Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Governors' letter

A letter was sent by the governors of St Augustine's to all parents on 19 September, and it seems that some changes are afoot.

Just before I proceed to the meat of the letter, let me just address some comments that have been made over the last few days speculating as to whether any governors have resigned. According to the Accounts to July 2010 as they appear on the Charity Commission website, the following governors were in place as of that date.

Brigadier D Cantley OBE (deceased December 2010)
Dr M M Dowling-Branagan BA, MBBCh
Mrs H Grewal BA
Prof A Hemingway
Mrs A B Kendall
Prof G Bennett

Apart from Brigadier Cantley, all the governors listed have signed the most recent letter, and in addition we now have Dr M Barnard, Mrs F Carey, Deacon A Clark, and Mrs C Phillips. So it seems that no governors have resigned.

The letter starts, as one might reasonably expect, by thanking Mrs Gumley Mason for her service. It then goes on to explain that an appointments committee has been set up to manage the appointment of a new headteacher, and that they may work with "external agencies" to get the highest possible calibre of candidate. All very good. The interesting thing is the composition of the appointments committee: Professor Bennett, Dr Barnard, Deacon Clark and Mrs Carey. All new governors appointed or elected within the last year or so. It would appear that there has been something of a changing of the guard, Professor Bennett being the longest-serving governor on the committee having been appointed during the 2009/10 academic year.

They then talk about the transition period. It seems that the announcement of Mrs Gumley Mason's departure has caught the governors somewhat by surprise, since they don't yet have a set of transitional arrangements to announce. It seems to me that the transitional arrangements will need to address two separate phases of the transition. Firstly, whether there are any particular arrangements that need to be made for the remainder of this term while Mrs Gumley Mason works out her notice, and then they will need to consider separately the period between the end of the calendar year and the appointment of the new permanent headteacher.

There are a few things that will need to be sorted out: the appointment of an acting head, the arrangements for support of the acting head by the governors and senior staff, the arrangements for safeguarding, since Mrs Gumley Mason is also the Designated Teacher for Safeguarding. But by and large, there should be no great difficulty over this - a school can manage without a headteacher for a short period in the event of the illness or absence of the head. Any strategic decisions can be deferred, or taken by the governors. And in the meantime, the heads of department and the heads of year get on with the tasks that they already know need to be done.

Then the governors go on to address the governance structure of the school. It is very interesting that they have mentioned this now. The ISI report published earlier this year mentioned shortcomings in governance, but it has taken until now for a committee to be set up to look at this. Again, the composition of the committee is instructive: Professor Hemingway, Professor Bennett, Mrs Philiips, Deacon Clark and a Trustee. Mostly new governors for this job as well, particularly including Prof Bennett, a professor of law. In my view, one of the first things that needs to be addressed is the frankly unhealthy arrangement of separate boards of Trustees and Governors. There seems to be far too much scope here for differences of opinion leading to one body attempting to impose its will on the other. It seems to me that a school of only 500 or so pupils doesn't really need two separate governing bodies.

Then there's a bit of motivational stuff about the future, where they at one point say that it is an opportunity for the school to move forward, and also say that it is a turning point for the school, which seems to be a bit of a contradiction - you can't be moving forward if you perceive the need to make a turn. Quite what they mean is anybody's guess, but I don't think we need worry greatly. It's common for letters from school governors  to contain a bit of this sort of thing.

Lastly, the governors promise that this letter is the first in a series of more detailed communications aimed at keeping pupils, staff and parents as informed as possible. And that is very much to be welcomed.

Overall, this is a positive letter, it looks as if the governors are beginning to get to grips with the problems the school has had over the past 18 months or so concerning the ISI report and the school's woeful response to it. Much clearly still needs to be done, and I wish the governors all the very best in their efforts to achieve it.

Let me add one final point. The reason I have written about St Augustine's Priory School on this blog is solely because gross shortcomings in its safeguarding policies and procedures came to my attention. As soon as I am satisfied that this has been rectified, that the policies reflect best practice and are being thoroughly implemented, then I will wish the school well and cease to have any interest. On the other hand, if I think that the governors are backsliding in their efforts to ensure proper safeguarding at the school, then I will say so. My sole objective in all this has been the safety and welfare of the pupils

But it shouldn't have required all this bad publicity from me. Parents, staff and governors shouldn't have allowed the school to get into this situation in the first place. Once the school is made safe, you all have a responsibility to be vigilant in order to keep it that way. That job never ends.


  1. This seems like some good news at last. It is clear the new governors are taking control and that can only be a good thing. St Augustine's could be such a great school once GM is out of the way and all the blockages are removed. It looks like the 'wets' on the governors are thankfully now being sidelined. About time!

  2. I though this was a good letter and it was really interesting that they are still reviewing interim arrangements. I'm not worried about the school not having a head for a while because it seems like its not had one for the last two years anyway. What a mess! Where was the leadership?
    Well done governors, more power to you!

  3. My daughter read the letter and the word that leapt off the page was 'modernise'. Yes please! We are tired of this twee little world approach to everything. We are tired of all this glorification of amateurism in the letters from the head. It is all so doggedly yesterday. The sense we get at parents' evening is that there are so many great teachers all being held back. It really is time to make St Augustine's part of the world of the 21st Century - a few new computers are welcome, but it's much more than that. Mrs Gumley-Mason has done some good things undoubtedly, but she is desperately out of touch with what parents of our generation want and what the world of the future will need.
    So please, please MODERNISE!

  4. Let's hope things change fast and GM doesn't pointlessly cling on til Christmas. What is the point, it's just another wasted period of time, the sooner the past is put to bed the sooner the school can become a community again and move on.

  5. It's very good news that the governors seem finally to be trying to sort out the mess.
    As it has taken this long for them to do anything, we can only presume that it's the newly elected governors that are pushing for changes. Good luck to them and let us all hope they succeed in turning around the current reputation of the school that has been so badly tarnished by the current headmistress and her antics.

  6. I really can't see the point in her staying until December, why doesn't she just go now.

  7. Those of you commenting, please remember - no name-calling, and no speculation about wrongdoing for which we don't have evidence. I've had to refuse publication of a number of comments today.

  8. 13:15
    Clean up!!

  9. I really do get very befuddled when people start talking about a school's 'reputation,' when the background to all this is a school administration which failed to adequately safeguard children.

    Who cares about reputation in such circumstances? Or is this an example of the mistaken parental default that safeguarding issues 'only happen to others?'

  10. 16.30 you are correct in what you say. Reputation should be founded on good practise. But it does look like the present changes are about trying to get that in place and then the reputation will be based on reality not spin. That should be the measure of reputation. We hope St A's will have a justified reputation for doing things properly.

  11. Reputation is irrelevant.

    I am much more interested in character for the following reasons:

    Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.

    Reputation is character minus what you've been caught doing.

    It is the reason I did not send my daughter to St Augustine's. I lifted up the school's veneer and did not like what I saw. I am though, very pleased that others have now done the same and that there appears to be a desire to correct the shortcomings that have so far been discovered.

  12. I no the two male deputy heads are barly there. When they are they say a lot but dont do any work, they just bitch about the school and try to get people on there side. ask the girls not the sycofants they r probly arguing about who will be next head, him or him. no chance i hope. We like mrs Wilson she's strict but she works hard nd shes fair

  13. 23.47. Is this an example of the educational standards at St Augustine's? Ouch! Isn't it past your bedtime?
    I really hope this is not a member of staff otherwise the girls really don't stand a chance.
    Frankie says 'Relax'.

  14. 23:47

    What a load of balderdash!
    They work extremely hard, and one of of them is a very popular member of staff, the girls are very fond of him, i've never heard a bad word said about him.
    Mrs Wilson is the perfect choice, a very fair person.

  15. The English used in 23:47 comment is alarming, is this the standard of English taught at St.Augustine's?

  16. 23:47 and 14:52
    If you have views on the best transitional arrangements, then I sugegst you contact one of the governors and let them know. Its their decision, and they will be in a better position to make that decision if they have the best possible knowledge available to them.

    I'm going to make no comment myself about who would be best as acting headteacher because I don't know the people involved. Also, the best approach will involve carefully worked out arrangements to provide help and support to the acting head. In my view that is at least as important as the choice of person for the role.

  17. 14:55, I think you don't need to worry :-)

    I recognise the style - the comment has probably been typed from a mobile device and uses lots of abbreviations to reduce the number of keystrokes needed. The kids understand each other perfectly well, and the fact that the comment has been written in txtspk desn't mean that the pupil can't write full grammatical sentences when she wants to.

  18. Maybe the writer on the comment at 23.47 is trying unsucessfully to disguise herself, yet again!

  19. Well said 15:19, perhaps the writer should be planning what to do with their impending free time instead of pretending to be a teenage girl!

  20. The posting @ 23.47 carries with it a certain quality of desperation.

  21. I have a question for the governors.
    Why did the letter dated 19th September heap praise on the departing head?
    Considering all the things that have been going on, I am very surprised by the letters content. I agree that the governors should be debating the transitional arrangements etc but they should also be discussing what diciplinary action to take against the head for all the shortcomings etc.
    I trust the past wrong doings by the head will be explained in the next communication from the governors.

  22. 19:06 No chance!

  23. I hope disciplinary action is taken against the head, why has she not been suspended?

  24. 18:54
    I agree with you. She should have been suspended the moment her cover-ups came to light.

  25. Is her sudden and unexplained departure actually the result of disciplinary procedures we do not know about?

  26. She was asked to leave, so for once let the truth be told. Why was she asked to leave? the Governors need to inform parents, no more lies, no more secrets, no more deceit, no more cover ups, no more being economical with the truth.
    Where is Mr Gumley Mason is it true he has been suspended for trying to invade teachers privacy? Governors start answering the questions, that we as parents shouldn't have to ask, you should be forth coming with the truth how ever hard it is.
    You are there for us the parents not for the Headmistress, start being honest, and answer all questions raised.

  27. 08.18

    Yes her sudden departure was a result of her being asked to leave.
    The question is why?