But the turnaround didn't happen until after a quite extraordinary letter had been sent out by Mrs Gumley Mason to all parents, presumably with the authority of the Mr Murphy, the chairman of trustees. A copy of the letter has of course been passed to me (a number of copies in fact) and it is worth quoting a few key paragraphs.
The latest rumour is that all the School's Governors have been sacked; that, consequently, the School is in breach of various (unidentified but numerous) regulations, that we may have to close and so on, with hair-raising variations and embellishments.Well, I wouldn't call it a rumour, at the time of writing it was a fact that the governors had been sacked. The business of them not being "confirmed in office" is sophistry. They had been attending governors meetings, some of them for a considerable period of time. Of course they were sacked!
Those sacked included two lawyers, the two recently elected parent governors, and a deacon who is also a diocesan school inspector. If you're going to pick a fight with that group, you had better be very sure of your ground.
What makes a difference, of course, this time around is the fact that I am retiring at the end of this term, and in any independent School the departure of a long-serving Head can create uncertainty and anxiety. Another factor that has not helped the situation is that there has been a certain amount of frenetic jockeying for position by a few members of staff in the run-up to my departure. This has been an unwelcome and unexpected distraction.And with this, Murphy and Gumley Mason don't merely declare war on the parents by sacking their elected parent governors, they create additional enemies by attacking the staff as well. Even if it were true, it's a really bad strategic move to unite the staff and parents against you. It's a colossal error of judgement, compounding the error made by picking this fight in the first place. And in any case, all other accounts I've heard suggest that this jockeying for position is the purest fiction. There's no point in it. There's one vacancy, for headteacher. It's going to get filled by an open interview process, to which both internal and external candidates can apply. There's no purpose in "jockeying for position", because there aren't any positions to jockey for. Any staff member who wants additional responsibilities will in most cases achieve this by applying for a more senior post at another school.
Then we come to a masterpiece of creative writing, the questions and answers!
Have all the Governors been sacked?Well, as we all now know, this appointment of unnamed replacement governors didn't happen. But the whole business is utterly ridiculous. It makes the instrument of governance sound as if it is Holy Writ. It isn't, it's a school document, detailing the powers of the governors and certain other aspects of the way the school is run. It should be reviewed at regular intervals in order to ensure that it reflects the situation as it currently exists at the school. But the current instrument of governance hasn't in fact been updated for several years, and is demonstrably outdated and incorrect. The single most obvious flaw is that it doesn't even get the age range of the pupils right - the age range has been extended as a result of the opening of the nursery, but the instrument of governance hasn't been updated to match.
No. A number of Governor appointments, however, were subject to approval by the Directors. The Directors were quite content to confirm the appointments of all those who had been acting as members of the Board of Governors, but made it a condition of their appointment that they (the Governors) would confirm that they would act in accordance with the Instrument of Government. Unfortunately, six individuals did not give this undertaking when asked to do so, and consequently their appointments did not take effect at that time.
That left three Govemors, one of whom has now resigned for family and personal reasons unconnected with the action of the other six. The remaining two are being joined by three appointees (so as to achieve the required quorum of five) who havs agreed to abide by the Instrument of Govemment and who, subject to their confirmation by the Directors, will take office. The Instrument of Government provides for these Governors to appoint two other Governors, and the line-up will be completed by two Parent Governors.
And governors, especially the lawyers among them, know perfectly well that they have act within the powers given to them. Requiring them to sign a letter, in the way it happened seems to have been a deliberate insult, designed to provoke the governors into a refusal and to walk away. Such a letter has never previously been required. So this issue of adherence to the instrument of governance is not the real issue, it is a clumsy pretext for something else altogether.
Why has an advertisement for the new Head not yet appeared in the Times Educational Supplement?This is highly implausible. If you engage a firm of headhunters for a top job, they do a bit more to earn their money than simply typing up an ad to put in the TES. There's a bit of preparatory work that has to be done first, because you want to ensure that the best possible candidates are minded to apply when the ad is placed. If you engage the services of recruitment specialists, you take their advice on such things. It is extremely unlikely that anybody could possibly take up the post until September, so there is time to do the job properly in order to get the best possible candidates.What matters is not that the ad is placed as early as possible, but that it attracts the best candidates.
I found out the reason for this over the weekend, when I was telephoned by one of the TES staff dealing with the advertisement. He told me that one of the six (ie one of those who had refused to give an undertaking to comply with the Instrument of Government) had contacted the TES and told them to put the advertisement "on hold". This was done without my knowledge or agreement, and since the individual concerned has no authority to give such an instruction I directed the TES to place the advertisement as soon as possible. (The TES have since told me that the advertisement will appear on November 25th.)
It is extremely unprofessional for Mrs Gumley Mason to get involved in any way in the recruitment of her successor. She has no valid interest in the matter. If her primary interest had been the welfare of the school, she would have given a year's notice of her departure so as to avoid the need for an interregnum at all. Of course, Mr. Murphy is aware of the arrangements for recruiting the head including the use of consultant, and yet he must have authorised this precipitate action by Mrs Gumley Mason.
Let's think about Mr Murphy for a moment. I have no idea why he has chosen to pick this fight with the governors. The issue of the instrument of governance was trivial, and an obvious pretext. If had been the real issue, then it could have easily been sorted out with a bit of goodwill and a few phone calls, as between professional colleagues with a common objective. I have no idea what is the issue that he felt required the sacking of the governors and their replacement with appointees. It would be good if he could enlighten us.
Then there is the matter of how he went about it. This showed serious lack of judgement. First, whatever the issue is, it would have been better to get it openly discussed with the governors. It's the obvious course of action - you discuss the problem with colleagues who can help. One has to wonder why he didn't do this.
Then there is the choice of people to pick a fight with. The elected parent governors have a strong mandate, they were voted into their positions. Sacking them without good evidence of misconduct was bound to enrage the parents who participated in the election. Refusing to sign some silly letter to order doesn't even come close to misconduct. Trying to solve the problem, whatever the problem is, by sacking them was seriously unwise.
Then there was the decision to go public with the letter. If there had to be a letter to parents on the subject, Mrs Gumley Mason was the wrong person to write and sign it. She's supposed to report to the governors, not the other way round. If the letter was to be sent at all, it should have been sent out over Mr Murphy's own signature.
Then there was the issue of picking a fight with the staff. It's exceedingly unlikely that the letter was sent without Mr Murphy having looked it over first. So he approved the paragraph that took a pop at the staff. Not clever. Whoever is appointed the new headteacher, and whoever does the appointing, you still need to find ways of minimising the disruption. The last thing you need is to provoke an exodus of your best staff who are mortally offended by the insult. Another seriously bad judgement.
And then finally there is the climbdown. If the replacement of the governors was justified two days ago, it is still justified today, Mr Murphy ought to tell us what that justification is. If it wasn't justified, then the sacking shouldn't have happened in the first place.
And in any case, the ploy has failed. He's failed to shift the governors, he has provoked the ire of the parents, and has undoubtedly lost the respect and confidence of the staff. So, whatever ideas he has for taking the school forward, he's now entirely unable to implement them because he's not got any allies to work with. His only effect he can have by remaining in position is to obstruct the work of others. That's an untenable position. If he has the welfare of the school at heart, he should go.