Stories + Views
We need some guidance in a dispute between the leadership team and governors and a large group of parents at Kevicc in Totnes
I would be really grateful for any shared experience or advice that others have of a breakdown in trust between parents and a school.
Kevicc is a large community school (1800 children) in Totnes, Devon. Among other things it has the dubious distinction of being the school Toby Young went to in the 80s that he often refers to as the negative experience that informed his views today.
For many years it has been a somewhat artsy and progressive school (as you might expect in Totnes) in the mainstream system. And, with a trusted and charismatic head, it was also deemed a successful one in the last few years. However, when the long-standing head retired, the role was taken by a deputy, who many would argue has failed to maintain the former vision for the school or effect a new one.
It has also had 2 ‘satisfactory’ Ofsteds on the run, the latest criticising the leadership and inconsistent teaching, but significantly not the behaviour of the children.
In one of a number of responses to the Ofsted and a falling role at the school, the school has become a Cooperative Trust School to avoid being turned into an Academy. Transition Town Totnes and the Coop are key partners.
In another response the head and governors decided to go out to consultation on bringing back a school uniform. Uniform sounds trivial, but we all know what passions they inflame and for Kevicc being one of the few non-uniform schools in the country has been a very significant part of its unique identity and part of its vision of supporting childrens’ freedom of expression (and behaviour is good). In February, the governors voted to reinstate the uniform with the usual arguments.
Since then all hell has let loose in the school and it really is not an exaggeration to say that it is on the brink of meltdown.
Firstly a group of parents, of which I am one, objected to the way the consultation was done. The school refused to review. Letters in the local paper accumulated. Mediation was proposed by parents – and Transition Town – no response. Eventually, two weeks a go, a large group of children demonstrated against a uniform in school time, by coming out of lessons, banners etc. Film crews arrived, firebells were set off etc, etc, . Some children also protested on two following days. All these children (and mistakenly others) have been given 2 days internal exclusion plus other punishments. Many of these internal exclusions are being carried out next week when the children are due to be on activities for which parents have already paid.
Parents, including me, are very angry about the treatment of our children and also the way this has been communicated to us. There is a total breakdown of trust in the school and of faith in the the leadership team. Many (probably about 50 parents) have sent formal letters of complaint, but the atmosphere among parents is one of steely calm and determination. We have tasked a mediator paid for by Devon County Council to mediate on the many issues we now have with the school.
We are acutely aware that our actions – the formal complaints, non-compliance with uniform (by not ordering it for September), keeping children off school rather than complying with internal exclusions – may contribute to the school being given an order to improve or worse. The irony is that most of this group of parents are incredibly committed to the school, believe in inclusive local education and chose to send them to Kevicc when they could have gone to the grammar schools in a neighbouring area. Some attended the school themselves and are heartbroken about what has happened. We could attempt a Free School, but many, including myself, would rather eat our pets.
What else can we do?