School and the future education of our children.

His behaviour whilst Chair of the LGC, the way the GST has dealt with the multiple bullying allegations against him, and the level of control and involvement the GST allowed him in the running of Ashley School needs proper scrutiny.

Simon Walker, Chair of the GST, has stated on the record: “I take allegations of bullying of any kind very seriously.”

On the evidence below, only when it suits him.

What are the allegations, then?

You may be one of the three hundred parents and staff who attended the meeting at Esher Rubgy Club in support of former Ashley School head teacher Richard Dunne in November last year. At that meeting, the former assistant head of Ashley School, Dan Cadman, paid tribute to Mr Dunne, calling him a "visionary" who has "inspired many teachers". He also referenced the LGC's dysfunction, noting that whilst he was at the school he:
"unfortunately witnessed at least one occasion where I felt that the governing body treated Richard with a complete lack of respect. And also - probably for the last two years when I was there - I could see from my conversations with Richard the emotional challenge and turmoil he was going through from the constant barrage that the governing body were giving him."
Those present at that meeting got a taste of that lack of respect when a parent, representing the view of the 300 people in the room that night, wrote to Nigel Stapleton to discuss the possibility of setting up a parent council, in the light of Mr Dunne's treatment at the hands of the Good Shepherd Trust.

Mr Stapleton's reply could not be more dismissive:
"We started work" he wrote "on the Parent partnership well before the parent meeting to which you refer in your email. Ours is an initiative being led by the senior leadership - as should be the case - with strong encouragement from the LGC. So it does, therefore, supersede what was discussed at the Esher Rugby Club meeting.”
But what of this "constant barrage" mentioned by Dan Cadman in his short speech at Esher Rugby Club? In writing my piece earlier this year on the allegations against Mr Dunne I was given sight of some documentation which sheds a bit more light on the situation.

In a formal complaint to the Good Shepherd Trust, former parent governor Laurence Koe describes Nigel Stapleton and the vice-chair of the LGC (the reverend Cathy Blair) speaking to Mr Dunne at LGC meetings in "a very confrontational and aggressive way, which was tantamount to bullying."

The complaint was not investigated. Mr Koe says: "I received a formulaic reply which addressed none of my concerns in a meaningful way. The concerns and points I raised were ignored and brushed to one side."

Complaint 2

Sienna Alcock, a former clerk to the LGC, stated that the way Mr Dunne was treated, specifically by Nigel Stapleton, was "aggressive and demeaning" and that over the academic year 2016/7 this got "progressively worse".

Ms Alcock says it was apparent Mr Stapleton was "micro managing the school" and this was "having a destructive effect on the functioning of the senior management team and Mr Dunne's emotional wellbeing."

I am told the GST was informed of this at the time, but it appears nothing was said or done.

As the end of the 2016/7 school year approached, the situation had got so pressing it prompted three LGC members - Mr Koe, Ms Alcock and Martyn McCarthy - to meet and discuss it.

Ms Alcock's term as clerk to the LGC had come to an end, but her work was so valued by the LGC, she had been asked to become a foundation governor, a position she would take up at the September 2017 LGC meeting.

During their discussion, Mr Koe, Mr McCarthy and Ms Alcock concluded Mr Stapleton should be formally approached to step down. Ms Alcock would assume the position of temporary chair whilst a full time replacement was found.

After word of this discussion filtered through, something very odd happened. In the run up to the September 2017 LGC meeting, Ms Alcock found she had been removed from the governors' correspondence list and could not access the LGC's document portal.

"I tried to contact the Trust," she says "and was unable to get any further information." She eventually found her membership of the LGC no longer existed. She had simply been ghosted out.

Now who would want to do that?

Ms Alcock says of it now: "it was clear my attempts to speak up about the situation were met with an attempt to silence me."

In the light of what happened to Mr Dunne, in December last year, Ms Alcock put in a complaint to the Good Shepherd Trust both about Nigel Stapleton's behaviour towards Mr Dunne and her own removal from the governing board without any explanation.

In her letter to the chair of the GST, Simon Walker, Ms Alcock said she understood the Trust had been aware of concerns about Mr Stapleton's behaviour, yet nothing was done about it. "Why was it allowed to continue?" she asked.

Addressing Mr Walker, Ms Alcock concluded:
"I would be very grateful if you would look into this matter in more detail and let me know why the concerns regarding Mr Stapleton were not addressed at this time and why I was silenced in this way? This is particularly worrying given the context of Mr Dunne's resignation."
Mr Walker didn't even bother to reply, leaving it to the current clerk of Ashley's LGC to respond, dismissing her complaint in one line.

Complaint 3

It seems like allegations about Nigel Stapleton's behaviour aren't just limited to LGC meetings. A former member of staff at Ashley School, Laura Barden, had run-ins with Mr Stapleton in her capacity as lettings manager for the Harmony Centre on the Ashley School playing field. She took on the responsibility alongside her other duties, and she made a success of it. In her formal complaint to the GST she states:
"With the increase in [the Harmony Centre's] popularity came an increase in noise complaints from a small number of residents in Ashley Park. All complaints were taken seriously and restrictions were put in place regarding amplified music, alcohol and finishing times. Bookings were carefully vetted by myself and any arrangement agreed in writing with Richard [Dunne].  
Any complaints from the APRA [Ashley Park Residents Association] were made to Nigel [a member of APRA], who would then phone or email Richard (day, night and during the weekend). Richard told me that the tone of the emails and calls were often aggressive and the timings intrusive. I know that Richard found it difficult as it was infringing on his family life. On more than one occasion Nigel turned up at a private party in the Harmony Centre and tried to shut it down. Hirers would then call my personal mobile number (which was given out in case of emergencies) in distress. This was extremely embarrassing for me and upsetting for the hirers. 
After one complaint regarding noise from a children's party where a small amount of alcohol had been served to guests (agreed by Richard), I was cc'd into an email from Nigel to Richard. In the email Nigel told Richard to 'curb' my behavior with regard to lettings. I put in an official complaint... as I felt the tone of Nigel's email was inappropriate and offensive."
Ms Barden says the substance of her complaint was ignored. Ms Barden's complaint to the GST continues with another, slightly alarming example:
"I was also witness to Nigel's questionable behavior when he invited one of the Ashley Park complainants to school for a meeting. Richard was unavailable so I stood in for him. Nigel spoke over the gentleman, cut him off and interrupted him on a number of occasions. His manner was rude and aggressive. The gentleman asked me if there was an 'out of hours number' he could call if he needed to complain about noise from the Harmony Centre. Nigel said "I'm sure you would like the phone number of Laura's bedroom" and started laughing. Not only did it not make any sense, it was an outrageous thing to say during a meeting.  
During a period of 6 months I was having to speak to Richard most weeks regarding complaints from Nigel. I didn't want to come into work on a Monday as I was so worried about what had happened over the weekend! It was extremely difficult for both Richard and I to work under those circumstances... It was a toxic environment to work in... a really scary and stressful time as I felt i was being bullied out of my job. 
I became ill in May 2017 and was eventually diagnosed with a chronic neurological condition. The chronic pain was increased during periods of stress so i took the decision to step back from lettings and any additional work at weekends. This limited the interaction with Nigel and i was thankfully able to move to a new job at the beginning of this year. After I'd handed in my notice he came on a visit to the school. Once in the office he made a point of going around the room and talking to everyone. He ignored me, then left."
The Trust refused to investigate Ms Barden's complaint, saying she made it too late. Ms Barden says:
"The response I received from the GST with regards to my complaint was woefully inadequate. It's completely unacceptable for them to refuse to deal with very serious allegations due to the passage of time. The timing of a complaint does not make it any less valid or true. Late complaints CAN be investigated by the GST "if it appears reasonable and fair to do so, having regard to the circumstances surrounding the complaint". They have simply chosen not to. An interesting choice for a Trust whose duty of care supposedly extends to former staff."
There's more

I was intrigued to see a message from an unfamiliar name pop up in the comments to Richard Dunne's crowdfunding webpage when it was active at the turn of the year. A Mr Ken Giannini stated:
"Richard I only just saw today the horrific story of your clash with Nigel and it seems other nasty people undermining you. You have my 100% support. You personally and Charlotte have transformed Ashley and every student and parent sings your praises. My children have excelled in life due to the amazing start in life at Ashley. As we know I have experienced the bullying of Nigel and the sooner someone calls him out the better."
I tracked Mr Giannini down on Facebook. He is a former Ashley parent and architect. He also used to live on the same road as Richard Dunne. Mr Giannini's experience of dealing with Mr Stapleton went back to some work Mr Giannini did for Ashley school in 2008 around possible designs to cope with the school's expansion.

After the project had been completed, there was a meeting on 2 April 2009 to discuss payment of a final outstanding bill. The meeting would be chaired by Nigel Stapleton, who Mr Giannini had never met before. At the beginning of the meeting, Mr Stapleton started a recording device and then, rather preposterously, launched into an extensive run-down of his boardroom credentials and business experience.

Having listed his brilliant achievements, Mr Stapleton then suggested Mr Giannini might want to think about his claim for outstanding payment.

Mr Giannini described Mr Stapleton's tone throughout as "super-bullying and aggressive" and felt the whole meeting was an attempt to intimidate him out of trying to settle his invoice.

Mr Giannini took his case to the small claims court. His fee was settled before it came to a hearing.

I asked Mr Giannini what he thought of Mr Stapleton. He replied: "A bully. And I could tell this bloke was bad news for the school, and bad news for Richard, too."

It seems Nigel has a long history of acting in an intimidating manner.

An article on the Post and Parcel website from 2004 notes his behaviour whilst boss of a company called Uniq was "controversial" and that "some people who worked there at the time found him bullying." Not fellow C-suite high flyer, Bill Ronald:
"He's challenging and a tough taskmaster. [But] I've never seen him have a temper tantrum or throw his weight around. He is very considered, non-emotional. Some people find him intimidating.”
In his grievance letter to the Good Shepherd Trust, written on 13 Dec last year, Richard Dunne stated for the record:
"many people within the Trust and at the School have expressed to me and to others that they consider Nigel Stapleton to be a bully, and I certainly believe that he has bullied me during the course of my employment as Headteacher of the School."
I asked the Good Shepherd Trust if it had made any further enquiries about this serious allegation by Mr Dunne. I received the following response:
"The Good Shepherd Trust strives to ensure that all its staff, both present and past, are able to carry out their duties in a professional and supportive workplace culture. Any formal complaints are thoroughly investigated in line with the trust’s published policy."
I asked the GST to tell me the number of formal complaints they have received about Nigel Stapleton's behaviour. They tell me that information cannot be shared under GDPR rules.

I asked them if they would care to comment on the multiple allegations in this article, and their behaviour in removing Sienna Alcock from the LGC when she raised concerns about Nigel Stapleton's behaviour. I also asked them why, if they took allegations of bullying very seriously, they dismissed at least three formal, evidenced complaints about Mr Stapleton's behaviour without any investigation. I received nothing more than the above statement.

I told Mr Stapleton I was writing a piece about the allegations against him and asked him to address them. He responded with the following:
"I have told you twice before that I am unwilling to enter into dialogue with you, whatever the topic that you would like to discuss. 
I find your approach to "investigative  journalism" to be totally different to any that I have encountered before.  
There are many current and ex-governors with whom I have worked during my 10 years as a member of the Ashley LGC. You are basing your allegations about my behaviour as a Governor on feedback you have gained from two ex-governors.  
It is my belief that you are making no serious attempt to validate their allegations and consequently I am unwilling to cooperate with such an unprofessional approach.
I ask you to publish this reply either in its entirety or not at all."
Happy to. Mr Stapleton has stepped down from chairing the Ashley LGC with the GST's "deep" gratitude ringing in his ears.

Parents representing the majority of families at Ashley school have already demanded an independent investigation into the Good Shepherd Trust's treatment of Richard Dunne. The multiple, serious and credible bullying allegations against Nigel Stapleton and the removal of Sienna Alcock from Ashley's LGC also needs an independent investigation, not dismissal.


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07 May 2020

Mr Dunne has received your help!

Richard Dunne
Last week, former Ashley School head teacher Richard Dunne published an appeal for help. "The Good Shepherd Trust has sent a number of allegations about me to the Teacher Regulation Agency" he said,  "I believe this is an attempt to get me struck off the teacher register."

These allegations relate to those the Good Shepherd Trust (GST) raised against Mr Dunne whilst he was head teacher last year. The TRA has informed Mr Dunne it is conducting an investigation, which is where Mr Dunne's appeal for personal references came in. Last week, he wrote:
"My legal advisors (who you so kindly crowdfunded), tell me that character references in these investigations matter a great deal, as the Trust is questioning my professional and personal integrity. In this instance, the more I can get and send on to the TRA, the better."
I am delighted to report that in the space of one week Mr Dunne has received more than 220 references from parents, past and present, staff and former pupils of Ashley school. This is a phenomenal number, and I think everyone connected to Ashley school can feel rightly proud. As you might expect, Mr Dunne is thrilled. He asked me to pass on the following message:
"I have been overwhelmed by the number of character references since my request went out last Wednesday. I want to thank you all for your extremely kind messages of support.  I have been really humbled by your very kind words."  
I asked on an open forum if anyone would mind forwarding me their references for publication. There follows is a small selection of what came through. I have anonymised them, but all are from current Ashley parents. See if you can spot mine. See if you can spot yours!

The one-in-a-million character:
"I have known Richard Dunne for under two years but over this time I have only ever seen great things from him. He was an inspirational head teacher at Ashley and his leadership is sorely missed at the school... The Ashley community is one of a kind and Richard has been the one behind building and growing this community.  He was (and still is) 100% dedicated to the children – not just their education and safety but also pushing boundaries in terms of teaching them about Harmony and how to make the world a better place. He is a one in a million character and his mistreatment at the hands of the GST is deplorable."
Inspirational, moral, honest: 
"I have therefore known Richard Dunne for 12 years. As a family we have been incredibly fortunate to have had Mr Dunne's inspirational leadership for both our children in their formative primary years. His dedication, kindness and integrity is unquestionable. 
He lead the school from the front and knew every child's name within a week of them joining which made them all feel secure and safe... Having volunteered with the FOA (the parent association) for many years, I worked with Mr Dunne closely and found him to be incredibly fair, open and honest in all his dealings and meetings... I would not hesitate to vouch for Mr Dunne as an inspirational, honest and moral character."
I've just realised he's going to get quite a big head reading all these: 
"I am a parent of a set of twins in Y3. We were privileged to be accepted at Ashley; having the children educated under the leadership of such an inspirational head teacher made a dream come true. Our children received the best education in a safe, happy and sustainable environment where they have grown learning more than just what the National Curriculum expects.  
Mr Dunne’s ethos is close to our hearts; he is a world-class visionary who continues to inspire us and our community, regardless of the utterly unjust upheaval he and his family have to endure because of the Good Shepherd Trust's unfounded accusations. We would do anything to have him back at Ashley, we trust him with our children’s lives." 
Ah, well, he deserves it: 
"I am a parent at Ashley School; my children (age 11 and 10) have been at the school under the leadership of Richard Dunne since reception. I have been a teacher for 20 years, and Richard is one of the most inspirational, caring and genuine educators I have come across during that time. 
During his time at Ashley he cared about each and every child at the school, knew them all by name and was liked and respected by teachers, children and parents. He also showed compassion and empathy for parents, like us, who have found themselves in difficult situations. He was available when he needed to be, and was always smiling in the playground at the end of the day. My children have had an amazing start in life thanks to Ashley school under Richard’s leadership. 
I am shocked and appalled at the allegations against Richard, and welcome an independent investigation so that the actions of the GST can be questioned and Richards good name can be cleared."
This one is genuinely moving: 
"I am a Paediatric Nurse with 30 years experience and I am a Designated Children’s Safeguarding Officer.  In my previous role I worked for 10 years in the School environment in this capacity and I have a good awareness of safeguarding issues within schools. 
Richard is a person of impeccable character and with the greatest integrity.  I, like many parents, had absolutely no concerns of any type of safeguarding issues. From a professional point of view Mr Dunne has only ever wanted the very best for the children and he really cares. Despite a three form entry he made it his business to learn all of the children’s names. His love of the job and compassion for what he did was so obvious to all who knew him, parents, children and staff alike. During his management of the school, I never encountered a safeguarding issue or concern. The school community was always regarded as a safe and secure place for our children. On a personal level I can assure you Richard Dunne’s integrity is not a trait exclusive to his professional life. Out of work Mr Dunne is a generous, kind, honest and caring man.  He is truly one of the most honourable people I have ever met. 
The allegations against Mr Dunne have been made public for some time and they are quite simply absurd... why the GST were not able to address these minor concerns in a rational, responsible and efficient way is completely baffling to me.  The GST’s shambolic mismanagement has led to an innocent man being professionally persecuted in order for the GST to attain their own agenda.  The fact the TRA have even been involved is ludicrous.

It is impossible to explain how much our school has changed since the loss of our hugely respected, valued and incredible Headmaster.  Richard Dunne is irreplaceable.  He was once aptly described by a parent as ‘the beating heart of Ashely School’ and since his departure the school is less vibrant, less cheerful, less passionate, less spirited as a result, a loss acutely felt by parents, staff and children. 
I am aware your organisation plays no part in investigating any suggested misconduct of Academy Trusts but I implore you to play no part in removing Mr Dunne’s teaching registration. For Richard Dunne to be lost from education forever would be a catastrophic error of judgement and a travesty. "
And this one's mine:
"Mr Dunne’s passion for making the world a better place inspired the children around him. My two girls left the school incredibly well-educated and ready to take whatever came next. They are thriving at secondary school, largely thanks to him. My third child is still at Ashley school and it is a matter of profound regret that this year Mr Dunne has not been there with him. 
To give you some more testimony of how highly he is valued, on 25 November 2019, more than 300 parents and teachers packed themselves into a room at Esher Rugby Club to support Mr Dunne. At that stage no one knew the flimsy allegations which had been cynically cobbled together as part of the Good Shepherd Trust’s desperation to try to pin the slightest infraction on him. 
Mr Dunne’s former assistant head, the much-loved Dan Cadman, who is now a deputy head at another school, said a few words at the front of the room. Mr Cadman worked with Mr Dunne for 7 years, and as a fellow professional, his words will carry more weight than mine. Speaking off the cuff, he said: 
"I would just to affirm to everyone here, as I think you know, your children were or are always safe at Ashley School. Safe, happy and having the time of their lives. And I have been with Richard scaling mountains - literally, not figuratively - and on field trips, sports day preparations and a whole host of things, and safety and the happiness of the children has always been at the forefront, so please don't think for any moment that your children were not safe.” 
He went on to say: 
Richard is a visionary. And it’s quite special to have a visionary as a head teacher. He could and will go on to do incredible things and to have someone like that as a head teacher of a local primary school is something quite special and very sad for you all to be losing. He inspired me to move on and leave a school I was so happy in, to be a leader, and to do what he is doing.  
"He has inspired many teachers… to come to our school, often travelling large distances just to work with him. Your children have left Ashley School or are at Ashley School with an incredible belief about themselves. They have a real sense of how to protect our planet which we hear more and more on the news is important. They know how to work well with each other and they know how to look after themselves… At the same time they do fantastically well in their learning. Very, very good schools are able to find that balance.”  
Ashley was a very, very good school. Mr Dunne was an outstanding head teacher. The Good Shepherd Trust went out of their way to go through Mr Dunne’s record with the finest of toothcombs in order to string together the almost pitiful allegations you have before you. They were kept from Mr Dunne and he never had a proper opportunity to discuss or address them before he was suspended. 
The trauma Mr Dunne’s suspension inflicted on him and his family has been horrible to witness. Mr Dunne was a pillar of the community, and when his mysterious absence was announced we were told it was for personal reasons, and that he should not be contacted. He was deliberately isolated. It has taken great strength of character not to hide, or break down completely. Mr Dunne is a man of great integrity, removed from his job by the improper use of unaccountable power."
Mr Dunne needs any further references by Monday 11 May to forward to the TRA. Email  rjdunne64@gmail.com with a 'To whom it may concern' message and he says he will forward your email to the TRA via his lawyers. 

Please note that anonymous references will not count, but your reference doesn't have to be signed in the traditional sense - full name and email address is fine. Just state who you are and what your relationship to Mr Dunne is.

If you are a member of Ashley staff and worried about recriminations, a parent lawyer on the Ashley 4 Transparency team has raised this directly with the TRA. The TRA have confirmed that all references are treated in absolute confidence and are not disclosable by them to your employer. You can read the written confirmation of that here, or email Misconduct.TEACHER@education.gov.uk for further assurance.

Mr Dunne tells me every reference will make a difference. If you know him and you haven't already sent a note (it can be an epic like some of the ones above or it can be 3 - 5 lines long), please consider doing so.

Thank you.



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02 May 2020

Mr Dunne needs your help

Ashley School sign with Mr Dunne's name scrubbed out
The Good Shepherd Trust have referred their allegations against Mr Dunne to the Teacher Regulation Agency, including, weirdly, the ones about safeguarding on the Chamonix trip which were so poor they dropped them at their own internal disciplinary hearing against Mr Dunne last year.

The TRA has the power to remove Mr Dunne from the teacher register. So the three-pronged investigation the GST set in motion early last year in order to grub up some dirt could result in Mr Dunne being struck off for good.

Bearing in mind the findings at the conclusion of that investigation - not signing a form, not signing in and out of a broken entry system etc (you can read all about it here) - and bearing in mind Mr Dunne's detailed refutation of every allegation, this all seems crazily disproportionate.

Nonetheless, it seems Mr Dunne's career is on the line. This message is dated 29 April 2020 and first appeared via the Ashley 4 Transparency email. It reads:
"Dear friends, parents, colleagues and children, 
I hope you are keeping as well as can be expected in these extraordinary times. I am writing this message because I need your help.  
The Good Shepherd Trust has sent a number of allegations about me to the Teacher Regulation Agency.  I believe this is an attempt to get me struck off the teacher register. 
They allege financial impropriety with regard to Charlotte’s catering for the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts workshops five years ago, that the Single Central Record and safeguarding practices were not kept sufficiently up to date, for example I didn't sign up for a course in a timely enough fashion, and that there were safeguarding lapses on last year’s Chamonix trip. 
I believe none of these allegations have any merit whatsoever. I have refuted them all in detail, and I am taking legal action against the Trust.  
Nonetheless, I am told that now the TRA has received the Good Shepherd Trust’s allegations, they will be carrying out their own, separate investigation.
This is where I need your help. If you would be willing to send a character reference for me, I would be enormously grateful.  
My legal advisors (who you so kindly crowdfunded), tell me that character references in these investigations matter a great deal, as the Trust is questioning my professional and personal integrity. In this instance, the more I can get and send on to the TRA, the better.

The references only need to be 3-5 lines long. Please start with “To whom this may concern”, state who you are and your relationship to me (ie parent, ex-parent, former colleague/pupil, friend etc) and then write what you want to write.

Please send your references by email to me at rjdunne64@gmail.com - they will be collated and sent, in confidence, to the TRA.

I still cannot quite believe I am living this nightmare. I only ever wanted the best for your children and Ashley School. For no justifiable reason, the GST has cost me my job and is now trying to further damage my career. 
Your support over the past few months has been one of the things that has kept me and my family going. If you can find the time to email me just a few lines, I would be forever grateful. 
Thank you so much.

Richard Dunne"
According to the Ashley 4 Transparency group, Mr Dunne needs to receive any emails you can send him by 11 May 2020. So if you know him, get writing.

Interestingly, shortly after Mr Dunne's message was circulated by the A4T group, the following email was apparently sent to the staff at Ashley school by the interim head teacher Alex Clark:
"Subject: Advice on responding to RD request for character references 
Dear Colleague  
You may be aware that a post has been put on social media from Mr Dunne.  
Some staff have asked If, as a private individual, you wish to provide Mr Dunne with a character reference, that is your choice.  
If you have any concerns about, or need advice on, ensuring you do not breach any of your employee responsibilities, please contact me. 
It is important for you to be aware, as a Good Shepherd Trust employee, that your statement could be disclosed to all parties in any potential statutory investigation. 
I hope that helps Best wishes, Alex” [my italics]
Concerned this message might dissuade staff from sending a personal reference, a parent lawyer contacted the Teacher Regulation Agency. That parent says they were told unequivocally by the TRA that references are not disclosable.

I wrote to Mr Clark asking where he got his information from about the possible disclosability of references and if he could check its accuracy, especially as what he had written could be seen as an implied threat.

Whilst I was doing that, the parent lawyer went back to the Teacher Regulation Agency, got confirmation of the situation in writing and very kindly shared it with me. It is dated 1 May 2020 and is from Maureen Wills, a senior caseworker at the TRA's teacher misconduct unit. It reads:
"Further to our telephone conversation.

I confirm that:

Character references would need to have a name and signature annotated on the reference as without a name and signature they could be deemed to have been written by anybody and would not add weight. 
Character references are not disclosed to the referrer/employer at any point during a TRA investigation

Kind regards 
Maureen Wills 
Senior Caseworker, Teacher Misconduct Unit
Teaching Regulation Agency
Telephone: 07384521449
Cheylesmore House, 5 Quinton Road, Coventry CV1 2WT"
I hope the above message offers succour to the teachers and staff at Ashley school who want to express their support for Mr Dunne, but who are scared for their jobs. And I checked - emails are fine. They don't have to have a signature.

I asked the GST to comment on Mr Dunne's referral. They told me:
"The Good Shepherd Trust has a statutory duty to make a referral to the Teaching Regulations Agency (TRA) in line with the regulations laid out in Keeping Children Safe In Education. The same statutory guidance for schools and colleges on safeguarding children makes it clear that no comment on any case can be made."
I have asked the school's parent governor, and the governor tasked with looking after staff welfare to look into the email sent by Alex Clark. I can't believe that Mr Clark would deliberately mislead his own staff on such an important matter and am looking forward to hearing where he got his incorrect information from.

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24 February 2020

A note on our children's alleged lack of preparedness for secondary school

The coffee mornings held before half term by Ashley interim head teacher Mr Clark have (according to some of the people I've spoken to) been useful. In them, Mr Clark made several assertions which were controversial, to say the least.

His ill-conceived "gotcha" on the school canteen's organic food content has already been cited in the resignation statement of Georgia Bailey, the Ashley school caterer.

The idea - first stated in Spring Term newsletter 4 - that 101 responses to the Ashley parents survey represented a quarter of families is just bad maths.

(It might represent a quarter of all families, but it could represent just over an eighth. The actual figure is likely somewhere in-between, depending on how many parents/carers from the same family completed a questionnaire).

Another statement which seemed to animate parents at the coffee mornings was the assertion that with Mr Dunne's curriculum, Ashley children were not being properly prepared for secondary school.

This has aroused strong feelings among parents whose children have been through Ashley school. It moved Laura Sutton to write the following letter to Mr Clark. She has kindly given me permission to reproduce it:

"Dear Mr Clark

I’ve been thinking a lot about what was discussed at the coffee morning last week. 

One thing that has really resonated is the point about the children missing parts of curriculum and not reaching their potential consequently.

Therefore, that is under review and the curriculum recommended by you is to be more closely aligned to the national curriculum benchmarks. Presumably this is to address some missing elements that are causing you grave concern for the future of Ashley children. 

I have two children who have left Ashley. They are twins in year 8.

My daughter, who was never a high flyer at Ashley - but steady, shy and sponge-like - is in all the top sets at her outstanding secondary school. She received a letter last week congratulating her on being in the top 10 girls in a 110-strong female pool for effort, attention and high performance.

My son, who has a one-on-one, as he did at Ashley, is in sets 3 out of 4. He has difficult challenges but passed his year 6 Sats in 2017 and is thriving at secondary well above expectations. He’s also dearly respected for being a kind and responsible boy with huge charm. He’s changing people’s perceptions about disability. 

The education and gentle care they both received at Ashley may not tick every national curriculum box. But it ticked very many other boxes that have made them both into very successful young seniors against their peer groups.

I know countless families where their Ashley children have completely smashed it at Secondary against their ‘full national curriculum’ counterpart peers. I think it is really important that this is given proper weight and not lost in the current reassessment.

A more homogenous education that ticks boxes is no replacement for the unique education our children have had at Ashley under Richard Dunne’s vision.

I think we are all sadly getting used to him being gone permanently. But it was hugely disappointing to hear you talk of how poorly the school has been educating our children when so many of us know that this is not true. I just do not accept this.

Our eldest kids have left Ashley as ‘middle of the roaders’ who are still streets ahead of peer school leavers whose schools follow process in the way I fear Ashley will do so now. A huge mistake in my opinion.

I have one child left at Ashley. He is bright and doing well. I’m sure he’ll help your league tables in a greater way than the twins did. But they all share great qualities, and these qualities are what will be their making - and are what are most important to us. Some are down to parenting. Many are down to their schooling at Ashley. 

Dry national curriculum teaching will not produce these qualities. Diverse and wide personal development - along with a sound all-round academic education - is what makes a great school environment. 

Please do not underestimate or undermine the quality of education that Ashley has been providing for many years. I am seriously saddened that this is not being understood by the GST and possibly now by you.

No institution is perfect. But Ashley has been an exceptional school on many levels for many years. The leavers prove this over and over, year after year. Spreadsheets don’t qualitatively assess this.

If you were to solicit feedback from other parents whose children have recently left Ashley, I expect 90% would say the same as I have. Surely this is one of the most important factors to take into consideration when reviewing the school’s success or otherwise?

Harmony, eco, a kind and an emotionally motivating/nurturing environment is what works above all other local schools - by a country mile. Ordinary schools that follow process fall well short.


Laura Sutton"

I have seen Mr Clark's response to Laura's letter. He acknowledges, but chooses not to address her points.

21 February 2020

Georgia Bailey resignation statement

Well this is very sad. I got the following yesterday from Georgia Bailey. I asked Georgia if she minded if I published it. She told me that's why she sent it.

Georgia works in the school kitchen for the company which supplies Ashley school's food:
"It is with so much regret that I have resigned as caterer of Ashley. I took the post to work alongside an inspirational head teacher, to push the boundaries of how good school food could be.  
Over the last few years we have been able to bring the percentage of fresh, seasonal, organic food to a level I would not have thought possible. This has taken hard work and dedication from a lot of people behind the scenes… I think we’re on our fifth greengrocer. 
However since Richard Dunne was forced to resign it has become clear that there is no longer the interest in maintaining our exceptional service. I have been told that we were deliberately misleading parents about the percentage of organics. This is simply not true. 
I have been told not to engage directly with parents, something that was previously encouraged. 
It seems that everything that Richard did to make Ashley such a unique school is being swept away. 
I feel that I have to stand up and be counted and I hope to continue to support Richard Dunne and his family, and the wider school community in seeking an independent inquiry into what has led to this. 
It has been my honour to feed Ashley’s children and staff and work with a team of people, both inside and outside the kitchen, who have been dedicated to the Harmony Project. 
Georgia Bailey."
I have asked Alex Clark and the Good Shepherd Trust for comment. I will post any response here.

I hope you are all enjoying half term. 

07 February 2020

Majority of Families Demand Independent Investigation


Richard Dune outside Ashley School

Parents demand Good Shepherd Trust investigation

Majority of families at Ashley C of E Primary School in Walton-on-Thames sign petition calling for independent investigation over resignation of head teacher.

Parents representing two thirds of the 400 families at Ashley Church of England Primary School in Walton on Thames, Surrey, have signed a petition asking the Secretary of State for Education to commission an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the forced resignation of Richard Dunne, the widely-respected Headteacher of Ashley School.

The petition was launched on 18 January 2020 by Ashley parents Lou and Tom Bradley. 353 individual parents are known to have signed it so far, representing 271 families - at least two thirds of the families at the school. As of 0900 today, the total number of petition signatures stands at 2147.

Petition organiser Lou Bradley said: “The fact the majority of parents want the Trust independently investigated speaks for itself. Mr Dunne is an outstanding Headteacher and the Trust should be made to answer for their actions. It has left me and so many others in total despair. Mr Dunne should be reinstated as Headteacher of Ashley as soon as possible.”

Last year an investigation into Mr Dunne was launched by the Trust. He was suspended on 10 September 2019 and resigned on 17 November 2019. Mr Dunne told parents, staff and children:

"The Good Shepherd Trust has made a number of allegations about my performance regarding procedures and practices.  I strongly reject the allegations levied by the Trust, but, given the way the Trust has conducted itself so far, I do not believe that I will receive a fair hearing in relation to the concerns they have raised and so I have resigned… I am also resigning due to the total lack of care my family and I have received from the Trust during this time.  It has made the past few months intolerable and it is not fair on my family for this suffering to continue.”

Petition organiser Tom Bradley said: “For such an outstanding and inspirational Headteacher to feel that he had no option but to resign from his beloved school due to the fact he felt he wouldn’t get a fair hearing is deeply worrying and the perceived lack of support and empathy he has received from the Good Shepherd Trust is not, in my opinion, aligned to what I believe to be core Christian values.”

The GST held a disciplinary hearing in Richard Dunne’s absence on 18 November 2019 and found him guilty of several counts of misconduct with no right of appeal. An investigation by Ashley parent and journalist Nick Wallis into the action against Richard Dunne and the substance of the allegations themselves revealed serious potential flaws in the Trust’s motivations, methods and evidence.

Tom and Lou Bradley will travel with other Ashley parents to hand in their petition to Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of State for Education at the Department for Education in London in the coming weeks. Esher and Walton MP Dominic Raab has also written to Mr Williamson stating his serious concerns about the GST.

Ashley parent Nicholas Neveling said: ”The sudden departure of Mr Dunne as Ashley’s Headteacher last year left me and many other parents heartbroken. This sadness has been compounded by the deteriorating relationship between Ashley parents and the Good Shepherd Trust in the aftermath. An independent investigation into the reasons for the GST’s actions leading up to Mr Dunne’s departure is the only way to repair broken bonds, reset and reconcile."

Ashley parent Francesca Rajan said: “I was deeply saddened by the unexpected departure of Mr Dunne. He was an inspiration to pupils, teachers and parents alike, and it is widely agreed that our school has suffered a great loss. We are seeking transparency and accountability, to enable us to feel part of the decision making process that so greatly impacts our children’s futures.”

Ashley parent Peter Shaw said: “If the Good Shepherd Trust are not willing to submit to an independent inquiry, you have to wonder what they have got to hide. What I want my children to learn at school is that honesty and openness are values that we should live by. What harm can be done by having all the facts scrutinised by an independent investigation?”

Ashley parent, Nick Wallis said: “The Good Shepherd Trust and the Chair of the School’s board of governors tried to claim we were a minority of troublemakers. Now it’s clear the majority of Ashley families are demanding a proper investigation. The Trust needs to do something. There is evidence of a very un-Christian stitch-up. The Trust and its employees need to be held to account.”

Ashley parent Emily Thomas said: “This is about upholding the fundamental values of integrity, respect and distinguishing right from wrong. Sadly, the actions of the GST contradict everyone one of these. We have lost an incredible Headteacher and Ashley School is the pawn in this power play. We are seeking an independent enquiry to find the truth and hold those responsible to account.”

Various Ashley parents are available for interview. High res photos of Mr Dunne outside Ashley School and external photographs of the Ashley School buildings are available.

For more information please contact:

Kaija Larke: 07841166232 / kaija@larkemedia.com 
Nick Wallis: 07976 432174 / nick@nickwallis.com 

Notes for editors:

Ashley Church of England Primary School is a three form entry school with 541 pupils. It joined the Good Shepherd Multi-Academy Trust in 2014.

Richard Dunne is nationally recognised as a pioneering and brilliant Headteacher, under whose leadership Ashley School was rated Outstanding by Ofsted.

Ashley School is part of the Good Shepherd Multi-Academy Trust, run by the Diocese of Guildford. Ashley is its only Outstanding school.

Last year concerned parents launched the Ashley 4 Transparency group and set up a crowdfunding campaign which raised more than £22,500 to help Mr Dunne take legal action against the Good Shepherd Trust. Further fundraising events are planned.

Nick Wallis has published the results of his investigation into the Trust on the blog www.educationaccountability.org - where you can also read the letters Dominic Raab MP has sent to the Secretary of State for Education and the Good Shepherd Trust.