Agenda item

REPORT OF INVESTIGATION INTO ST OLAVE'S GRAMMAR SCHOOL

Joint Item with the Education, Children and Families Select Committee

Minutes:

Report ED18063

 

(Councillor Nicholas Bennett in the Chair)

 

This item was a joint item with the Education, Children and Families Select Committee. 

In October 2017, on behalf of the Local Authority, the Deputy Chief Executive commissioned an independent investigation into practice at St Olave’s Grammar School to consider, specifically, the transition of pupils from Year 12 to Year 13 and aspects of governance and, more generally, the school’s ethos and culture and their impact on children and adults.  Most of the 49 recommendations were being addressed by the school’s Governing Body.  Eight recommendations or part recommendations required action from the Local Authority and the report set out the action being taken.

The investigation was very thorough, following through all written submissions and interviewing all those who put themselves forward.  As soon as he took up post, the new Chair of Governors took firm action to address the areas of immediate concern.  With the Acting Head Teacher and with the support of the Governing Body and the staff team, he reaffirmed the Christian ethos of the Church of England school, stating unequivocally that the school must serve its pupils, rather than the achievements of pupils serving to enhance the reputation of the school.

 

The Local Authority accepted all the recommendations and was taking action to address them. The investigator had eight recommendations or part recommendations which required action by the LA.

 

The Chairman welcomed the Venerable Dr Paul Wright, Archdeacon of Bromley and Bexley and new Chairman of the St Olave’s Board of Governors to the meeting. 

 

Dr Wright stated that by September 2017, it had become apparent that there were a number of issues that needed to be addressed.  The Local Authority instigated a thorough investigation and the report which had now been published made very uncomfortable reading.  Having suspended the Head Teacher before the Autumn half-term the Governing Body set about making changes which would eventually become recommendations in the report.

 

The key issue of the absence of a Local Authority Governor was rectified in a matter of weeks.  Decisions were taken concerning how Governors would take a deeper interest in the life of the school.  It was clearly accepted that the School was there for the benefit of the Students and not the other way round.

 

The Governing Body worked with the investigator.  Efforts were made to ensure that the school was compliant in terms of both governance and values.  Communications were reviewed.  Work was undertaken to ensure that communications worked more effectively and that parents were listened to and their concerns and any issues raised received an adequate response.

 

By the time the report was formally received the resignation of the former Head Teacher enabled the School and the Governing Body to address those recommendations that had remained outstanding.  The Governing Body had tried to respond to the challenges of parents, both past and present, as best it could.  A meeting had been held the previous evening to give all those affected a further chance to help the school get it right.

 

The illegal policy concerning transition from Year 12 to Year 13 had been reversed and no pupil should feel anxious about not being allowed to remain in the school.  Support, such as counselling, would also be provided to pupils who felt that they were struggling.

 

In conclusion, the Chairman of the Governing Body reported that the School was now looking forward to entering a new era and the implementation of the recommendations would be reviewed after 6 and 12 months.

 

In response to questions, the Chairman of the Governing Body confirmed that the School and its Governing Body had accepted all the recommendations and to date approximately 75-80% of the recommendations had been implemented.  Where recommendations had not yet been implemented efforts were being made to ensure that action was taken.  A letter would be sent out to parents on Thursday 19th July setting out the Schools response to the report.  The Chairman of the Governing Body explained that the aim was to demonstrate to staff, parents and students its commitment to their wellbeing.  Governors were seeking to go further than the letter of the recommendations in order to achieve that aim.

 

Concerning the two companies that had been established by the former Head Teacher and the former Business Manager; the Chairman of the Governing Body explained that one of the companies had been wound up.  The other company, which dealt with intellectual property rights, had been transferred to the Foundation.

 

In response to a question concerning the recommended skills audit of the Governing Body and specifically the issue surrounding accountancy experience, Dr Wright confirmed that the skills audit had been undertaken.  In addition the resilience of the Governing Body had been reviewed.  Two new appointments had been made, effective from 1st September 2018, and both the new Governors had accountancy experience.  The Chairman of the Governing Body reported that the composition of the Governing Body had now changed, with new Members joining.  The issue of the terms of office of individual Governors had also been addressed and rectified.

 

In relation to a question concerning how the Governing Body was working with staff and students that had been subjected to bullying, Dr Wright explained that a number of actions had been taken: Communication had been improved as had the capacity to listen.  A number of school policies had been revised.  Governors held regular meetings with both students and staff.  The Chairman of the Governing Body attended regular meetings with the 6th Form as well as regular meetings with parents in order to hear views.  The Governing Body was keen to ensure that it was operating in an open and transparent manner.

 

As part of the drive for more openness, transparency and support a number of wholly inappropriate practices had been reviewed such as the practice of 1 year fixed term contracts for teaching staff which the Chairman of the Governing Body described as “disgraceful”.  The Governing Body had been working hard to shift the negative culture that had existed in the past.  All those involved recognised that there was still more to do and that it would take time to repair the damage of the past and rebuild confidence.

 

Governors were seeking  to re-engage with a wider cross section of the community and encourage better links between the school and the local community.  To this end, the Scout Hut would be refurbished so that it was fit for purpose as a community resource.

 

In terms of emotional support for pupils and staff, the School was looking at securing appropriate and professional ways to help individuals.  Increased counselling support was available and the School was looking to work with the Local Authority to secure further support.  The Chairman of the Governing Body recognised that this particular aspect was a challenge, particularly when a number of the pupils affected had left the School.  The impact on the pupils could not be underestimated and there was no easy answer.

 

The Chairman of the Governing Body reported that the relationship between the Governing Body, parents, pupils and teachers was improving and that the Governing Body had, particularly over the last three terms, worked hard to provide reassurance and instil confidence through effective meetings and providing what any teaching professional would expect in terms of pay and conditions.  The Governing Body wanted pupils to know that they should enjoy their education and that whatever their results they would never be considered a failure.  If students were known to be struggling the school would work with them and their parents to achieve good outcomes.  It was possible that such outcomes may include moving to a different school however, any decisions that needed to be taken in this respect would be theirs, no decisions would be imposed by the school.  No pupil would be made to feel that they were second best.

 

Turning to the issue of the significant reserves that had been built up, the Chairman of the governing Body confirmed that use of these funds would be entirely transparent.  A letter would be sent to parents setting out the planned use of the funds.  A “shopping list” had been developed in consultation and this included works such as: security of the school, building maintenance, refurbishment of the toilets, and new sports facilities.  What the Chairman of the Governing body described as “disgraceful practices” that had operated in the past, such as expecting pupils to pay for their own photocopying, had been ended.  Staff and pupils would be provided with the necessary teaching resources.

 

The Chairman of the Governing Body stressed that the role of Local Authority Governor was critical.  It was even more critical as a result of the Independent Investigation report as it was essential that the Local Authority was represented on the Governing Body and that strong links were maintained.  The Governing Body was very grateful for the nomination of the former Leader of the Council, former Councillor Steven Carr, as Local Authority Governor.

 

In response to a question concerning how the school would seek to balance aspiration with ensuring that pupils were not made to feel they had failed if they did not meet the aspirations, the Chairman acknowledged that this would be difficult.  Most of the pupils at St Olave’s had high aspirations and would want to do well.  Managing any disappointment would not be easy but the school would be seeking to promote and instil and range of values, not just that of academic excellence.  Significantly, there would also be parents who had very high aspirations for their children, where anything less than 4 A*s at A-Level would not be acceptable and this also would have to be managed.

 

A Member noted that the Headmistress of St Saviours had a very extensive pastoral support system in place.  The Member questioned whether the Chairman of the Governing Body had taken the opportunity to work with his counterpart at St Saviours to identify areas of learning.  In response the Chairman of the Governing Body highlighted that historically the relationship between the two schools had been poor.  Due to current diary commitments it had been difficult to meet with the Chairman of the Governing Body at St Saviours however, the Acting Head Teacher at St Olave’s had been working closely with his counterpart at St Saviours.  It was clear that there were common areas and there was a clear hope that the two schools could work together to develop mutual recognition as this would be welcomed.

 

A Member noted that previously the vision for the School had been that of the former Head Teacher only as no meaningful consultation had taken place.  The Chairman of the Governing Body reported that Governors had been working with the Acting Head Teacher to formally develop shared values.  In September 2018, the Governing Body would be spending a day with the Senior Leadership Team to develop a shared vision.

 

The Chairman of the Select Committee noted that the former Head Teacher had “fallen on his sword” and questioned whether any other staff would pursue the same course of action in light of the recommendations in the investigation report.  The Chairman of the Governing Body responded by saying that he believed that the school now had the right people in the right place and that the individuals that had previously been inhibiting the school were no longer there.

 

The Chairman of the Select Committee thanked the Chairman of St Olave’s Governing Body for attending the meeting and responding to questions.  The Portfolio Holder for Children. Education and Families was invited to address the Committee.

 

The Portfolio Holder expressed his gratitude to Dr Wright and the wider team for all they had done to address the concerns and failings outlined in the investigation report.  The Portfolio Holder stated that it was difficult to read through the report without being overwhelmed by disappointment and anger at the way that pupils, staff, parents and governors were treated.

 

It was important that personal responsibility was taken.  The Local Authority, its Members and Officers, must never forget the responsibility to all pupils at the school both past and present.

 

The Chairman of the Select Committee invited the Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director for Education, Care and Health Services to address the Committee.

 

The Deputy Chief Executive reported that he had commissioned the report in September 2017 following concerns that had been raised.  There were eight key recommendations for the Local Authority, either full recommendations or part recommendations, within four themes.  Key actions had been developed in order to address and implement the recommendations.

 

The Deputy Chief Executive provided assurances that the Select Committee would be provided with updates on the progress of the recommendations within 6 and 12 months.  This would enable and facilitate  the necessary challenge and scrutiny in terms of the implementation of the recommendations and support to the school.

 

In drawing the discussion to a close and summing up, the Chairman of the Select Committee stated that as a former Deputy Head Teacher he had never read a report such as the one before the Committee.  The Chairman stated that in light of what had been identified during the Independent Investigation he was amazed that Ofsted had inspected the school and assessed it as Outstanding.

 

Very few people had come out of the Investigation well.  The Chairman paid tribute to the few that had:

 

-  The parents that had continuously challenged and raised the Judicial Review;

-  Mr Tony Wright-Jones, the Parent Governor who raised concerns time and time again to little avail;

-  The former LA Governor, former Councillor Julian Grainger who had tried to challenge the Head Teacher and hold him to account;

-  Councillor Reddin who had been a Governor and had raised concerns and attempted to expose bad practice;

-  Staff who and been bullied and intimidated but yet continued conduct themselves professionally and raise concerns; and

-  Parents and Pupils at the school, particularly the pupil referenced on page 144 of the report who had raised a petition and then stood his ground and persisted to question the Head Teacher in the face of anger and threats.

 

Looking forward, the Chairman of the Select Committee noted that positive action in terms of improved practices and transparency had come out of the Independent Report commissioned by the Local Authority.  The Chairman thanked the report author, Christine Whatford CBE, for the thorough investigation that she had conducted.

 

The Chairman stated that it was extraordinary that one man had been able to remain in a school for 7 years whilst exhibiting the behaviours referenced in the report. 

 

A new Governing Body was now in place and it was hoped that Governors would be in a position to effectively challenge and hold to account.  It was important that both staff and pupils were treated in a caring manner.  The Chairman of the Select Committee stated that, despite the findings of the investigation, he had been heartened by what he had heard during the discussion concerning the improvements that were being made.

 

The Chairman once again thanked Christine Whatford for the report that she had produced and proposed that the Select Committee note and accept the recommendations in the report.  The Chairman also proposed that a short report be presented to the next Full Council meeting reporting the evidence heard by the Committee and confirming that the Select Committee was satisfied with the measures being put in place to affect change.  It was agreed that further updates should be presented to the Committee in 6 and 12 months.

 

RESOLVED: That:

 

  1. The report of the independent investigation into St Olave’s Grammar School and the actions being taken by the school and the Local Authority in response to that report be noted;

 

  1. A follow up report on the implementation of the recommendations of the investigation report be received in six months and twelve months; and

 

  1. A short report be presented to the next meeting of Full Council outlining the evidence heard by the Committee and confirming that the Select Committee is satisfied with the measures being put in place.

 

At the Conclusion of the joint item the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, Councillor Neil Reddin, resumed the Chair.

 

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