12 January 2021

GST statement on Jennie Ratcliff's appointment in full

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.

Kind regards,

Alex Clark"

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.

All best


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.

To get to grips with this story from the beginning, try the Start Here or About sections, or dive straight into the timeline.


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The GST's take on Jennie Ratcliff's appointment

On Sunday I wrote to Paul Kennedy, chief executive of the Good Shepherd Trust, about the appointment of Jennie Ratcliff as the new head teacher of Ashley School, specifically to get a comment on the assertion by outgoing parent governor Karola Zakrzewska that the GST's own rules in appointing Ms Ratcliff were not followed

In a statement on Friday, Ms Zakrzewska said:

"No LGC [Local Governing Committee] member was part of the hiring process for Mrs Ratcliff. For previous candidates interviewed for the role, a member of the LGC was included in those interviews. And as per the Scheme Of Delegation, there should have been a member of the LGC as “a representative on the appointment panel".”

Ms Ratcliff is currently the head teacher at Surrey Hills All Saints Primary, an inadequate one-form entry school in Westcott, also run by the GST.

I cc'd the current interim head teacher at Ashley school, Alex Clark, in my letter to Mr Kennedy. Mr Clark has kindly written me a response on behalf of the GST.

Firstly, he notes he is: "disappointed that information confidential to the LGC has been shared by an ex-LGC member", suggesting Ms Zakrzewska has broken the code of conduct she signed up to when she became a parent governor.

On the specific issue of whether or not the rules were broken in the appointment of Ms Ratcliff, Mr Clark says:

"As headteachers are appointed by the Trust, Mrs Ratcliff is already in that position and so a full recruitment process was not necessary." 


"Mrs Ratcliff’s appointment was made in the best intentions and followed all guidelines."

On the unfortunate timing of the announcement (4 Jan), Mr Clark says:

"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."

On Ms Ratcliff's suitability for the post, Mr Clark says:

"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 now ask that we can... allow Mrs Ratcliff the opportunity to do her job and lead Ashley with the fantastic leadership that she has demonstrated throughout her career."

Ms Ratcliff will take up her role at Ashley from 19 April, and Mr Clark will move to his role as Regional Director of Education at the GST, where he tells me he will be supporting Ashley as one of his schools going forward.

I am grateful to Mr Clark for his response. To read his email in full, please click here.

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.

To get to grips with this story from the beginning, try the Start Here or About sections, or dive straight into the timeline.


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10 January 2021

Ashley school's new head teacher

On 4 Jan this year, Paul Kennedy, the Chief Executive of the Good Shepherd Trust, wrote to parents announcing Jennie Ratcliff as the new substantive head teacher of Ashley school. She will take up her post after Easter 2021.

Ms Ratcliff is currently head teacher at an inadequate one-form entry GST school in the Surrey Hills. Mr Kennedy said Ms Ratcliff:

"is excited about her move to Ashley and the career development it brings. Mrs Ratcliff wishes to work with the community to develop and enhance the excellent education that the school provides. She is also delighted that the school has a strong LGC to support the school’s leaders."

I don’t know Ms Ratcliff. It is my natural inclination to take people as I find them. But that natural inclination changes when you are being asked to trust a person with something you have responsibility for.

Jennie Ratcliff is about to be put in charge of my youngest child’s education. I would be deserting my duty as a parent and journalist if I took everything I was told at face value, especially given what we already know about the Good Shepherd Trust’s duplicitous behaviour. Sometimes a bit of research can stop you from being a mug.

Btw, springing the appointment of a new head on parents and staff during possibly the single most stressful day of the school year so far smacks of the ongoing contempt the GST has shown Ashley school over the past couple of years. 


It is a matter of public record that Jennie Ratcliff, who was appointed head teacher of Surrey Hills CofE Primary in 2013, took a "good" school and over five years rendered it "inadequate". Surrey Hills currently cannot fill its reception places.

On the day of the announcement of Ms Ratcliff’s appointment to Ashley I was put in contact with a former Surrey Hills parent. We had a long conversation. She remains aghast at what Jennie Ratcliff did to their “lovely little village school" during her tenure.

My correspondent described Ms Ratcliff as “wholly incompetent” and said “the staff turnaround at the school since she joined has been horrendous. All the good teachers have left.” 

She told me there is a group of existing and former Surrey Hills parents who might be willing to be quoted on the record about Ms Ratcliff’s abilities, though they said there was also a contrary feeling amongst some parents that maybe they shouldn’t say anything, in case it meant Ms Ratcliff’s appointment was successfully resisted by Ashley parents and she ended up back at Surrey Hills.

I have no reason to believe the views I was given were not honestly held, but of course, they may not be representative of anything more than a tiny minority of current and ex-parents.

Active paedophile

Ms Ratcliff also did not notice an active paedophile (subsequently jailed) operating as her deputy head teacher in 2016. That’s understandable, paedophiles can be sneaky. But an Ofsted report stated her knowledge around safeguarding was “not secure”.

Her leadership when dealing with a subsequent safeguarding issue in 2018 was criticised again by Ofsted, which said the school’s leaders “cannot guarantee that pupils are safe" because they have "not always robustly followed procedures for dealing with allegations against staff”."

If I were a fan of a football team and this was the calibre of manager the board had foisted on us, I would have questions. Though like any dutiful fan, I continue to support Ashley school (in terms of what it stands for, the time I give to the Ashley Parent Partnership and financially).

I have no personal animus towards any individual, and I am not going to get involved in any campaign to stop Ms Ratcliff’s appointment, partly because in 18 months I am out of here and neither she, nor the GST’s moral bankruptcy will be my problem any more.

Also, Ms Ratcliff might come in and be an inspirational force for good, or a half-decent plodder. Whatever, It’s certainly not in the GST’s interests to let her fail. I wish her well.


The appointment of Ms Ratcliff has led to the resignation of a parent member of Ashley school's Local Governing Committee. Karola Zakrzewska says the GST's own rules for appointing head teachers were not followed.

Ms Zakrzewska appears to have a case. In Ashley School's "Scheme of Empowerment (Delegation)" which was approved in December 2019, under the heading: "Appointing Principal School Leaders (Executive Headteachers and Headteachers)" it says the Local Governing Committee will have a "representative on the appointment panel". According to Ms Zakrzewska, this did not happen.

I have asked the GST to respond to this specific point. They have done so adding more information about Ms Racliff's suitability for the post, here.

If you want to know more about how we lost an inspirational head teacher who turned Ashley into an outstanding school, please read the timeline.


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08 January 2021

Karola Zakrzewska's resignation statement

Karola Zakrzewska
Earlier this week Karola Zakrzewska resigned as a parent governor of Ashley CofE Primary School. We weren't told why. 

I wrote to Ms Zakrzewska and asked if she would issue a statement for publication as to the reasons behind her resignation. 

She sent me the following:

"I resigned from my role as parent member of the Local Governing Committee at Ashley School on Sunday 3 January 2021 for two main reasons: 

1. The new Head Teacher: 

I couldn’t stand by the decision to appoint the new Head Teacher that was announced on 4 January 2021.  

The following processes were not followed: 

a. No LGC member was part of the hiring process for Mrs Ratcliff. For previous candidates interviewed for the role, a member of the LGC was included in those interviews. And as per the Scheme Of Delegation, there should have been a member of the LGC as “a representative on the appointment panel”. 

b. The LGC was told that the new incoming Chair would meet with Mrs Ratcliff following which a decision to proceed would be made. The incoming Chair didn’t meet with the new Head Teacher before the decision was made to proceed. 

As far as I am aware, this is the first appointment that has been made where a representative member of the LGC has not been on the interview panel for a member of the Senior Leadership Team at Ashley School. 

I felt the LGC was misled and that being a part of the process and giving the LGC the right to question the appointment was taken away from us. 

Fundamentally, I don’t think the new appointment is good for Ashley School or our children.  

We are an Outstanding school and considering the unrest that the school has gone through in the past 18 months, we needed a Head Teacher with no baggage. Unfortunately that is not the case here.   

2. Open/Closed LGC meetings: 

The GST decided in the summer of 2020 that our LGC meetings needed to be “closed”, meaning parents couldn’t attend Part 1 (Part 2 of the meetings were always closed due to confidentiality). 

This decision came shortly after the LGC decided for our meetings to remain open. 

This decision was done behind the backs of the LGC and although the LGC asked for information on how this decision was reached, nothing was provided.  

Ashley needs as much transparency as possible and I felt that closing these meetings sends the wrong message to the Ashley parent community. 

I am disappointed I didn’t last longer than 6 months in the role. I wish I could have done more. But the situation became untenable, and I felt remaining in the role would have meant that I was complicit in decisions that I felt were not right for the school. 

I wish the LGC the best of luck over the weeks and months ahead. They are fighting hard in the background to ask very difficult questions.  They can’t talk about much/any of it so we are lucky they are there. Hopefully soon the GST will start to appreciate the viewpoint they bring and the effort that is involved in being a member."

More on Ms Ratcliff's appointment here

UPDATE: The GST has responded to Ms Zakrezewska's statement here.

If you want to read more about this story, please click on the timeline on this website.


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14 October 2020

Alex Clark and Richard Dunne meet

Richard Dunne (l) and Alex Clark (r)

The current (interim) head teacher of Ashley School, Alex Clark, had a meeting yesterday with his predecessor. For those who thought putting Mr Dunne and Mr Clark in the same room might cause an irreversible rupture in the space-time continuum, rest easy. It seemed to go okay.

The meeting came at Mr Clark's suggestion. Mr Dunne remains parent of a child at Ashley School so it has been quite simple for them to bump into each other at the school gate and discuss having a proper chat. 

Mr Clark emailed to tell me the two men:

"had a very productive meeting about the way forward and it is likely that the next few months will see a good relationship building with Richard contributing towards supporting our development around aspects of Harmony. Early days, but very positive."

I asked Mr Clark if he was okay if I shared this message, and he agreed, providing I checked with Mr Dunne first, which I did. 

Before Mr Dunne became aware Mr Clark had contacted me he sent an email, not to me, but to a supportive parent, who shared it with permission. It said:

"My meeting with Alex Clark was a productive one. We talked about the commitment from the Trust to keep the Harmony curriculum going and the importance of training up staff to really understand what this means...

... Mr Clark said he could only imagine, as a fellow Head, how difficult last year must have been.  He said the process now needs to be one of healing and he has suggested as a next step that I meet with the new CEO, Paul Kennedy, so hopefully that can happen in the next few weeks.

I still think certain people need to be held to account and to date they haven't been, but that is a matter for the GST, rather than Mr Clark.

So overall, it was a good meeting.  There was clear recognition that the unique features of the school around Harmony and sustainability mustn't be lost".

Mr Dunne kindly agreed to let me publish the contents of the above email. 

I cannot begin to overstate how important the meeting between Mr Dunne and Mr Clark was. It shows Mr Clark is willing to engage with someone he might feel slightly awkward chatting to whilst sitting in the Ashley head teacher's chair. 

It also shows that Mr Dunne is being very gracious, given what he was put through. 

I hope this meeting causes an outbreak of peace, love and understanding, the same three things I was hoping to channel when I wrote my first piece about the weird disappearance of Mr Dunne almost exactly a year ago

But...  organisations only act in their own interests. I suspect neither the Good Shepherd Trust or Alex Clark care much for Richard Dunne beyond the fallout from the Trust's decision to remove him. 

In a 2018 - 2022 strategic document, now mysteriously missing from their website, the Good Shepherd Trust says:

"the Trust has agreed a growth plan which envisages 30 schools within the Trust within four years."

ie by the end of 2022. Since suspending Richard Dunne, the Good Shepherd Trust has not added a single school to its portfolio of 16. 

This figures. Who would want to join a Trust which dismisses credible allegations of bullying against one of its directors without investigation, or suspends a well-regarded head teacher on cobbled-together evidence?

If the Trust wants to start growing its income it's going to have to fix some of the problems its ineptitude has caused. Given the extra staff it's taken on, it's going to need to do so quite quickly. 

The Ashley Parent Partnership met the new chief executive of the Good Shepherd Trust last week. I hope his conciliatory noises will translate into action, and by the way, I sincerely hope Alex Clark's status as a National Leader in Education is justified, given his record at, and sudden resignation from his last job at the Cirrus Academy Trust. More on that soon.


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03 September 2020

Tiffany Harding - and what Nigel did next...

Ashley School, former home of Sonia Berglund

Sonia Berglund was Badger class (y2) teacher at Ashley School for the 2018/9 academic year.

Ms Berglund got in touch with me recently after reading some of the reports on this website. An encounter she had with Good Shepherd Trust director Nigel Stapleton was obviously playing on her mind.

After a number of conversations about her experience of Ashley School, I asked Ms Berglund if she would mind emailing me the letter she sent to the Teaching Regulation Agency in support of Richard Dunne.

Ms Berglund sent me her letter and says she is happy for me to publish it. She thinks it's important people know what she witnessed.

The Tiffany Holder referred to in the letter is Ashley's former Assistant Head Teacher, Tiffany Harding (Holder was her maiden name). Ms Harding left Ashley School in July 2020 to become Deputy Head Teacher at a nearby school. A nice promotion for her. Ms Berglund initially came into contact with Mr Stapleton in his capacity as Chair of Ashley School's Local Governing Committee.

Here is Ms Berglund's letter to the Teaching Regulation Agency in full:

"Wednesday 13th May 2020

To whom it may concern, 

I am writing to you regarding the allegations that have been made against Richard Dunne by the Good Shepherd Trust. I was a member of staff, working full-time at the school, and living on the school site during the academic year 2018-2019. In order to show my impression and understanding of what was going on at the school, I have provided a list of key events which occurred during the period September 2018 to October 2019. I would particularly like to draw attention to the behaviour of the assistant headteacher, Tiffany Holder, and the undermining influence she exerted on staff behind Richard Dunne’s back. I believe the way she behaved was wholly unprofessional and had a direct impact on the allegations that were made against Mr Dunne.

- September 2018: I had a meeting with the assistant head, Tiffany Holder, in which I raised issues relating to my working relationship with my fellow Year Two teachers. Following this meeting, it appeared that Miss Holder was making decisions regarding how my year group ran as well as re-organising how other year groups in the school ran without taking into consideration the opinions of Mr Dunne as headteacher. I was also aware that Miss Holder acted differently in the presence of Mr Dunne when she behaved in a polite way as opposed to when she was with staff when she could be very disrespectful of him.

- December 2018: Miss Holder acted in a highly unprofessional manner during a staff Christmas event.  She recalled a past conversation with Mr Dunne concerning school supplies and undermined his authority over the instructions he had given her. She ridiculed him and his vision for the school and expressed how she found him repulsive. 

- January 2019: Following a conversation I had with Jackie Stevens, the Deputy Head, regarding my desire to do more Harmony work in the school, in line with Mr Dunne’s vision, Miss Holder began ignoring me and stopped talking to me because she did not agree with this vision. For example, shortly after this, I can recall a moment where she spoke to me in an aggressive and superior tone during an assembly. It made me feel very uncomfortable.  She also discussed her feelings about me with a number of teachers, who, as a result, stopped interacting with me at work. I found this behaviour to be like a bully.  Moreover, she behaved normally in front of my mentor but with hostility when my mentor was not present. Again, I felt that she was behaving like a bully. 

- September 2018 to January 2019: During this period, Jackie Stevens, the Deputy Head, was told by the Trust that she had to split her time evenly between Farnborough Grange School, another Trust school, and Ashley School. Mr Dunne was becoming more stretched and his workload increased. 

- January 2019 to July 2019: In addition to his usual workload, Mr Dunne was also overseeing a number of new elements in school because Mrs Stevens was now full-time at Farnborough Grange. We also had no site manager in the school as he was sick. These additional responsibilities included supervising the lunch hall on a daily basis, assessing the NQT teachers and having regular meetings with mentors after school. He was also planning the weekly assemblies and staff meetings in which we reviewed the school’s policies and practices. He was present on all fronts at the school. 

- January 2019 to July 2019:  Miss Holder now had more responsibility in the school. She constantly made out that she was running the school behind Mr Dunne’s back and she became increasingly authoritative. Because I had had some bad experiences with her in the Spring term 2019, I tried to avoid her. I was still very concerned about her bullying behaviour. She was very power driven and this seemed to go against the culture of the school. She sometimes crossed the line between what was professional because she would speak in an aggressive way.

- June 2019:  Mr Dunne led a school trip with Year Six students to Chamonix. During this time Miss Holder acted suspiciously and often seemed very nervous. I could see that something was wrong.  She was also aggressive towards me, using a controlling tone during a safeguarding meeting I had with her.  At the meeting, she was particularly interested in Mr Dunne’s role with a safeguarding issue I had back in January. I felt as if she was trying to build some evidence against Mr Dunne. What I found out later was that she had been building a case all week against Mr Dunne while he was away in Chamonix. This has really shocked me and I can see now that she and the Trust were working against Mr Dunne. I have read the allegations against Mr Dunne and I do not think they are true with regards to safeguarding because I saw him put in place safeguarding measures during my time at the school, particularly in ensuring parents left the premises promptly at the start and the end of the day. Mr Dunne also supported me with safeguarding issues in my class, in relation to two SEN pupils.

I would like to share one final important disclosure because I believe it is extremely serious with regards to the allegations against Mr Dunne. 

- October 2019:  The Chair of Governors, Nigel Stapleton, invited me to a club in Central London to discuss my future career plans. We had a private table and I had to dress up smartly. When I met him, the only thing he really wanted to talk about was Mr Dunne. To my great surprise, the first question he asked me was whether Mr Dunne had been seducing me. I felt very uncomfortable with what he had said as he was making it sound as if Mr Dunne was irresponsible. There was no problem with Mr Dunne and yet I felt as if Mr Stapleton was not going to end the conversation until I had said something negative about him. Throughout the conversation Mr Stapleton was very complimentary to me and sometimes this felt quite awkward. He was also staring at me a lot, looking at my legs, my eyes, my hair. I felt disgusted by what he was doing. We discussed a number of events that occurred at Ashley School and I felt that he wanted to see if I could provide him with information that could discredit Mr Dunne’s reputation. 

Mr Dunne was a fantastic mentor and leader during my time at Ashley and showed his commitment to the school despite the strains and challenges he faced as Headteacher. I hope that my account of key events reflects that there is no basis for the allegations made against Mr Dunne and I believe that he sought to resolve any issues and concerns raised by staff which were communicated to him. 

I am happy to discuss this further if it would be helpful to this case.  

Yours faithfully,

Sonia Berglund"

Private member

Ms Berglund's penultimate paragraph in the letter above is a little startling, so I asked her to tell me more. Ms Berglund said the meeting with Nigel Stapleton took place in a private room in the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London on 21st October 2019. She says the meeting lasted about 2.5 hours, during which Mr Stapleton's behaviour was "predatory" and "inappropriate", though he did not touch her other than to greet her and say goodbye. 

For much of the time the two were together, they were alone. As the meeting progressed Ms Berglund says she began to fear for her personal safety, and half way through she stood up to leave. She told me Mr Stapleton intimidated her into sitting back down. She said she left the meeting "terrified".  Ms Berglund says Mr Stapleton texted her for a number of weeks afterwards, seeking another opportunity to meet up and further discuss her career. Ms Berglund says she stayed polite and replied to some of his texts whilst remaining professional. The texts stopped shortly before the end of last year. On 18th July this year, out of the blue, Mr Stapleton attempted to call Ms Berglund. She ignored his call.

As we know, the Good Shepherd Trust have already received a number of formal written complaints about the behaviour of Nigel Stapleton in relation to alleged bullying. These complaints were dismissed without investigation. Earlier this year Mr Stapleton stepped down from Ashley's governing committee with the GST's "deep" gratitude for his "many positive contributions". Nigel Stapleton remains a director of the Good Shepherd Trust.

I have contacted Tiffany Harding, Nigel Stapleton and the Good Shepherd Trust for comment on Ms Berglund's statement. 

I asked Mr Stapleton specifically why he chose to ask Ms Berglund if Richard Dunne had tried to seduce her. What evidence or information did he have which could possibly have led to that question being asked? I also asked if he made a habit of taking young teachers (male or female) to his private members club to discuss their careers.

I asked the GST if they had sanctioned Mr Stapleton's meeting with Ms Berglund, and if so whether he was tasked to find out information on Richard Dunne which might help their case against him. I also asked if the GST knew Mr Stapleton often met up with young teachers to help discuss their careers, and if so, whether it was part of a wider GST programme, or just Mr Stapleton acting on his own initiative.

The Trust have told me they will not be commenting, Ms Harding has not replied to my requests for a response and Nigel Stapleton has not acknowledged my questions.

Where are we now?

It is coming up to twelve months since Mr Dunne was suspended. In November last year a GST kangaroo court (itself assembled on the flimsiest of pretexts) found Mr Dunne guilty of several counts of gross misconduct, in his absence. 

The GST then referred their allegations and findings to the Teaching Regulation Agency, a move which could have led to Mr Dunne being banned from teaching ever again. After looking at all the evidence, the Teaching Regulation Agency's Decision Maker threw ALL the allegations out in the first instance saying that none of them "even at their highest... amount to potentially serious misconduct".

By way of response, the GST told the Surrey Advertiser they were going to spend the summer "reflecting" on their "internal processes and judgements" so that they could "move forward."

No recognition of the devastation caused to an individual, a community and a family. Just a bit of "reflection" and off we go. Less said about it the better. 

Over January and February this year parents representing more than half the families at Ashley school demanded an independent investigation into the GST's actions. Any right-minded chief exec would commission one immediately. Of course it's not going to happen.


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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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