Thursday, 17 November 2011

The governors are back

Well, I think we all now know that the St. Augustine's governors have been reinstated. It seems that the fuss kicked up by parents phoning in all directions has had an effect.

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?
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.
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.

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?
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.)
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.

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.


  1. It is possible Mr Mason drafted the letter that is the subject of this article.
    He would seem, in so many ways, to have been the prize-winning architect of his own wife's downfall.

    Parents, staff and readers of this blog await with interest the letter of apology which Mrs Gumley Mason must now write. It is to be hoped that finally a little humility may be shown, but will it, can it?

  2. TES offer two options: they can headhunt candidates for you - their recruitment arm, or you simply place an ad for a set cost depending on the type of ad you want. The selection of candidates will then be down to the Head and Govn.

  3. Mr West - thank you for having this forum. It does provide a very useful and current source of news and information for us.

  4. So GM selects the Govns and trustees and even though she has been sacked and her husband suspended, she then selects the new head?!

  5. We too at St Benedict's got a letter from the Head telling us we will be getting information about our new Governing body. We wait with baited breath to hear news how it will be set up. However i fear it will be the same old character's who deny anything went on at the school.

  6. At least St. Benedict's seem to trying to get it right.
    Mrs GM has lied again she needs to step down now.

  7. Does anyone know whether the new head recruitment & selection committee (made up of some governors) at ST A is still tasked with the search process?

    I remember reading somewhere that the Trustees and GM had their own preferred candidate !

  8. Actually, the management of St Benedict's are more interested in giving the general public the impression that they are trying to get it right than in so doing. Lord Carlile was commissioned by the trust's solicitor to produce a report "advantageous to the abbey". If you read the report attentively, you will see, even without the the interpretational aid of a law degree, that M'Lud satisified his client's brief. In the exchange of emails in July 2010 between M'Lud and the trust's brief, M'Lud even dissuaded them from getting a recognised authority on child abuse, Dr Kevin McCoy, involved as he felt it would merely prolong the process of producing the report and cost the trust more. So much, then, for the independence of this much-vaunted report. In any event, the report took over a year to appear, instead of Lord Carlile's estimate of twenty days, because of all the cases that kept emerging and delaying its publication. You can sum up this report quite simply, once you sweep away the smoke and mirrors: it's business as usual at St Dotheboys. OK, so they can't flog their charges bloody anymore cos it's illegal, but there are other ways of terrorising children.

  9. absolutely -

    Lord Carlile in point 78 and 79 of his the report that there was criticism of the management of the school. This was very mildly put. In point 80 he highlighted the fact that only through the blog it confirmed its poor management and lack of transparency.

    How will this change if we still have the same people in charge, the head, the abbott, and their Advisors. They want to stay on but do we. When things go wrong again who will make the decision for them to go?

    I will give Mr Cleugh 2 years before another bomb shell hits the school.

  10. 14.07... 2 years? That's generous.

    Watching Cleugh on the news, I found it interesting that such a prestigious school as St Benedict's has a chav as it's headmaster. And by "chav", I don't mean his liverpool accent. His grammar was appalling.

  11. St.Benedict's is not a prestigious school, that is not why I sent my son there. Mr Cleugh might not have used the right grammar, but at least he is a decent human being, the woman up the hill has perfect grammar, is a compulsive liar and cruel, and I no which one I would rather have dealings with.

  12. Well, 16.25, I can't comment on your attitude to Mrs G-M, as I have no direct knowledge of her and her works, but as to Mr Cleugh, chav or otherwise, the really interesting thing we discover about him from the news broadcast is that he failed to informed the ISI inspectors of the problems with child protection at St B's ALTHOUGH HE IS HIMSELF AN ISI INSPECTOR.
    So either he is terminally incompetent both as an inspector and a headmaster, or he was deliberatly trying to pull the wool over their eyes. I've tried to think of a third alternative explanation, but really can't.
    Delightful human being he may be (I have my doubts, but you speak as you find). But how, under the circumstances, is he fit for purpose?

  13. Yes and thats why shes going..............

    and please Cleugh may not have been caught out in a lie yet - but you have to agree he has been conservative with the truth.

    Every press article printed said St Benedicts is one of londons prestigious catholic schools at £12,000 a year. Or have we read that wrong. I'd start questioning what your paying for.

    GM is going in 3 weeks 5 days. yeep pee !

  14. 16.25

    'A decent human being?'

    At the end of the BBC Inside Out package Cleugh could not bring himself to confirm that all allegations of abuse WILL be reported to the LADO or children’s services. Just take a read of this transcription:

    Reporter:“How confident are you that if there are further accusations that they will be properly reported because in the past they haven’t been?

    Cleugh: “I absolutely believe they totally would be reported. As soon as something is referred to a child protection officer he would immediately got to social services and they would give us the advice on the way forward but there would certainly be no cover up about anything within the school.”

    All he needed to say was “All allegations of abuse will be reported to the LADO” But he did not and neither does the school's safeguarding policy.

    In the school's written policy it is still not adhering to the London and Ealing Safeguarding Board Guidance in at clause 15.2.1. All allegations must be reported to the LADO.

    Cleugh and the school are desperate to convince YOU that allegations will be reported while they singularly fail either verbally or in written policy what we all want - that all allegations WILL be reported to the LADO.

    Wriggle wriggle wriggle.

    Parents, your children have no protection at tSt Benedict's and no rights if abused, and the people running the place know it!

  15. Parents forum was positive. Three governors in attendance, Mrs Carey, Dr Barnard and Mrs Phillips, and questions were well answered. About 150 parents attended.
    Two parents had requested a meeting with Mr Murphy and had attended his house this afternoon. They asked who the proprietor was and we're told it was Mrs Gumley Mason. Dr Barnard said that this was not what the governors had been told.
    It seems likely Murphy will have to go, but hopefully not before he answers questions at the school along with the other trustees.
    Seems it is guaranteed there won't be any more interference in the appointment of the new head.
    We were shown the threatening letter written to the governors on headed paper from Mr Mason's Estate Office, and also a letter of support for the governors from the staff, whose professionalism in difficult times was praised by the meeting. It was clear that the actions of the headmistress and the chair of the trustees were roundly rejected by the parents.
    Very worthwhile evening. Thank you.

  16. You have kind of got to feel sorry for Mr Murphy. Like many others he possibly considered the Gumley Masons friends, but that is never the case. People are viewed as either useful or not useful; those who outlive their usefulness are cast aside.
    Doubtless the loyalty of Murphy will now be repaid with rejection and anger.
    The poor old bloke has been wheeled out to try and defend the indefensible, to hide behind when all else fails.
    Mr Murphy, I think you may find you are no longer useful. Do not expect your friendship with the Gumley Masons to last - it won't.
    Maybe one day soon you will appreciate that you were just being used, and the invitations to dinner will dry up. Mr Mason will never allow his wife near you again.
    Maybe one day soon you will realise in some small way the horror of what you have allowed two amoral and utterly egocentric characters to do to countless others in your name.

  17. I wonder it Mr Mason will still be whistling on Monday.

    Whistling in the dark, is that? Something scary?

    What's there to be scared of?

    Well now, let's see shall we. Could it be the fact you feel like you have been exposed for what you are to everyone?

    Then don't worry - everyone always knew anyway.

    Indulgence based on family association is not the same as respect.

    Tweed suits do not make a gentleman - humanity, humility, understanding and love of your fellow man are required.

    Are there people who will never learn?


  18. Mr West, as a parent the bit that concerned me about the letter was that even after everything that has happened there still seems to be a lack of proper commitment to safeguarding. She says she does talk to the LADO but most times she knows it is just malicious. So she still thinks she knows best and is just going through the motions. She also thinks that schools don't have a part to play in educating the youngest children about child protection, and yet these are the most vulnerable. It's no good leaving it to parents. It might be the parents that are the danger.

  19. What happened about the two other governors dr dowling brannagan and mrs kendall? Did they support murphy and gumley mason?
    Wouldn't like to be them now when the others get back.

  20. Please see Jonathans comment : Is saying Sorry enough ? November 18th 17.43.

    It will tell you all you need to know.

    GM is going in December When in Cleugh going ?

  21. If Mason is suspended how is he gaining access to his office to write letters, does he go there on the weekend?

  22. What happened to the new governors, selected over the week-end and whose side are they on?

  23. You gotta love the big about 'hair-raising variations and embellishments'. The words pot, kettle, and black spring to mind.
    So Mr West, is that the end of them?
    The ball will be starting quite soon this evening. It seems that the Gumley-Masons have cancelled their table.
    Now they are utterly exposed before the parents, the staff, the girls (oh yes, by the way, they all know too) the governors and presumably finally the trustees, the best advice would be to call it a day now and go.
    But when did that pair ever take advice?

  24. The sad thing is that most, if not all of this was quite avoidable. What a shame that ego clouds their ability to do the right thing. The school will survive and prosper. I have every confidence

  25. I cant believe Cleugh is a ISI inspector. I feel sorry for the next school he is due to inspect, surely there will be a question mark over his capability and integrity to get things right.

  26. This is the moment for Gumley Mason to call it a day once and for all. Her continued presence at the school will only do further damage.
    It needs to end now, there's absolutely no point in clinging on to the end of term. She has no purpose there anymore.
    A school that once was her has successfully been liberated. She is now completely separate from it, in her own words 'an unwelcome distraction'. She is no longer of any relevance and everyone knows that. The end.

  27. Gumley-Mason has now outlived her time at the school, she should move on, she serves no purpose by seeing out the next four weeks. She will remain a focus of dissent and distraction, it is time for St Augustine's to move on, and GM too.

    Can those 'close' to her point her in the right direction...

    As for the trustees, they should consider there role, is it blindly to follow the Head, or is it not to support the beneficiaries of the trust, the girls, and ensure they get the best education possible.They too must look in the mirror this morning and question their decisions, or lack of, over the past weeks!

  28. Yes she should go now but unfortunately the shredder is still on overdrive and probably will be for the next 3 weeks!!
    Can't wait untill the new year!

  29. Why doesn't someone step in and stop the shredding, what is she hiding?

  30. 19 Nov 11:33
    Hubby Mason was only suspended for a week whilst the safeguarding incident was investigated by his wife!
    He was reinstated with no explanation or result of the investigation ever made public.
    That is why he is back in his office and busy shredding!

  31. He should be made to stand down, it's laughable he was investigated by his wife, no wonder the out come was in his favour.
    Governors, both of them should be asked to leave now they are destroying the school, I feel sorry for Mrs Wilson having to pick up the pieces after the mess those to clowns have made.

  32. I believe he is also a magistrate ?

  33. surely there is nothing left to shred? it has been going on for so long now........

  34. I didn't notice Mrs GM's sign off on the note of confidence in all the governors signed off by the Chair of Governors, the Chairman of Trustees and the "Acting Headmistress Elect". Sour grapes it would seem (or a sign she has no part to play in the running of the school any more..).

    Is Mrs GM taking any part in the running of the school now? If not maybe Mrs Wilson should take over with immediate effect?

    That must be the nail in the coffin for the relationship between Mrs GM and Mr Murphy. She will think him another traitor no doubt.

    He has not covered himself in glory by any means. She appears to have been completely marginalised now even by him, her most loyal of supporters/puppets/servants.

    Let's hope he is not too proud to see now how wrong he has been and how he must embrace the change and improvement that is essential or step aside for someone with real care and enthusiasm for improvement in the way the trust is run.

    It is still a great school despite all that has been going on and will be even greater. Have faith - the staff work on professionally looking after our children.

  35. St Augustine's is potentially a great little school. The unhealthy way the Gumley Masons tried to run it only said things about themselves and their insecurity. Reading back over this blog there was a comment about a year ago that referred to Mrs Gumley Mason as a 'pernicious, incompetent charlatan'. At the time this looked harsh. Now some time later there might be argued to be some foundation to such a denomination.
    The important thing, the truly important thing, is that the whole community of our school reflects on the past, learns from it and moves forward together.
    The St Augustine's story should itself renew the faith of parents. The staff are an example to the girls; in supporting the governors against the headmistress they have been courageous enough to show them that when people stand up for justice, for what is right, for a better future ordinary people can achieve ordinary things.

  36. The letter of support from the staff that we saw on Friday evening was wonderfully dignified, measured and calm. Their example is an example to the girls in our school. The school will be safe in the hands of those more than fifty people who were prepared to do what was right.
    Truly heart-warming and reassuring after all that has happened.

  37. Great shame that they only decided to be 'supportive' After GM's recent correspondence and the fact that she has less than 3 weeks left!

  38. 11:27
    If you had any dealing whatsoever with the Gumley Masons and the Murphys, you would not have posted such a sarcastic and uninformed comment.

  39. 12:05
    I have done, and without 'supportive' staff!

  40. 11:27
    Tend to agree with you in so much as staff appeared unsupportive (and Govns too) maybe because they were afraid to lose their jobs, who knows? but lets look forward to Frances Gumley-Mason finally leaving the school in 16 days time (23 incl weekends). A New year and a new beginning...

  41. 18 November 23:15
    "Two parents had requested a meeting with Mr Murphy and had attended his house this afternoon. They asked who the proprietor was and we're told it was Mrs Gumley Mason. Dr Barnard said that this was not what the governors had been told".

    So if GM is the proprietor of the school, how can she be asked to leave? Does anyone know if she is or not? WHO really owns the school?

  42. 16:16
    I can answer that. The following is a quote from a letter from the ISI to the school last December, obtained from the DfE by means of an FOI request.

    Proprietors' responsibilities and identity (Schedule, Paragraph 1)
    The registered proprietor of the school at the time of the inspection was St Augustine's Priory School Ltd, and the Department for Education have confirmed that therefore legal responsibility rests with the directors of that company, although it is acknowledged that day-to-day running is delegated to the Governing Body and then to the Headmistress. It is also for this reason that the report indicates non-compliance with Regulation 4C.(7), as the directors should be included in the school's central register of appointments as proprietors.

    So the trustees are the proprietors, and legal responsibility for the school ultimately rests with the chair of Trustees, Mr. Murphy.

  43. Didn't Gumley Mason set up St Augustine's Priory School Ltd ?
    Didn't She appoint all the trustees and Governors?
    Who ultimately OWNS the school and grounds?
    Why does Mr Murphy act like a puppet if he is one of the owners?
    Do the Gumley-Masons own the school or grounds?

    'It is also for this reason that the report indicates non-compliance with Regulation 4C.(7), as the directors should be included in the school's central register of appointments as proprietors.
    So the trustees are the proprietors, and legal responsibility for the school ultimately rests with the chair of Trustees, Mr. Murphy.'

    Has this non-compliance been addressed? Does anyone know the answers?

  44. The nuns who were the trustees of the school prior to 1994 (as their Order: the Canonesses of the Lateran actually ran it) were obliged to leave the school then as it had been pointed out to the Vatican that the Reverend Mother was "too old" to lead a religious order. This was told to the teaching staff at a meeting called by one of the Benedictine Monks. The nuns then left, hastily disbanded to other religious orders. At that time a number of parents were upset and asked the staff for a meeting to discuss what was happening. Teachers were afraid for their jobs and so kept quiet. I believe that the appointment of GM was in keeping with the wishes of (some of?) the Benedictines who had precipitated the departure of the nuns. It has been pointed out by another poster that GM's appointment was supported by Fr.Pearce (res. H.M.Prison)The school is probably a satellite of some sorts of St. Benedicts with a set of semi-detached Directors or Trustees who never paid a penny for the asset that they "own".

  45. 10:42
    Thank you for that information. My concern is that GM may well come into the school again, but through the 'back door' this time. She's a crafty woman and has had 17 years to play around with various documents and use the school lawyers for her own ends. Mr Murphy stated clearly that SHE was the proprietor. Why all the fuss about Governors signing documents? All smoke & mirrors maybe but What is she up to?

  46. 12.47

    She will be up to no good, the school is her life, we need guarantees that once she and her husband leave that will be the final time she sets foot on school property.
    As long as she has any involvement with the school it will not move forward.

  47. 13:57
    totally agree.

  48. She's gone hurray

  49. 17:02
    Not a moment too soon!

  50. The best news ever the pair of them out of the school.

  51. What made her leave now?

  52. Re 17:41

    She had to leave - once eveyone could see the documentary evidence that she had lied - not really appropriate for a Headteacher is it?

  53. I believe that they had just finished shredding, so no further need to hang around!