|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."
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.
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."
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.