Three steps forward and two steps back …

Ever get that feeling?

Yep, doesn’t take much does it?

However, it is not all doom and gloom I can absolutely assure you of that.  A great deal of work has been achieved over the past week in conjunction with the school and with the Harrop Fold Parent Group Leaders, hence the 3 steps forward 2 steps back as opposed to 2 forward and 3 back.  We are making progress, but sadly not as much as the parents feel we need to be, or indeed HAVE to be.

 Monday 24th September

Three of the Parent Rep group leading the petition and concerns around Harrop Fold received emails from both Charlotte Ramsden, Strategic Director for Education and Adult Services, Salford Council and Damian Owen, Interim Head teacher at Harrop Fold School.  The email came after what we believe were two very significant events within the school.  The first event was a meeting I personally had with Damian to discuss concerns at the school and the second event was when Charlotte Ramsden went in to the school and saw for herself the mayhem that was being caused;  Pupils running havoc on corridors kicking walls and doors, swearing at teachers and other senior staff and at that point I believe Charlotte realised for herself the severity of what was being raised as parent concerns.  I think this was maybe the trigger that led to the realisation that there was a need to do something.

The email sent was essentially the same email sent to all three of us stating that they [The school and Local Authority] were aware of an impending meeting that the lead group had arranged locally.  That the meeting was inviting all concerned parents with pupils in Harrop to attend and share concerns and look to move forward with the school to address some of these after first making them aware and hopefully having them realise that the concerns are both real and also justified.  The meeting request email from the LA (my personal email actually came from the Interim Head himself, which was sent at 6.42pm on the Monday) asked if a meeting could take place the very next day prior to the parents all meeting.  There appeared to be a very dire need for urgency about it!

It is fair to say that the email was received quite positively by the group and we saw this as a step forward in working with the school to stamp out some of the concerns we had on events and incidents that were occurring in the school.  This was, in essence seen as the school reaching out and saying “let’s work together, we are aware of the issues and clearly we need to do something”.

Unfortunately the majority of the six people heading up the Parent’s group were unable to make the next day due to other commitments with work and childcare arrangements.  So, we arranged with the council to have the meeting on the Thursday at 5pm prior to the 7:30pm meeting already agreed and arranged with the parents as a whole.

Thursday 27th September 5:00pm

As a group of parents leading the concerns we met as arranged at the school just before 5pm and made our way inside.  We were duly led by Claire Wright, Deputy Interim Head teacher to the Leadership Room within the school and were the met by Charlotte Ramsden, Cathy Starbuck (Assistant Director Education Children’s Services, Salford Council), Lisa Stone (Lead Member for Children’s and Young People’s Services), Miranda Caruthers-Watt (Legal and Governance Salford Council), Damian Owen (Interim Head), Jim Schofield (Harrop Fold Governor), the meeting was opened and chaired by Charlotte.  Charlotte explained that they are aware that as parents and the group representing the parents the school and the council are in full support of looking to address such issues and would we be open to explaining what the worries are to see if we can move forward together.

We duly put forward to them the following points having pre-empted this by stating that during this meeting we would not be looking to discuss Drew Povey as he has made his decision to resign and neither were we going to be looking to discuss any of the points around the other three staff members currently on suspension due to the fact that there was an ongoing investigation and we would not insult anyone’s intelligence or jeopardise that by asking for answers to concerns we have about the investigation and how it is being handled.

The questions put to the meeting were as follows:-

  1. What are the school’s plans to deal with the current staffing issues in the school where a high number of staff, senior staff and behaviour trained staff are absent through suspension or ill health as a direct result of investigations?
  2. What are the Governors doing to push the investigation along to hopefully enable the reinstatement of three senior members that will help bring that stability back?
  3. What are the school’s plans to deal with the current Drug problem that is escalating in school?
  4. What are the school’s plans to deal with the fact that teachers are being deployed to toilet doors to lock and unlock to ensure only one pupil is in there at one time due to the drug related issues?
  5. What are the school’s plans to deal with the current bullying fighting and attacking by pupils on pupils during lessons?
  6. What are the school doing about the issue around reports that knives are being brought in to school? – Is it time to bring Police back in to Harrop to ensure that stability is fast-tracked?
  7. What are the school doing when teachers are not able to control unruly behaviour in lessons, which then leads to lack of learning for pupils who want to get on?
  8. With regards to the interim head, what are his long term plans and ability to commit to the role and to our school?
  9. Are behaviours and policies around behaviours and other matters being followed within the school?
  10. What are the figures looking like for attendance, punctuality, behaviour etc.?
  11. What do the records show for the number of incidents pre Drew Povey’s absence as well as the data since Damien Owen stepped in?
  12. Are the Governors currently acting under the ADVICE of the LA?
  13. What assurances AND demonstrations can the school give us that all COGS and SEN pupils will be fully supported with full public transparency and demonstrated celebration of all the positive good work being achieved?

The length of time we had available due to the fact that we, as Parent Representative Group, were meeting other parents as planned, meant that we could not go into all matters raised in too much detail and there were some areas that we did not manage to cover at all.   However, we formally requested that the council/school would provide a full response in writing to each and every point raised above, to which they agreed they would.

Al in all, we left the meeting as a group with the following observations;

  • We agreed that the meeting went very well, it was positive and all council staff in attendance were supportive, helpful and demonstrated their willingness to work with us around the concerns, especially those for the safety of our children.
  • Claire Wright as Interim Deputy Head was very open and supportive of discussion and offered email addresses and mobile phone numbers for us to make contact with herself and the Interim Head if there was a need to discuss specific situations with ourselves or indeed other parents that we felt she would be able to support.
  • Jim Schofield was extremely understanding, very willing to listen and fully engaged in supporting both the parents and the school to get us to a place where we needed to be for all of the pupils.  His input also demonstrated to us that there is no hesitation from Governors to challenge both the council and school in any area that was felt needed.
  • Discussions following the meeting around the Interim Head’s demeanour and apparent lack of feeling and concern was met with mixed feelings.  In the meeting it was felt by most that there was no empathy shown to the group who were representing parents and as all of the group were in actual fact parents with children at the school, that they would find it very difficult to believe that he would be supportive to children and certainly would not appear to be approachable by children if this was an example of his character.   That in itself gave question as to what more could he bring to this school than what he showed today – an apparent lack of interest.  One comment was, “is he just in education to take a salary”?  Thankfully, Claire Wright, Interim Deputy, was the complete opposite and perhaps would be a better choice to head and lead the school through these difficult times we find ourselves in?

Thursday 27th September 7:30pm

Following the initial meeting at the school as detailed above we, the Parent Representation Group, then made our way to the Parent Group meeting at Walkden Congregational Church, where we were met by around 60 parents.  What was extremely reassuring for us was that we also had the pleasure of the company of two local councillors; Cllr Iain Lindley who is the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Walkden South and also Cllr Richard Critchley who is not only the Labour Councillor for Walkden South he is also on the Governor Panel at Harrop Fold, which was great as it meant we had someone present who was then able to feedback to the school what was then to unfold.  Also present was Mitchell Mullin who is the Deputy Youth Mayor for Salford.

It was a great honour to not only have all three gentlemen in attendance but to also hear them address the room to have their say and feedback on what they heard through the meeting.

We believe the meeting went very well, we addressed the room and explained what was discussed at the meeting that took place a couple of hours previously.  We shared the 13 questions as listed above that the council agreed they would respond formally in writing to in due course, which we will of course share publicly for all parents to see across this blog and on the Facebook Group that has been set up for concerned parents of Harrop.

A number of parents then spoke up and addressed the room offering their own personal experience of what they were having to deal with as their children are struggling to come to terms with events in the school.  It took a great deal of courage for these parents to stand up and offer these concerns.  All were delivered with a lot of emotion, most of which were delivered through tears, some parents fighting back tears, but what was plain for all to see, and as was acknowledged by Cllr Iain Lindley when he personally addressed the room was that we all had our children’s safety at heart.  We were all there for one reason only and that is to ensure that the school leaders and the council sat up and listened to us and now started to demonstrate action to reverse the position we (pour children and parents combined) found ourselves in.

Cllr Critchley also addressed the room and shared his concerns for the stories he had heard and said he would be attending the school to understand what the problems were and to what severity they were being seen.  And, finally, Mitchell Mullin, Deputy Youth Mayor for Salford stated that he too had some concerns and that he would be heading into the school as a youth, voted for by youths to express his sincere concerns and worries directly to the Interim Head Teacher.  We have since learnt that Mitchell had gone into the school the very next day to offer his concerns as stated but that the Head was not available for discussion.  We are sure Mitchell will eventually get to sit down with the Head and offer his take.

Now, a few days on post meeting and having taken a break from Twitter, reflecting on the events it is clear to see that there are genuine and real concerns for many parents and pupils alike.  The offerings from the parents at the meeting talked about knives in school, they talked about their children being that scared they were refusing to go back in to the school, there was mention of the drugs issues and some parents stating that they had seen images and videos of drugs being pushed out at school.  We had asked that parents contact the school directly to offer these images and videos so that the problems can be addressed directly by the school and by the Police if needs be.

I put a call in to the Interim Head post meeting on Thursday night to state that not only had the mandate changed significantly due to the shared concerns about knives, drugs etc. but that the parents take now is that “they [the school and council] broke the school overnight and therefore it was only right that the school now fix it over night”!  And, quite frankly we don’t think that is an unreasonable request given that knives kill and drugs kill and right now in Harrop Fold we have a combination of both so it is a recipe for disaster.  Let’s hope that they don’t wait until it is too late before they sit up and listen.  I then got a text from the Interim Heading stating that NO reported  incidents from the teachers or the pupils of knives being present in school.  Our learnings from a number of parents, albeit, spoken comments, no images etc. to back it up, are that knives are in the school as are drugs and we just hope that those in charge at Harrop and those in the council whom have statutory responsibility for all at Harrop, both staff and pupils are not choosing to bury their head in the sand.  That could be somewhat catastrophic and now that the concerns are raised could be a very heavy burden to carry with them through life should anything serious happen to any person within their care be it a pupil or an employee.

During our meeting, we were presented with the following statement and answers to questions the council prompted would be asked:

1. Has the school’s debt reduced?

The school has worked hard, in partnership with the council, to reduce their debt to the local authority from over £3 million to £1.4 million despite challenging financial circumstances and cuts in budgets to all council services.

The council has written off £300,000 of the debt to help the school and the school has been involved in a number of activities, supported by the governing body and the Executive Headteacher to raise additional funds. The council has been supportive of the activities, has extended the repayment plan twice and has also given the school a five year payment ‘break’. We will continue to support the school to become debt-free.

2. Is it true the council wants the school to academise?

Salford City Council does not support the policy of academisation and has made this clear to all head teachers and governors over the last two years. However, in the interests of pupils, it supports schools when they have chosen to go down that route, and all schools and academies work collaboratively in our family of schools.

Harrop Fold applied a number of years ago to become an academy with Consilium. Ellesmere Park, Buile Hill and Moorside are all part of this multi-academy trust and have strong relationships with the local authority. The Department for Education (DfE) requires schools to have a healthy budget situation before academising.

The government can enforce academisation where a school is judged to be inadequate by Ofsted. This choice of academy trust is outside the control of the local authority and only certain multi academy trusts are eligible to sponsor schools in this situation.

3. Why is the council not being more open about the investigation?

This is a governors’ investigation.

Employment law, which applies to all employers including governing bodies and councils and good employment practice require details of disciplinary investigations to remain confidential. It would be a breach of trust and confidence between an employer and employee to divulge details of a disciplinary investigation. The members of staff who are currently suspended are entitled to, and deserve, confidentiality and a fair and just investigation.

4. There is a rumour that the council offered money to the former headteacher to walk away and keep quiet, is this true?

The council has made no offer of payment to any staff involved in this matter.

5. Is the school due for an Ofsted inspection?

An Ofsted inspection is anticipated as schools like Harrop Fold are inspected at least every five years. Harrop Fold was last inspected in 2013. The council has supported the school by bringing in experienced leadership. This support is paid for by the council.

6. Why did the council choose GMLT (Greater Manchester Learning Trust /Parrswood High school) to provide the support for Harrop Fold?

This support was arranged over the summer holidays. Greater Manchester local authorities work closely together and a request for interim leadership support at short notice was posted across Greater Manchester. This led to a discussion with leaders of GM Learning Trust as they had the track record, the capacity and willingness to help.

7. When will the next Educating Greater Manchester programme be televised?

A transmission date has not yet been decided.

Our take on the above statement from the council is that it is somewhat detracting from the concerns that are immediate.  The above questions are not in any way as relevant as the ones we posed at the meeting with council and school.  We urge the council to stop feeding us irrelevant detail that pales into insignificance when balanced with the safety of our children and start dealing with and resolving the more pressing urgencies that will ensure our kids have A) a place with which to learn safely, and B) a leadership team (Head Teacher) that has empathy and demonstrates that he cares about their future and wellbeing.

We have today sent another two requests to Salford Council under the FOI Freedom of Information act in relation to the following points:-

  • Please provide all Governing Panel Meeting Minutes from 2010 up 13th July, which is the point at which the then Head Techer, Mr D Povey and three other senior teachers were suspended.
  • Please provide all Council meeting minutes AND EMAILS relating to the discussions and decision to appoint both Mr D Owen and Mrs C Wright as Interim Head and Interim Deputy Head to Harrop Fold school

We will update on this in due course.  The council have up to 20 days with which to respond to each request made under the FOI Act.