Cuckoo Hall: And there was silence for a space.

David Barry's picture
 22
Followers of the Cuckoo Hall saga will be aware of its bare outline.

Before Christmas The Chair of a Multi Academy Chain, Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust Andry Efthymiou, received serious allegations against the Executive head of the TRUST, Patricia Sowter CBE, Ms Sowter's Husband, a Trustee of CHAT, and against the Head of Cuckoo Hall, Sharon Ahmet.

The Chair, by their own account sought advice, then suspended the three, a "neutral act" while the EFA carried out an investigation. However weeks before the EFA conclusions were published the Trustees publically repudiated the action of the Chair, announced she had been unanimously removed, and reinstated the three as "completely vindicated." A new chair was appointed reported in the press to have a financial interest in a business that has the Trust as a customer. While that in itself need not be improper that he may have financially benefited from purchasing decisions made by Mrs Sowter, could tend to create the perception that he is not a fully independent figure.

Then the EFA report was published. See here.

In the last week of February I picked up a paper copy of the " Haringey Advertiser" to see if there was any more coverage. In the event there was no more journalism, and there has not been in the weeks since, so I presume no more public developments have happened. (Other than the Advertising Standards Agency ordering them to amend their web site as described here).

Bit of a contrast some have suggested with the conduct of the Secretary of State regarding Durham Free School see here.

So we have no action (yet) regarding Cuckoo Hall, verging on over enthusiastic action regarding Durham Free School ...there was a risk of a successful application for Judicial Review of the Secretary of State's conduct of the matter as a result.

Which underlines the point that having the Secretary of State responsible for decisions of this sort is not a good idea.

I said there was no more journalism but there was a letter headed:

"How can we have any confidence in this school"

It was written by an Andrew Nicholas of Silver Street, Enfield. As letters are not made available on the internet by this paper here is the text rather than a link, as printed in the paper on 25 February 2015

He wrote:

"I was astounded to read "Cuckoo Hall faces closure threat after investigation." (Advertiser, February 8), to the extent that I went online to read the EFA report myself.

Being involved with other schools in Enfield, I am well aware the the academy system can work extremely well, but to a very large extent any school relies on the competence of its Governing Body.

The report makes it quite clear that a significant number of breaches of regulations and guidelines took place.

In my view it is extraordinary that the husband of the executive head was a trustee.

Let's not dwell on the failure to comply with safeguarding requirements and the falsifying of records, although if I was a parent of a child at the school I doubt I would be quite so sanguine.

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?"

Well written I thought. If I were to respond to the writer I would point out that the test of any system comes not when things are going well but when problems occur, and that the reason why he may have experience of the Academy system working well will rest on the competence shown by their trustees..

At Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust we now have a series of documented failures on the part of the Trustees. Yet because they are prepared to brazen it out they go on in a way that would never have been tolerated in a Community School. And Mrs Sowter, and, it seems, at least one member of her family appointed improperly to a senior paid position in the Trust continues in post, as does Sharon Ahmet.
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Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Fri, 13/03/2015 - 18:18

Latest news in the local paper - two more Headteachers in the trust have resigned and Nick de Bois (mp for Enfield North) has called for the board to resign. As one headteacher left at Christmas that only leaves two out of five, one of whom is a very inexperienced deputy who is now acting head at Enfield heights. So, only Sharon Ahmet left as an experienced head, but they still tell staff there's no bullying?


David Barry's picture
Wed, 18/03/2015 - 23:29

Another interesting point.

The most recent annual report and accounts for Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust available on the web is for 2013.

It lists 14 trustees. To find it google Cuckoo Hall Trustees and look for the entry

[PDF] Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust
www.education.gov.uk/cgi-bin/schools/.../school.pl?urn=136284...
Cuckoo Hall Academies. Trust. Annual Report and Financial. Statements. 31 August 2013. Company Limited by Guarantee. Registration Number. 07355559 ...

Then click on it.

The current list of Trustees on the CHAT websire is just four.

They are:

Mr Marino Charalambous, Board Member & Chair of CHAT
Professor Anthony O'Hear, Board Member & Trustee
Dr Donald Graham, Board Member & Trustee
Patricia Sowter CBE, Executive Head & "ex officio" Board Member

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

Note that, in particular neither Mr Sowter nor Sgaron Ahmet are now listed as Trustees.

Any thoughts as to what is going on? Have people been resigning?

David Barry's picture
Fri, 13/03/2015 - 22:31

Thanks Cuckoo in the nest for alerting me to this breaking news.

A quick google search brings up a report in the Enfield Independent. Only a few hours old.

In it the local MP, Nick de Bois (Conservative), the MP for Enfield North is quoted as saying:

“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 would guess his reference to "parents losing confidence" is likely to have been driven by his postbag. Its obviously a serious matter for the Board that their local MP should be calling for their resignation

So is there a response from the Board? Indeed, it seems, there is.

The Enfield Independent gives 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.”

http://www.enfieldindependent.co.uk/news/11855469.Calls_for_board_member...

David Barry's picture
Sun, 15/03/2015 - 22:49

For completeness I should mention that this story is also carried on

http://www.northlondon-today.co.uk/news.cfm?id=27730&showcomall=y

This is the paper that comes out, in hard copy on Wednesdays. So by then, at the very least. parents will be very widely aware of it, and the MP's call for resignations.

Comments made on the website already indicate, that, as one would expect, there are a significant number of resignations by other teachers as well.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 19/03/2015 - 23:14

And for further completeness I should mention that I checked this evening to see if there were more comments to find that the nine I saw have all been taking down, so currently no comments show at all. We already know that CHAT have busy lawyers. For which we, as taxpayers, pay.


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/03/2015 - 10:54

David - according to DueDil, several directors of CHAT resigned on 11 February 2015. These were as follows together with their status (if given):

Patricia Sowter, Phill Sowter (Consultant), Bernadette Jordan (Office Manager), Bernadette Lappage, Mathew Laban (Head Teacher), Ann Zinkin (Education Officer), Graham Davis (Company Secretary), Sharon Ahmet (Head Teacher), Alison Edmonds (Head Teacher.

Mary Elcock (Head) resigned 31 December 2014

Andry Efthymiou resigned 16 December 2014

David Philip Gold (Development Manager) resigned 1 December 2014

Christiana Kyriacou (HR Consultant) resigned 7 November 2014

According to DueDil there are now only three directors: Marino Charalambous, Prof O'Hear and Dr Graham. Patricial Sowter, as you noted, is 'ex officio' Board Member

Duedil can be searched here:

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/03/2015 - 11:09

David - according to Companies House, there are two 'charges' against Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust. The first, was a mortgage from the DfE which was the 'amount invested by the SoS for CHAT to acquire the leasehold for the land from Enfield Council'. (See my FoI response here).

The second, which I didn't know about when submitting my FoI request, was taken out just this month on 3 March 2015. The Code given on Companies House website is CHARGE CODE 073555590002. I have been unable to discover what this means. The earlier charge code was 073555590001. When I searched for this code on the web I found it related to a mortgage from the SoS.

The charge codes are numbered successively. Does this mean the newest charge is also from the SoS? Even if it isn't, it's odd that a mortgage could be awarded to an organisation which is subject to a Financial Notice to Improve.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 19/03/2015 - 23:17

Janet

I am afraid I understand little of this technical stuff about charges. Maybe some one else could comment, but in a sense the very obscurity of the information you have uncovered speaks for itself.

One point that does come through though is at least Enfiled got paid for the land used by CHAT.

Islington got nothing (!)

David Barry's picture
Wed, 25/03/2015 - 10:49

A further press report

http://www.enfieldindependent.co.uk/news/11876977.Troubled_academy_slams...

This report states that a letter, characterised by the Trust as "malicious" and criticising Patricia Sowter CBE and Sharon Ahmet by name, was distributed to parents at the school gates. The Trust by calling the police, and giving a letter of response to pupils dated 19 March, attacking the letter, saying that the police were called and "acted promptly" and that the police are " now investigating." Its not a long piece so worth reading the press report in full.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 25/03/2015 - 17:21

This should have read "The Trust responded by calling the police etc."


David Barry's picture
Wed, 25/03/2015 - 17:24

A further development.

There has been another intervention by the local MP. Nick de Bois. It is reported in the "haringey Independent" and can be found on the web here:

http://www.northlondon-today.co.uk/News.cfm?id=28688&headline=Troubled%2...'s%20criticism


It is entitled:

"Troubled trust stands firm in face of MP's criticism"

and dated, today, Wednesday, 25 March 2015


In it, the journalist, Ruth Mckee reports that

"In a letter (dated 20 March seen by the Advertiser, Nick de Bois, MP for Enfield North, has called on Nicky Morgan to take tough action regarding Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust."

and goes on to write:

"...... Mr de Bois writes: “It is clear that this leadership team do not carry the confidence of the parents and should resign to be replaced by a new board.”

and

“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.”

He adds that he would like to meet the Education Secretary to discuss the concerns of parents who have approached him with their worries.

And the Trust's response?

"“As is well-known, the Education Funding Agency report identified areas where we need to make improvements.


Over the last few weeks we have been working constructively with the EFA to do exactly this, including new governance procedures and strengthening the board, and we hope this reassures anyone with concerns.

We, and our brilliant staff, remain committed to delivering the very best education to our children so that the trust and our schools become even stronger in the weeks and years ahead.

“This includes the two of our five schools in Mr de Bois’s constituency. “Ofsted says Enfield Heights is already improving since we took it over at the Department for Education's request last year, and Kingfisher Hall is rated outstanding.”

So thats alright then......

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 25/03/2015 - 18:33

David - Ofsted monitoring of Enfield Heights listed improvements but inspectors also wrote:

'Senior leaders and governors are not taking effective action to tackle the areas
requiring improvement identified at the last section 5 inspection and plans are not
sharply focused on rapidly bringing about improvement.'

And hasn't the head of the outstanding Kingfisher Hall resigned?

David Barry's picture
Wed, 25/03/2015 - 19:06

Yes, the Head of Kingfisher Hall Matthew Laban has resigned, but according to the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust will be with them until the end of the year - he is "moving to a new opportunity" in September.

The headship of Heron Hall has now been advertised:

http://jobs.theguardian.com/job/6056078/headteacher/?TrackID=8

Note that one of the "duties and responsibilities" is:

"undertaking, to the extent required by the Executive Headteacher or Board of Trustees, the professional duties of Headteacher at any CHAT school as required."

David Barry's picture
Wed, 25/03/2015 - 23:02

Mr de Bois, MP has posted his views on his own website here.

http://www.nickdebois.com/nick's-work/latest-news/nick-writes-to-education-secretary-to-take-tough/1032

It confirms that the news paper report is accurate. It makes it plain that he is taking this matter VERY seriously.

agov's picture
Thu, 26/03/2015 - 09:59

How interesting. Do the police suspect a crime may have been committed?


Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Thu, 26/03/2015 - 18:18

A few things to note from the above: firstly, trustees were TOLD to resign and among the list were of course the whistleblowers who gave evidence to the EFA. I'm not aware that any reason has been given for asking them to resign or for why Marino Charalambous, Anthony O'Hear and Donald Graham (overseers of the 'Independent' report and the reinstatement of the suspended trustees) remained on the board. Was it because their support could be relied upon? I understand that the internal report isn't being made available as it 'isn't in the public interest' (Tax payers money though).

The second thing is the distribution of letters to parents which, I believe, is being done because parents feel that the trustees are not informing them of the full story. The police were called but as it's perfectly legal to distribute leaflets in the street they didn't attend at the time. I've been informed though that senior staff took it upon themselves to chase a grandparent along the street and take leaflets and her phone from her. And these people judge others on their progress in meeting the teaching standards? Disgraceful behaviour which wouldn't happen in a middle class area where people know their rights.

Finally, new 'independent' trustees are being appointed. Rumour is that they are friends/acquaintances of the current three and favoured lawyers (just how much have they paid Hill Dickinson to 'get rid' of people who ask questions) and that the people nominated by the DfE didn't get through the interview process.... How can this continue? Well done Nick De Bois for standing up for accountability and transparency. Where is the DfE in all of this?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/03/2015 - 08:30

Cuckoo in the nest - a Freedom of Information request should reveal the internal report. All that's necessary is to ask for the report and say it's a Freedom of Information request. Details about how to make one are here.


Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Thu, 26/03/2015 - 18:28

Also, why has the Headteacher post at Heron Hall only just been advertised? The previous head handed in her notice on or before the deadline to leave in December (which must have been September or earlier). Is somebody being lined up for this job?


Sarah's picture
Thu, 26/03/2015 - 21:23

Parents are furious because external emails have been blocked, meaning they are unable to voice their dissatisfaction with the current regime. Well done to Nick de Bois for standing up for local parents who are frightened for their children's education.


David Barry's picture
Thu, 26/03/2015 - 22:56

Cuckoo in the nest, and Sarah.

Useful additional information. I would very much like to see a copy of the leaflets being handed out AND the Trust's response.

I can be contacted directly on nlondon (at) mac.com.

I would point out that the grandmother who had her phone removed from her, if this report is correct was actually a victim of theft and could report that. However I am also aware that a situation like this tends to create a climate of fear.

Cuckoo in the nest's picture
Sat, 28/03/2015 - 14:49

A request has been made but they have failed to comply within 20 days stating that they need further time to consider whether it's in the public interest. (I'm paraphrasing). Your colleague here has been sent a copy of their reply.


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