Cuckoo Hall: And there were voices

David Barry's picture
 50
Background

This is the fourth time I have posted about Cuckoo Hall. (note 1) That this is so draws attention to a special feature of this story. It is going on so long. Much TOO long. It appears, in fact, to be testing to the limit the system of accountability for Academies and Free Schools based, as it is, on Local Authorities having no power at all, what regulation there is, being a matter for the Secretary of State. The delay in anything happening to deal with a clearly unsustainable situation, is provoking more and more people to speak out, and is inducing, based on personal communications I have received, something akin to desperation amongst some parents. These parents understand that if it continues to be the case that nothing is done, then there will eventually be a wreck as teachers reluctantly flee to less stressful employment elsewhere. (Three out of the five Heads have already left) And it is their children who will suffer.

THE STORY CONTINUES

In my last post about Cuckoo Hall, "Cuckoo Hall: and there was silence for a space"' I referred to what appeared to be a lull, at least in public, following the publication of the EFA report in which little seemed to be happening. Little that is, apart from an extraordinary level of "stone walling" on the part of the senior management of Cuckoo Hall. Having investigated themselves, and found that this investigation cleared them, and having been, in their view "vindicated" by the EFA report (A conclusion which, I would argue, no reasonable person could reach) the senior management saw, it would seem, no reason not to carry on.

A LETTER TO THE EDITOR

The next event was the publication of a letter in the local press, by an experienced school governor at schools in Enfield which concluded:

"How the headteacher and the remaining trustees feel that it is acceptable for them to remain in post is baffling.

The remaining trustees (and I include the head) appear to be demonstrating a breathtaking level of complacency and from the comments made by them in the advertiser, would seem to be in complete denial.

How can the staff and senior management have any confidence in the future of the School?"

So not just me then. Phew.

AN MP CONDEMNS....

Then, a local MP weighed in. Nick de Bois (Conservative), the MP for Enfield North was quoted in the press on the 13th March.

“Parents and now senior staff are worryingly losing confidence in the principal board members of cuckoo hall. After first such a damning report from the DfE and now the loss of support from senior staff they should put the children’s interest first and resign.”

I have never before seen an MP make such a forceful intervention. Partly, no doubt because, in a community school it would never get to the level of the MP. It would indeed be a matter for local councillors. At any rate Mr de Bois could reasonably expect a response from the Board -Of course what he wanted them to do, was resign forth with.

...TO NO AVAIL

This was the Board’s reply:

“It would be absolutely wrong for anyone to suggest that today’s announcements are anything other than the staffing changes that are, sadly, a fact of life for all schools, and organisations.”

This is so absurd, as to verge on the insulting. At this stage I suppose Mr de Bois, having first lobbied the school privately and now been driven to condemn it in public, saw nothing for it but to move to the next stage. Which in the Academy and Free School system is NOT some kind of local official but the Secretary of State herself.

Mr De Bois (still an MP when he wrote the letter, now no longer an MP, as Parliament dissolved, but standing for re election) has provided me with a copy of his letter, and here is the text.

LETTER TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE

The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan
Secretary of State for Education
Department for Education
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London
SW1P 3BT

Our ref: EN4640

20 March 2015

Dear Nicky

Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT), Enfield

Following the issues at the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust I have been contacted by a number of constituents including parents and staff who feel let down by the investigation carried out by the Department for Education as the outcome is the present leadership of the management board remains in place charged with remedying the failings identified in the DfE report (ref below.)

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/403771/Investigation_report_Cuckoo_Hall_Academies_Trust.pdf

It is clear to me that this leadership team do not carry the confidence of the parents and should resign to be replaced by a new board. I would like the opportunity to present to you the concerns of parents, which I share and request further intervention from the DfE.

For now I would draw your attention to the following two statements taken from the DfE report.

FIRST STATEMENT

"50. The allegations have further significantly destabilised the Board of Trustees. An interim chair of the Board of Trustees was elected at a meeting of the Board on 16 December. This followed the removal by the Board of the previous chair due to allegations of conflicts of interests. The Board of Trustees has been internally divided and this delayed the procurement of its own investigation into the allegations. In the EFA’s view, relations between some trustees and some senior staff had degenerated to the extent that there was a serious breakdown in management and governance, to a degree which would entitle the Secretary of State to intervene in accordance with the funding agreement."

SECOND STATEMENT

Financial management governance table p16
Most of the business interest declaration forms are nil returns. However it is clear some trustees have conflict of interests that should be declared on these forms, e.g. that the executive head’s, members of the Board of Trustees’, and the head’s family members are working in the trust. This did not happen despite emails by the clerk and the financial director reminding trustees of their duties in this respect including that personal relations should be disclosed. We would regard this as a breach of the trustees’ duties in company law, of paragraphs 1.5.13 and 3.1.11-3.1.20 of the Academies Financial Handbook, and consequently of the funding agreement."

Despite these comments I understand from Ann Zinkin, who was a governor asked to resign by the Board (see her email forwarded with this letter [note 2]) that it was recommended by Tony Woods from the DfE that at least 3 independent governors be appointed to the Board. However I remain unconvinced that in fact genuine independent appointments have been made.

http://www.chat-edu.org.uk/governance/board-of-trustees

I am deeply concerned that given the serious shortcomings highlighted in the report the requirement for the board and management to investigate themselves is flawed and will not carry the confidence of parents and other stakeholders.

I have now received representations from the Chairman of CHAT which I have also taken into consideration when writing to you.

Free schools have been an enormous success across the country but if they are not robustly held to account I would be concerned that ultimately children's education could be disadvantaged. Like me I am sure you would want to avoid any such outcome.

I should be happy to meet with you or a senior official to discuss this further at you earliest convenience.
Yours sincerely

Nick de Bois MP
Member of Parliament for Enfield North

COMMENTS

Mr De Bois is to be commended for taking this issue on, as it cannot be entirely comfortable for him. And I am grateful to him for providing me with the text of his letter, when he is rather busy at present....

It is not clear to me whether the Secretary of State's continued inaction reflects some political difficult on her part, or a considered view that the mess best taken on by the next Secretary of State, or, alarmingly, a lack of certainty regarding her actual, legal powers to act.

NOTES

Note one

My other postings on this are here and here:

Note two

I do not have the text of Ann Zinkin's email. If I get it I will post it.
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Comments

John Connor's picture
Sun, 29/03/2015 - 13:02

This is yet another clear example of the fears expressed over the last five years about the DfE's lack of capacity to deal with such issues. The DfE is not a local authority, and patently cannot micromanage individual schools at a distance. This is one of a number of spectacular car crashes in the Academies and Free Schools programme. Lack of local oversight is more often than not a contributing factor.The Tories' pledge to increase substantially the number of academies and free schools is a real cause for concern, given that 83% of the current batch of free schools is undersubscribed despite an acute lack of school places. Add in concerns over governance and financial management and it's hard to see how the policy can be hailed as a success. I wonder how successful the parents of children at Durham FS, Al Madinah, Discovery, Pimlico, Kings Science Academy, Barnfields, Moorfields, and schools in the E-Act chain think it is? The crime is that none of this was done for the benefit of children, but at the ideologically-motivated whim of someone who has been far removed from any accountability for the destructive consequences of his actions.


Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Sun, 29/03/2015 - 22:41

And as time passes the Trust continues to waste public money on lawyers and P.R. companies, money that should be being spent on the children. Whistleblowers at all levels continue to be bullied out of their jobs (how many who spoke to the DfE are still there? How many will be left in the summer?) and teachers with integrity are seeking jobs elsewhere, which will lead to yet another mass exodus of staff in the summer. The Trust's response? To continue to support the board and senior leaders who got them into this mess in the first place, and to desperately seek to employ NQTs (this time in the north of England, hoping they won't have read about their dreadful reputation) because they have no idea of how a good school should be run and therefore they can bully again. And so perpetuating the cycle...


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 30/03/2015 - 10:09

Cuckoo in the nest - I see Stone King cites the firm's involvement with Cuckoo Hall when the Schools Adjudicator investigated the admission criteria:

'Department head Roger Inman, who is ‘first-class', led on advice to Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust on adjudications to the Office of the School Adjudicator regarding the link between the nursery and the admissions department.'

This was a waste of taxpayers' money. There were already plenty of examples on the Adjudicator's website about schools who had been censured about giving priority to pupils from their own nurseries. The school must have known it was going to lose given these numerous precedents.

CHAT lost the case despite hiring a 'first-class' lawyer.


Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 10:24

I always thought that Stone King were the official company lawyers and wonder how Hill Dickinson cite their involvement with the trust? Getting rid of whistleblowers? What right did one of their representatives have to attend the Board meeting after the suspensions when that same member was directly involved in the sacking of a staff member who had taken out a grievance against the headteacher (Sharon Ahmet) and executive headteacher (Patricia Sowter)?

Was that lawyer also involved in the forced resignations of trustees who dared to question the Sowters?

It's time that the full details of the allegations and the report exonerating them were published and also that the public were told how much of their money is going to Hill Dickinson, and precisely for what.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 14:00

Cuckoo in the nest - accounts for year ending August 2013 are downloadable from Cuckoo Hall's School Performance Table.

They're long and technical. But it appears £9000 was spent on 'legal and professional fees' in the academic year ending August 2013 and £9000 on the same in the preceding academic year. It's likely that academy trusts have legal expenses - I don't know whether £9000 is more than might be expected or not. Certainly the money spent arguing with the School's Adjudicator on a case that couldn't be won was an unwise use of public money.

The accounts also say £9000 was spent on 'hospitality'. Seems rather a lot.



David Barry's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 15:32

Janet - An oddly round figure that. (The fee for "professional and legal services") It has more of the feel of a sum of money allocated in a budget rather than an actual historical record of expenditure. But be that as it amy, the fact it did not vary at all from year to year might suggest the services in question were being provided on a fixed price contract, or retainer, or service level agreement.

In which case the interesting accounts will be those ending August 2015, as they will disclose legal costs run up in connection with the suspensions, the "independent" investigation, the reinstatements, the removal of Trustees, and as recently as last week the interviews with senior staff at which a lawyer, paid for by the Trust was present.

But I suppose at current rates of publication we cannot expect to see the accounts until 2016. Is that sort of delay in publication really acceptable in a public body?

Maria's picture
Mon, 30/03/2015 - 12:26

I agree with the comments made by cuckoo in the nest. What is happening to the staff that were interviewed by the EFA? Are they being bullied, are they still employed or, as I suspect, are they being forced to leave?
I am still amazed that the EFA have not forced the Board and the Leadership in question to stand down. It will be the pupils that suffer........with good teachers leaving and the staff that spoke up leaving will this lead to more SATS results being falsified?
There has been a large amount of public funds misspent already and this will only get worse unless they resign!
There appears to be no accountability by the Board or the Leadership in question!

helena's picture
Mon, 30/03/2015 - 20:02

There still does not appear to be any transparency with the board and there is definitely a lack of accountability due to this.

Where are the reports of the internal investigation/reviews? Where is the evidence that the DfE recommendations have been addressed?

I would have thought the management would want to prove all the accusations were without merit by providing full and frank reports on their website.

It is accepted that there is something very wrong with an employer if they have an above average turnover of staff.

I feel very disappointed that educated people working in a publicly funded organisation do not think they have to answer to any criticism. This is blatant arrogance and in my view not suitable people to be responsible for children's education.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 09:15

Well it would seem that Mr de Bois has made his mind up on accountability: He wants them to go!

Hoever, Helena you have an important point. They cannot rely on secret reports to defaend themselves with. Withe the outcome of the EFA investigation trust is simply lost.

Yet their response is essentially varations on the theme: "trust us"

Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 10:14

Secret reports indeed, and a secret list of contributors to the report too. Was the lawyer commissioned to conduct the report (Anthony Sakrouge?) told who he could and could not talk to? It's hardly an independent report if he is either not allowed to speak to people who have evidence or declines to speak with them.


Robert Kittle's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 10:38

To paraphrase Burke; The only thing necessary for the triumph of (publicly funded) evil is that (publicly funded) 'good men' should do nothing.
Seemingly, this would appear to be the case behind the debacle at Cuckoo Hall. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the whilst Cuckoo Hall burns and they they fiddle, some of the most vulnerable members of society are being tuned into victims before they have an opportunity to benefit from all that their future lives should have to offer from a good education.

David P's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 10:17

David it is interesting that Mary Bousted from the ATL was very critical of the trusts leadership in her conference speech today (see below). She has clearly read the EFA report and come to the obvious conclusion while the trusts board bury their heads in the sand.

'This is not the only school leader to be praised by Michael Gove and to fall from grace. He was also very keen on Patricia Sowter, Executive Head of Cuckoo Hall Trust, who was one of Michael Gove's magnificent seven of super heads' with a 'luminous intelligence'. She has been awarded a CBE for services to education. Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust has recently been served with a financial notice to improve from the EFA – a notice which records serious breaches of safeguarding regulations, involving at least 25 staff who started work prior to the receipt of DBS confirmation, amongst other serious allegations.' (https://www.atl.org.uk/policy-and-campaigns/conference/2015/mary-bousted...)

John Mountford's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 17:32

This all reads like the actions of producers of a soap opera desperate to remain top of the ratings at all costs. In order to do so they have to conjure up plot-lines that tread the thin line between believability and outright absurdity. Done well, this can result in watchable and even sometimes really entertaining material. HOWEVER, as we all appreciate this is not a soap opera and the consequences for those involved are potentially devastating.

Along with other commentators, I cry out for a response to these allegations. Such an outcome rests within the 'gift' of the Secretary of State for Education. Nicky Morgan should be ashamed that she has remained silent for so long. I would also expect the outgoing Prime Minister to want to intervene as a matter of urgency in the interests of the staff, parents and young people caught up in this affront to decency in public office and in order to uphold democratic principles.

(If I were advising Mr C I would be urging him to see how well such action would play out at this time, but that would be profiting at the expense of others and politics is above such actions.)

Keep this campaign alive and bring it to the ordinary people who have a right to see for themselves how politics is blighting our national education system.

Exteacherhusband's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 18:51

All your comments make no difference. In 2012/2013 there was a mass exodus of over twelve teachers all of which the DFE has ignored their emails or calls. Instead of acting


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 01/04/2015 - 08:36

Exteacherhusband - the mass exodus was caused by staff who (according to CHAT's version of events) were '…opposed to the ethos and direction of the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust Board [and] who left the school at a critical time.”

They were, according to CHAT, responsible for the very poor (worst in Enfield) SAT results in 2013.

It's likely that CHAT's version was accepted by the then Education Secretary Michael Gove. Patricia Sowter had long been one of his favourites. She was one of his 'Magnificent Seven' and his 'crusaders for social justice'. She was given an CBE for services to education. And Gove was complicit in spreading the falsehood that Sowter turned Cuckoo Hall from a failing school to Outstanding.

I'm not surprised the DfE under Gove supported Sowter. Unfortunately, now Parliament is officially dissolved, I think the DfE can't act (someone correct me if I'm wrong). It's certainly dragged its heels.


David Barry's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 22:01

Exteacherhusband -

Your anger is justified.

And indeed, the efforts expended so far by a number of people have been to no avail.

BUT

Consider.

We can see by the behaviour of Patricia Sowter and her supporters, that what they most fear is people speaking out. They know that if they brazen it out, spending money on lawyers to issue threats of legal proceedings, and people do give in, then they will, in their view, win. (They are wrong to think they can win, but what they can do is delay their defeat and thereby do much harm.)

But if people do not give in, then suddenly their position which looks so strong now, with all the tax payer paid for resources of the Trust behind them, will collapse.

The question is when.

We owe it to the children, who, in a Borough with pressure on places will find themselves with no other choice of school in a few weeks time, together with those in the school already to bring about through continuing pressure the radical action which central government must now take.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 31/03/2015 - 22:03

I would encourage ex teachers to either come on here and tell us their stories, or email me on

nlondon (at) mac.com

Sarah's picture
Wed, 01/04/2015 - 08:35

The current staff have no faith in the leadership and this will never be restored. That is why they are trawling the education faculties in the north of England in their desperation to attract new teachers who may not have read the EFA report or the coverage in the local press. Google 'Cuckoo Hall'. They soon will.

I love Mary Bousted's speech describing the fall from grace of Gove's Magnificent Seven. To receive a Financial Notice to Improve is certainly a magnificent achievement for all the wrong reasons.

David Barry's picture
Sun, 05/04/2015 - 21:52

Janet -

I was rather hoping that someone more expert that I would come along and answer your question. Of course any competent civil servant can provide a Minister with reasons for delay on any issue, and "purdah" is an excellent, all purpose excuse for refraining from action on any matter. However the Cuckoo Hall situation does count as an urgent one, and will only increase in urgency with time.


The Commons note on "purdah" states:

"During the Election period, the Government retains its responsibility to govern, and Ministers remain in charge of their Departments. Essential business must be carried on. However, it is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character. Decisions on matters of policy on which a new Government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present Government should be postponed until after the Election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money."

see:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/briefing-papers/...

Does this justify continued inaction on Cuckoo Hall?

(I am not being rhetorical here -this is a genuine request for further information!)

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 06/04/2015 - 07:19

David - the CHAT situation could be described as 'essential business'. It appears CHAT has lost the confidence of many parents and the sitting MP. It's also likely that if the CHAT board were replaced by an IEB that no future Gov't of whatever hue would overturn it and reinstate the present CHAT board. To do so would anger many parents and cause the situation to become more unstable.

However, I'm not holding my breath. Sowter, CHAT and its schools were Gove favourites. The PM and London Mayor have visited. Cameron's name was on a press release in July 2012 which said:

'The [CHAT] Trust benefits from the expertise and experience of Executive Principal Mrs Patricia Sowter CBE, a National Leader of Education - who transformed Cuckoo Hall from an underperforming primary to one of the strongest in London.'

Removing the CHAT board would likely result in negative publicity for the Govt' at a time they want it least.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 06/04/2015 - 17:11

Janet- Indeed I would agree that CHAT is "essential business", I also take well your point about the extent to which a number of people connected with the Government including, as you point out, the Prime Minister himself have tied themselves to Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust. Consequently taking the required action, during an election campaign would be likely to produce negative publicity.

Well then, it just means that people who want action taken earlier than sometime in the late summer need to make it plain to the Government that NOT taking action will also lead to negative publicity.

I cannot imagine that the Cuckoo Hall situation will not start to emerge as a concern on the door steps.

I have just been contacted by the Liberal Democrat candidate, Cara Jenkinson, who has said she will be "tweeting" about the situation and raising it in the hustings.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Mon, 06/04/2015 - 19:20

Sarah, they must be a bit dim if they think students in the north don't have the internet and don't google schools they're considering applying to.


David Barry's picture
Tue, 07/04/2015 - 13:41

adrianelliot-

Dont underestimate the cleverness of the people in charge at Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust. After all if you look at it from their point of view, their continued survival is evidence that their strategy is working.

Now if there were not children involved, one could take comfort from the fact that their strategy can only continue to work for a while.

One does not need to be an expert in work psychology to spot that teachers returning to Cuckoo Hall after the Easter break will confront a situation where their hopes of improvement raised at the start of the year by the decisive action of the former chair and the arrival of the EFA investigators have been dashed by the blame free re instatements, and the pursuit of the teachers who gave evidence to the EFA.

A number of their colleagues will have left, or be leaving, including the high profile Head teacher departures.

Consequently every teacher must be asking them selves the question, "should I go now, myself" Some will have resolved on this over Easter, urged on perhaps by partners. And teachers will talk amongst themselves, (knowing that there is good evidence that their school email accounts are being monitored, they will take reasonable precautions)

So it is reasonable to suppose that as the next deadline for giving notice this school year is 31 May (to leave by 31 August) may will have returned to school resolved to find another post.

Thus Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust will be seeking to make a lot of appointments. I think we can take it that the reputation of the Trust as an employer will have spread through the grapevine in London, so their best bet is to seek to recruit from well outside.

But, as you point out, for the CHAT trustees, Google is their enemy.

And that is why a site like this, is so important.

cuckoointhenest's picture
Tue, 07/04/2015 - 21:09

There are already a large number of teachers who have either left or handed in their notice, and an even larger group who are planning to leave. These are qualified teachers who will no doubt be replaced by NQTs (again) who have no experience elsewhere and who therefore don't know how good schools are run.
I've been told that in a recent meeting with parents Sharon Ahmet said that they did not employ unqualified teachers, which is not true. Apart from the large number of graduate trainees who take on class responsibility from very early on in the school year (not enough qualified teachers in post to mentor them properly) who are, of course, unqualified, they also have a selection including TAs, oversees trained teachers without QTS and ex ICT technicians who are being paid as unqualified teachers and who take on classteacher responsibilities.
There are very, very few teachers or senior leaders who have ever worked in another school which in itself is poor practice and very worrying.

anonymous's picture
Tue, 07/04/2015 - 23:56

I still work there and am dreading going back - the atmosphere is terrible, every time an article appears in the press or a post on here there's a witch hunt and interrogations and we're all looking for a way to escape but are worried about getting a reference - they all have to go via Patricia Sowter now.
The senior leaders refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem and instead blame anyone who has tried to open up a discussion - talk about shoot the messenger! I'm fed up with being told by them that there is no bullying and want to do something but along with my colleagues am frightened of becoming the next victim.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 08/04/2015 - 08:59

anonymous - I sympathise with your predicament. You and your colleagues may already have done this - but I would suggest contacting your Union.


David Barry's picture
Wed, 08/04/2015 - 19:09

Anonymous-

Three quick points:-

1. You have an entitlement to see any reference

https://www.gov.uk/work-reference

Consequently the wise employer will stick to a pretty straightforward statement of easlly verifiable facts. Its a good point to discuss with your union.

2. The reputation of Cuckoo Hall is spreading. (I suppose you could say that this site is helping to do this). Consequently other employers have started to become aware of why someone, employed at Cuckoo Hall, might wish to move. And if they dont know that already a quick google...

3. As it is in the interests of the children that this be resolved as soon as possible, and as the Secretary of State appears disinclined to act, well then the best thing you can do is move to another job. Each teacher that leaves increases the pressure. Obviously you will be committed to the children in your year group, but the best thing you can do for them at this stage is move on at the end of the Summer.

This means that when a new S of S arrives they will know, whatever their party that they MUST act on Cuckoo Hall quickly.

I hope you do not mind my candour.

I really do understand how up setting this all is.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 08/04/2015 - 10:03

Janet -

Absolutely right. (On the use of unions). In fact I understand that at least one local union officer, Stuart McNamara of the NUT has been active.

Howver a point I have become aware of, is that, as a consequence of the high staff turnover an (increasing) proportion of staff have been there too short a time to have any formal legal rights.

NQTs are in a particularly vulnerable position.

Debra's picture
Wed, 08/04/2015 - 13:57

" At the request of the author following her receipt of a letter from a lawyer employed by Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust the text of this comment has been taken down."

agov's picture
Thu, 09/04/2015 - 07:36

Not quite, David.

An employee has the right to request a new employer to show a reference provided by a previous employer after commencing work for the new employer. Such requests may usually be complied with but it is not an absolute right that a reference be shown. Legal action might be possible if a reference can be shown to be unfair.

Some schools have benefited from applications from good staff fleeing tyrannies in academy schools. It might be possible for good staff to have discussions with potential new employers.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 09/04/2015 - 10:10

Agov -

I wont argue the point regarding what the legal position is, apart from not being a lawyer myself, I am also aware that the actual enforcement of a legal right, even if you have it, can be too difficult, expensive and cumbersome to be of practical help.

BUT

your posting in my view reinforces the argument put forward by Janet that talking to a Union official or for that matter an employment lawyer if you can get access to one -(some household insurance policies have legal cover - mine does) - is a really good idea for someone worried about their position

MOREOVER

Your point

"Some schools have benefited from applications from good staff fleeing tyrannies in academy schools. It might be possible for good staff to have discussions with potential new employers."

deserves highlighting

Any school you approach to which you admit that things have got a bit iffy at Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust which is why you want to leave will do a google and see:-

1.The notice to improve

2.The falsification of safeguarding records

3. Improper spending of money without proper records kept.

4. Nepotism

5. A credible allegation of falsification of key stage 2 SATS still under investigation

And, if my fellow Governors are any guide, take the view that wanting to leave a Trust in these circumstances shows good judgement and stands to your credit!

Concerned Parent's picture
Thu, 09/04/2015 - 20:33

It is really dishearting as a parent to hear how unhappy the teachers are. I have been on the parent tours with the SMT to view the school. I have no problem with the teachers of Cuckoo Hall it is the management that is unable to or won't commit to an answer to our questions. Mrs Ahmet not long after coming back, told us at a parent meeting that there were no concerns in the report & that all the teachers are qualified . Mrs Ahmet must have read a different report to us .

My children still have sevearl years left at the school, i am worried to see what calibre of teachers we will have in September or maybe we will have teaching assistants teaching our children ? From the comments here i doubt if Cuckoo Hall will have any experencied teachers left.

It has already started with Mrs Jordan in the office leaving after 13 years. My children came home upset telling me that she had left & parents were not informed until a week after she had gone.

Will we be told how many teachers will be leaving in July ?
The parents would like Mrs Sowter & Mrs Ahmet to resign now to stop the mass exodus of staff leaving Cuckoo Hall .

Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Thu, 09/04/2015 - 21:39

I know how much parents are concerned and frankly they should be (sorry to say that). Mrs Jordan's leaving at this time is no coincidence and there will be lots of teachers going too, and not telling you until the last minute is a part of their ploy to avoid questions - drop the bombshell just before the holidays and hope everyone will have forgotten about it by the time school starts back again.

No doubt they will come up with another smear campaign against those who leave but as you rightly say, parents have confidence in most of the teachers and support staff, it's the senior leaders that are the problem.

By the way, it's not true that all the teachers are qualified and if that's what Sharon Ahmet told parents then it was a brazen lie. She is fully aware that across CHAT and at Cuckoo Hall there are unqualified teachers, TAs taking classes and of course students, some of whom are very good but do not have the level of support they should have, especially not in the first term with senior leaders 'sharing' class responsibility (from their bunker that they call an office!). Ask her to confirm whether your child's teacher has Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), or put in a freedom of informations request about this.

They are already aware of some of the teachers who are leaving but the final date for handing in notice to leave is end of May. Ask Ahmet on June 1st how many are going - she will know then and there is no reason why she can't tell you. Alternatively, ask your child's teacher to their face (again, beginning of June). They will be told not to let anyone know, but the teachers are honest and do not find lying to parents quite as easy as the management do.

I don't want to worry you further it you should also check that new staff and consultants who have unrestricted access to the school building have a full DBS check before they start.... Don't they ever learn?

Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Thu, 09/04/2015 - 21:47

For those of you who don't know, Mrs Jordan was the office manager and the 'lynchpin' of the school: an honest, hard working, extremely knowledgeable and kind person who just could not go on there any longer, and to not let parents know in advance that she was leaving, to enable them to say their goodbyes, is a disgrace.


Alice's picture
Thu, 09/04/2015 - 22:19

Concerned parent:
You may be told how many staff are leaving (but I doubt it) or you may be told that a number of staff have "tried to derail the organisation and are being helped to move on" or you may receive a communication from the extremely expensive PR company which says it's " a fact of life" for all schools to lose this number of staff at any one time.
The thing to ask yourself is this:
Is it really "a fact of life " when a trust with only 5 schools loses one Headteacher at Christmas and two more Headteachers in July? No
Is it really "a fact of life" when over 50% of the qualified teaching staff hand in their notice in the same term? No
Is it really "a fact of life" when so many staff are, or have recently been, suffering with stress, anxiety and depression? No
Is it really "a fact of life" for a trust to spend so much public money, money that has come into the organisation to pay for your child's education, on PR and legal services to shore up a regime such as the one at CHAT? I' m afraid the answer would have to be No again.
None of these things are "a fact of life" in other well run and ethical trusts. The senior management and the Board of Trustees need to resign and allow our children to have the education that is their right.

Maria's picture
Fri, 10/04/2015 - 10:03

I am so sorry you were treated this way, I have always found you helpful, knowledgeable and approachable.


Alice's picture
Fri, 10/04/2015 - 10:38

Correct me if I' m wrong, Maria but didn't she used to be student link tutor and lecturer at Middlesex University? Didn't she used to be an acting Headteacher? Didn't she used to be an extremely well qualified and experienced Deputy Headteacher with a CV to die for?
Wasn't she employed at CHAT as lead professional in charge of the NQTs? Funny how as soon as she does her job and steps in to deal with inappropriate behaviour from senior staff towards the NQTs she then herself is victimised.
How can she therefore have been bullied so badly that she had to go off sick? And, more to the point, how on earth can the Trust justify not following up the grievance that she took out (and we know that to be the case) and getting rid of her in this way?
I'm afraid it probably means that more money will be stolen from the children's education and given to the lawyers I suppose.
Any decent person will be wondering how Patricia Sowter and Sharon Ahmet can sleep at night.......disgraceful.

Sarah's picture
Sat, 11/04/2015 - 11:11

Parents should urgently contact the Standards and Testing Agency to find out what is going on with the information passed to them by the EFA regarding allegations of SATs fixing.

I have reminded Martin Post, the Regional Schools Commissioner, and Claire Burton, CEO of the Standards and Testing Agency that this matter is unresolved. I suggest that everyone does the same. A flurry of similar enquiries highlighting your concerns will keep these allegations current in their minds.

Life After Cuckoo Hall's picture
Sun, 12/04/2015 - 19:33

As a former member of staff at CH, I feel outraged that this behaviour of bullying and intimidation is being allowed to continue and it seems the people who should be protecting our children and hard working teachers are either powerless to help, or are being fooled into believing there is nothing to change! Since leaving CH, it has opened my eyes to just how bad the situation was within that place. The feeling of enthusiasm and passion was replaced by dread and resentment working there and my passion for teaching was reignited after moving on. To the inexperienced NQTs who have nothing else to compare their current experience with, I urge you to move on. The grass IS MOST DEFINITELY greener on the other side. As I give this advice, my mind wanders to the lovely innocent children embroiled in this awful situation who merit good teachers. Having said this, a teacher who is over worked, stressed, unhappy - possibly depressed - anxious, nervous and in fact unable to do a good job is worthless to these children. It seems the children are the ones who suffer every time...


David Barry's picture
Sun, 12/04/2015 - 21:43

Life -

I would re iterate what I wrote above. A teacher who moves on at this stage will clearly be part of a trend, and by doing so will help to bring about pressure for longterm improvements.

The next critical event in the history of CHAT is when places are offered at reception through the pan London admissions system. As there are no surplus places in Enfield - the usual situation - parents will not be able to "vote with their feet" and will have children starting this autumn to spend 7 years at primary school., in a CHAT school.

It is these parents who have the greatest incentive to get things done. Opting for the quiet life not such an option for them. This site is one way of reaching them. They will find it when they google.

ex nqt's picture
Sun, 12/04/2015 - 22:20

I was an NQT who made the move and agree totally with 'Life..' that moving on makes you realise how great teaching is, and how bad Cuckoo is.

The whole system is flawed: Trustees do not hold Headteachers to account, the DfE allows CHAT to investigate themselves and any other 'independent body' working with the school is paid by them so it's not in their interest to rock the boat. Take IStip (Independent Schools Teacher Induction Panel) for example, who are supposed to be the 'appropriate body' overseeing the induction of NQTs in CHAT.

According to the DfE statutory guidance, 5.9 The appropriate body must ensure that:

headteachers/principals (and governing bodies where appropriate) are meeting their responsibilities in respect of providing a suitable post for induction; (It's not suitable - there are too many NQTs and student for them to be mentored/guided effectively, and they do not receive their statutory NQT time

the monitoring, support, assessment and guidance procedures in place are fair and appropriate (At times it's not fair as some NQTs feel they are bullied and others are intimidated because of this)

where an NQT may be experiencing difficulties, action is taken to address areas of performance that require further development and support (action is not taken to support NQTs in their development when there are concerns and IStip should question how an NQT could be at risk, or leave suddenly, without discussion with them)

where an institution is not fulfilling its responsibilities, contact is made with the institution to raise its concerns; (IStip is aware that Cuckoo Hall does not fulfil its responsibilities - have they followed this up?)

induction tutors are trained and supported, including being given sufficient time to carry out the role effectively; (Has IStip checked that induction tutors are trained? Do they have sufficient time or have some NQTs been asked to write their own reports?)

the school is providing a reduced timetable in addition to PPA time; (Istip has been notified of a short-fall in the NQT time - what have they done about this?)

However, expecting IStip to investigate and to (potentially) lose a lucrative income stream is like asking a board of Trustees to investigate themselves. Once again, we're back to the subject of accountability.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 15/04/2015 - 08:53

ex nqt - It's not surprising reduced if timetabling and PPA time is ignored. Sowter is not a fan. This is what she told the Education Bill Committee in March 2011:

'There is, for example, a system at the moment called PPA—planning, preparation and assessment—which is where teachers have two hours a week, negotiated through the union, out of class. It is very difficult in a school such as mine, which is a very large primary school. I ask teachers, “Would you prefer to have a bit extra in your pay packet and forgo the PPA, or would you like to keep the PPA?” Unanimously, they said that they would love to get rid of PPA. They thought it was disruptive. They had to pick up the pieces when they got back to their classroom if there was a cover teacher, and they said yes, they would love to have a bit extra in their pay packets. That is the sort of thing that I am now able to do in an academy, which I was not able to do in the past.'

She also told the Committee (twice) Cuckoo Hall was in special measures ten years before (2001). We know that isn't true.


NQT's picture
Thu, 16/04/2015 - 07:28

I was an NQT there last year and when somebody contacted IStip to ask whether it was right that we didn't get any NQT time if there was a bank holiday in the week (or an INSET day, or an educational visit, or if we'd had a day off sick) Sharon Ahmet and Flo Shamolli started questioning us to find out who had sent the email, instead of putting matters right.

They decided it was me (a senior colleague told me that Ahmet said she had email evidence, and as the head could look at emails because she was responsible for data) and I was bullied relentlessly to the point that the deputy head (David Penkert) told me that I should provide evidence that I had not contacted them - an impossible task! Even when the right person came forward, they decided that two people must have complained and refused to apologise. I went to HR and the advice was to go to my union but as I'd only been there less than a year there was nothing they could do so I left.

IStip didn't ever follow up on the email and have been made aware of what happened but have done nothing, sending new nqts into the lions den this year and the same thing is happening again.

Amanda's picture
Thu, 16/04/2015 - 08:37

I'm leaving this summer and remember what happened last year. We kept asking about NQT time but in one meeting Sharon Ahmet laughed and said that she'd check with IStip and if they'd been doing it wrong for years she would let us know. Of course she didn't and we didn't think it was funny. Me and a friend asked to see her on many occasions because we'd read the DfE guidance but she wouldn't meet with us - she either ignored our emails or if we went to her office she said she was too busy and would get back to us but she never did.
I wanted to leave last year but they told us we'd have to pay if we left before we'd done 3 years (it's like a prison sentence!). IStip know about this and I don't know why they don't do something to protect NQTs. They shouldn't allow NQTs to go to Cuckoo Hall.

Sylvia's picture
Sun, 12/04/2015 - 23:27

Christine Blower from the NUT, in praise of Janet Downs of this website, also gave Patricia Sowter a special mention in her conference speech. She said

'... let me turn to Janet Downs who also writes for the Local Schools’ Network. She is quite brilliant, in particular at laying bare the difference between truth and a terminological inexactitude. I love this article about Cuckoo Hall and the, it would seem, baseless claims by Patricia Sowter, to have turned it round.

In February 2015, the School’s website said:

‘In special measures 14 years ago, Cuckoo Hall Academy was turned round dramatically by Patricia Sowter and her team…. 14 years ago was 2001’, says Janet.

Cuckoo Hall was not in Special Measures in 2001. It had been removed from that category in 1999. An Ofsted inspection before Ms Sowter arrived said:

‘This is a very effective school. Teaching is good and leadership and management are very good. Pupils make good progress.’

The Advertising Standards Authority censured Cuckoo Hall in October 2012 for saying the school had been in Special Measures in 2002 – which was clearly untrue.

There is much more in this vein in Janet’s article which I commend to you. I will simply give you her conclusion:

‘Cuckoo Hall was an effective school before Ms Sowter went there and nowhere near as troubled as Ms Sowter and others (particularly Michael Gove) made out. Perhaps apologies are due to Mr R Allen and his team whose role in bringing Cuckoo Hall from Special Measures has been airbrushed from history.’'

We have top teaching unions screaming from the rooftops, yet the DfE (and CHAT Trustees) sit with their fingers in their ears.

By the way, look at the Cuckoo website here http://cuckoohall.schooljotter2.com/about-us/recruitment where it wrongly states that Cuckoo Hall is an outstanding school. More lies?

The grass is greener's picture
Tue, 14/04/2015 - 19:20

I absolutely agree with Life after Cuckoo. Having made the move last year, I am so much happier. My new employer couldn't believe the shenanigans going on! To paint a picture, from what I've been told (from a reliable source) is that several teachers have ALREADY left this year and there are currently 16 Cuckoo Hall teachers with confirmed jobs for September. Undoubtedly others will be looking. What I think is really telling is the GTP students who are 'buying themselves out' of their contracts - that's how disheartened they are.

The strange thing is, it's not even several of the SLTs fault. Many of them have been promoted ridiculously quickly since qualifying, Deputy Headteacher after 2 years? Assistant Head after 2 years? I'd love to know who they have lined up for the Woodpecker and Kingfisher Headships. Oh wait.....

These members of the SLT allow themselves to be manipulated and bullied and think thats normal! None of them have the confidence or experience to speak out, after all they would be jeopardises their grossly inflated salaries. They need to get out and see that the grass really is greener! I was once told that this is not the case by the Exec Head - oh how wrong she was!

Lauren's picture
Thu, 16/04/2015 - 12:29

I went to Sharon too about NQT time but she was too busy to talk to me. It was disgusting how they treated an nqt who was really good and she hadn't done anything wrong. I've emailed IStip about what happened last year and I know that others have told them too but I don't think they're interested.
CHAT don't really support NQTs either, all the senior leaders are too busy. The only one who helped and advised us was Debra and they fired her - I think it was for telling us the truth.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 16/04/2015 - 16:32

David Barry's picture
Tue, 21/04/2015 - 15:56

A useful blog post her:

https://johnohowson.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/a-teacher-recruitment-crisi...

It makes it plain that the general teacher supply position is a shortage of qulaified teachers. It also provides a link to a web site designed to help techers looking for positions.

(I was directed to this source of information by Warwick Mansell)

Anon's picture
Wed, 22/04/2015 - 19:00

This year's NQTs were actually asked to lie to IStip about the NQT time they get! When Cuckoo Hall found out that they were having an IStip inspection, an emergency meeting was called in which NQTs were asked to lie and tell IStip that they had been having enough NQT time, and were promised that in return for their deceit they would be given more time in future. Previous NQTs were never repaid the hours they were owed. It's funny how the SLT only realised their neglect when they were in danger of getting caught!


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