Never one to shy away from being transparent, open and truthful, I believe it is only right that I share some positivity and show that I will provide a balanced approach where needed.
Wednesday 3rd October 2018
It was a planned Open Evening at Harrop Fold and having my Daughter already in the school and this evening being “predominantly for parents of children moving from Primary to Secondary in 2019” I decided that I would head along in the hope that I would see the school in a different light, hopefully see what the school was all about now, today and gauge how they are perhaps coping as a unit during this challenging time of adversity that sadly Salford Council have plunged us all in to. Nothing wrong with that is there? I am after all, a concerned parent, with a child in the school, I have a vested interest in her education and well being and I saw it, quite frankly, as an opportunity to carry out a temperature check.
I was aware that given the recent meetings I have attended, the interviews I have given, the engagement that I and the other cohort group of parent representatives have had with the school, Councillors, Governors and indeed the Interim Head (Damian Owen) and Interim Deputy Head (Claire Wright), that perhaps he (Damian) may well be a little nervous of both I and my fellow parent rep Steve being there. And, he was. We met on the main corridor with Miss Wright, and we all shook hands and I assured Damian that we were not there to raise any issues or indeed cause a scene. In fact we were both there as interested parents of pupils already in school. There was an exchange of small talk about negative comments on my blog, which neither of us pursued any further and Steve and I then went on our way to take in the happenings around the school.
Miss Wright came and found us and offered to take us on a planned tour around the classrooms and I have to say it was a very pleasant walk around. Meeting with pupils and teachers alike. You see, this is where I will always offer transparency and I recognise that perhaps my blog has been more questioning that forgiving over the past few weeks. The thing is, I don’t have an issue with either the Interim Head or indeed the Interim Depute Head, in fact I actually feel they are piggy in the middle to a certain extent. I mean they didn’t actually ask for this gig did they? The council, as I am led to believe, came looking for Damian at Parrswood and asked him via the Trust Board at GMLT if they could help in their hour of need whilst the investigations are started and subsequently ongoing. Damian duly agreed and both he and Claire took up post as Interim leads at the start of term.
No, it is not THEM I have issue with, not in the bigger, grander scheme of this sorry state of affairs anyway. No! that lies firmly at the feet of the Local Education Authority. But we have spoken about that previously and I dare say we will speak a lot more in due course about it, especially when I drop some pertinent questions to them about their handling of the situation and how the investigation has been conducted and whether they have followed due process as laid out in the ACAS guidelines. Or indeed whether they have adhered to their agreed guidance around involving children and giving young people a voice when it comes to change, especially when the change directly affects them. But, more on that another time.
For this blog, I wanted to talk about and recognise what I personally got out of the Open Evening tonight. There was a surprising buzz around the place, there really was and as the heading above states, credit where credit is indeed due. The Teachers were scattered around the classrooms, they were each involving pupils in experiments in the science block or making pizzas in the economics block or in the gym area playing sports games and especially those pupils and teacher in the vestibule area demonstrating some great aerobics and dance moves. It really was very good. In fact, it made me realise what absolutely great things these teachers are achieving and how amazing they are whilst operating under such immense pressure. It can’t be easy trying to function under the current situation with some staff, senior staff having been suspended, coupled with other staff off on sick leave as a result of ongoing investigations and quite possibly very much struggling to cope under the pressure they almost certainly feel they have been put under by the events that have unfolded over a period of around three months. The staff that remain in post are showing great mantle in everything they do or certainly in everything I saw them do tonight. Everyone made time to speak to you, everyone smiled and took notice of you and ultimately, unless you knew any different you would be forgiven for thinking that all was rosy in the Harrop Fold garden.
The presentation, which occurred around 40 minutes after doors opened was very good, it was very well delivered by the Head Boy of the school with some absolutely fantastic articulation and do you know what, he did the school proud, he really did. Mr Owen gave a very short but good piece on his background, how his Father was a plumber and his Mother a part time receptionist whilst growing up in St Helens with the usual struggles we all have in life and then went on to say that his lad, he even shared pictures of him on the large screen as a primary school pupil and then as a secondary pupil, which I thought was a nice touch and something he certainly didn’t need to do. He shared with us the fact that he has only two aims for his son and that is to love him and to provide to him a good level of education. He then brought than back in to Harrop and stated that this is precisely what he wanted for the pupils of this school and that this was replicated and shared amongst every single teacher throughout the organisation that is Harrop. It was a side to Mr Owen that we hadn’t really seen until now. As I said in my blog previously we, as the group of parent representatives, came away from the meeting last Thursday and as we walked out of the school discussed the cavernous difference between the open, inviting and supportive approach of Miss Wright compared to the closed, scowling and somewhat dismissive persona of Mr Owen. This was our struggle to understand how, if that was our perception as adults, what perception would the kids have of him and we actually stated at the time that there is absolutely no surprise that kids are playing up, bringing in knives, dealing drugs if that, coupled with what Salford Council have created, is what they are met with each day on arrival at the school gates. I know you took exception to that Mr Owen, but it was not personal, or it certainly wasn’t meant to be. But the irony of it is, I think you actually thought about those comments and you took something from them. I think that, simply because tonight, you delivered on some of the concerns that people have and expect of you as the lead of this once great school. You will never be Drew Povey, I am sorry but you won’t. Drew brought something to Harrop that I just think a lot of people struggle to bring into all schools today. But for me tonight, you showed that softer, caring and empathetic side I criticised you on here last for not having or not demonstrating. I make no apologies for that. The school is in dire need of leadership right now. The school needs strength and depth bringing back in the form of it’s senior team of Leaders who stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr Povey. The pupils need to be engaged with, they need to be listened to, they need to know that for some of them their “safe haven” they once had when they leave home and get to school of a morning is still the same safe haven it used to be.
Tonight, you imparted some of that belief through your delivery, you gave us some of that confidence in demonstrating that you are listening, probably under a little sufferance, but listening you are. The fabulous work that goes on behind the scenes that not everyone sees is immense also. For example, I think as a group we have had around 9 or 10 positive engagements with Claire Wright since our meeting last week in support of some of the parents and pupils with specific issues where they each felt they were being ignored or the phones were not being answered or staff were not available when parents visited the school through frustrations. Again, this is just indicative of the low morale that has been present in the school, coupled with the situation with short staffing levels, ongoing investigation meetings etc. But we have found Claire to be absolutely open to listening, to talking, but more importantly she has demonstrated actions where words no longer cut it. That is really all that is being asked of the school.
We will continue to challenge and the challenge will always be directed to where we believe it is required. Much of that will be towards the LEA as there are things clearly amiss there, whether they are intentional or not remains to be seen, but a car crash is what it is. I want to open up on a lot more here but I am trying to keep this particular post as positive as possible to offer recognition to all staff. I will save more of the negative and questioning for another time. We are now 7 working days post meeting and are yet to receive a formal response to the 13 questions we posed at the meeting.
As I said in both our meetings to date Mr Owen, you didn’t particularly ask for this gig but you have got it and whether you are here for the long term or not, isn’t really relevant, you are now the chief custodian of our school and as such will be held accountable, alongside the LEA for both the good and the not so good. What is relevant though, is that the heart has been ripped out of this school over the past three months through absolutely no fault of the staff who are suspended or the staff who are currently on sick leave, let’s hope and pray no more good staff go that way. All of that will come out in the wash and I think it will prove to be an even bigger car crash than it already is, if what I read, hear, see and feel is to be believed. But, what you have right now Sir is a great team of teachers who remain in post, who have the kids best interests at heart. They are all doing a great job and should all be applauded, in fact they should be knighted for what they have had to endure of late! Prior to attending this Open Evening I was ready for removing my Daughter from the school altogether and securing her next most important 5 years elsewhere in a school that has a stronger set of values and direction that are being shown at present. That may still happen if the disruption continues but for now, I have a glimmer of hope that this may just be turned around. I still believe there is a requirement to get, as a minimum, three of the four suspended staff back in post so as to drive through the much needed stability and redress the current behaviours to move them from deplorable to good once again.
Thank you to all staff at Harrop, thank you for being you and for doing right by our kids. Thank you for helping put my mind at rest this evening. Even when you read something or hear something or have to attend another investigation meeting or have to see another staff member go off sick, you are still trying your damned hardest to get our kids through the day and through their schooling – THANK YOU!