CUCKOO HALL: Suspended, Reinstated, Resigned: An enquiry into Phil Sowter.

David Barry's picture
 62
If you are new to the Cuckoo Hall story - new readers every day it seems - and want to see previous posts by Janet Downs and myself on Cuckoo Hall have a look here.

Or if you just want to remind yourself of the most recent post see here.

I hope this is of particular use to my TWO SPECIAL READERS

BACKGROUND

In writing this I have made use of the report of the Education Funding Agency Enquiry, and public statements made by the Trust. I have made some inferences which I reckon are perfectly reasonable. However in the nature of the thing I cannot in all cases be sure to be absolutely correct.. (Though I mostly am sure). However should an error of interpretation have crept in the remedy is simple. By his own account Mr Sowter is known to be reading LSN with close attention. If he sees I have fallen into error, I would be grateful if he would get in touch with all speed. He can use the LSN email address, or if he prefers, comment directly on this post.

INTRODUCTION

Followers of the Cuckoo Hall tale will have noticed a pause since my last posting. The thing is, I am faced with a bit of a predicament. What my daughter refers to as "TMI." Too Much Information. Alerted to the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust scandal by Janet Downs, I started doing my own posts complementing hers. In one of these I invited people with further information about CHAT to get in touch. And they have. A lot of information to try and organise into a clear narrative. Much of it, I have to say, bordering on the surreal.

They have seen, they tell me, a systematic pursuit of members of staff who co operated with the EFA investigation. People have been called at short notice to meetings, and discover a lawyer present. Various threats of legal action, and of police investigations are mentioned. Of immediate interest to readers of this site is that staff have been specially warned by the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust Senior Management Team not to have anything to do with the Local Schools Network. They have been told not to read it, or discuss it with other staff or parents. They are particularly forbidden to post comments on LSN. It has been suggested to them (quite falsely) that the SMT at Cuckoo Hall have ways of identifying who comments on LSN. They have been warned that LSN is being "monitored" by none other than Phil Sowter and Martin Hesketh. ( Who are of course, very welcome, and are the two special readers referred to above).

Many of those contacting me ask for a delay in using the information. This is because of the personal consequences they fear if any of the material be traced back to them while they are still employed at Cuckoo Hall..

Consequently I now have information I cannot use. Yet.

However once those individuals who have given me information embargoed while they remain at Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust leave the Trust...Which they are making best efforts to do - the story will be different. They cease to be the 'enemy within" and graduate to the status of 'disgruntled former employees' thereby joining the ranks of those who in 2013 were in Mrs Patricia Sowter's words:

“a small number of staff members…opposed to the ethos and direction of the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust Board who left the school at a critical time.”

As quoted in "The Guardian" here.

Except this time, the number may not be so "small."

Until then I work with what I have. So on to considering Mr Sowter.

THE SUSPENSION OF PHIL SOWTER FROM THE BOARD OF CHAT

To start with Mr Sowter had been in the interesting position of being a Trustee of Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust, and also Chair of Governors at two of the schools run by the Trust. As the EFA found, he was a busy man. His dedication, demonstrated by his daily visits to school sites, considerable. No doubt having his wife as the Executive Head and both his sons on the staff did give him a certain degree of insight into the affairs of the Trust. Of course being part of the Board, one of whose functions is to hold your wife to account, and another of which is to set her salary, might raise perceived issues regarding a conflict of interest.

Together with his wife and Sharon Ahmet he was suspended by the then Chair of CHAT , Andry Efthamiou, after she had been made aware of certain allegations against the three. Suspension was, of course a "neutral act", with the three suspended until the outcome of inquiries into the allegations against them. The EFA having been called in by Andry Efthiamou investigated the allegations and, in due course, reported.

(Andry Efthiamou subsequent to calling in the EFA, but before it reported, either - her version of events - chose to resign due to a perceived possible conflict of interest declared by her, or - the CHAT version of events - was "unanimously" removed by the Board. Nothing simple, nothing straightforward, at Cuckoo Hall.)

THE EFA REPORTS

The EFA reported its conclusions first to the Board in private and there was then a bit of a delay before the report was published. It eventually was, but only after Andry Efthiamou, now ex chair, made a public call for it to be published and urged parents to join her in lobbying for its publication. This call was made at a meeting of parents called by Ms Efthiamou in a personal capacity, publicised by the local press and at which the press was present. According to press reports all parents received a letter from the SMT at CHAT telling them that they were not to attend the meeting and that they could leave themselves open to legal action by doing so. Whether parental lobbying had any influence on the EFA's publication time table is unclear. ( Nothing simple, nothing straightforward...).

The published report is, as it stands, and as Janet Downs wrote earlier, a stinker.

See here.

Mr Phil Sowter was picked out by the EFA for special mention. For now I shall concentrate on the parts that apply to him.

THE EFA ON CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The EFA investigated allegations of conflicts of interest and found:

35. "...the process set out in the Articles (of Association) related to conflicts of interest was not followed. The investigation has seen evidence of at least 3 failures to follow the proper procedures in managing conflict of interest in appointments.

36. An example of non-compliance was a family member of the executive head and the suspended Trustee [ ... Phil Sowter ..] being appointed to a senior leadership post within CHAT.. "

Not exactly a clean bill of health then..

What about pay and promotions?

"37. There is also evidence that there has been a failure to follow process in pay rises and promotions. These failures are particularly in relation to the consideration and agreement by the Board of Trustees of pay rises and promotions where there is a potential conflict of interest."

What about Trustees profiting personally from being a Trustee?

"38. The concept that trustees or their relatives do not gain financially from their position as trustees is central to the status of the Trust as a charity, to obtaining value for money, and to the exercise of regularity, probity and propriety the use of public funds. .....The investigation obtained no evidence that the process on managing conflicts of interests ... had been carried out in the recruitment of family members, "

Oh dear.

But apart from his formal, legal responsibility as a trustee, could it be that he was not really that involved? So what did the EFA find on that?

" The executive head and her husband described his role as ‘operational’ and being about managing the demands of a growing Multi-Academy Trust (MAT). ..."

So no dispute there, and indeed this picture was familiar to other staff:

" Some members of staff said that the suspended member of the Board of Trustees took an active management role; he and the executive head were described as ‘job share’ partners. The investigation team have seen one instance of an email from the executive head’s email address from her husband. "

Definitely "hands on" then. In at least one instance "hands on keyboard"

PHIL SOWTER REINSTATED

As I have commented on here:

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/02/cuckoo-hall-vindicated-or-...

the response of the Board to the EFA report was to reinstate the three suspended people. To the outside observer, whose knowledge is limited to the contents of the EFA report this does appear a bit of a surprise outcome. However I am assured by those within the CHAT organisation and experiencing its "ethos" on a daily basis that this kind of outcome does not surprise at all. But note an important detail. Mr Sowter was reinstated first, BEFORE his wife and Sharon Ahmet. Consequently it is not clear that the Board had actually seen the EFA report when they chose to reinstate him. Sharon Ahmet and Patricial Sowter were re instated at a LATER meeting, at which time Mr Sowter was back to being an active member of the Board, and they did have a copy of the EFA report. Further on the basis of statements made by the Board we could reasonably infer that he took a full role immediately on his re instatement. . In which case he would have been carrying out his duty as a trustee by concluding, after careful consideration of the evidence, that his wife was blameless, and voting for her immediate reinstatement. To the outsider, such behaviour would manifest a truly staggering conflict of interest, and in any other context would be difficult to credit, yet it is what the Trust's statements imply. Could I now ask Mr Sowter when he reads this to let us know if the Trust, in stressing the full Boards "unanimous support" for his wife has inadvertently led us to believe that he took part, but that he actually didn't? but then the reinstatement would not have been unanimous. (Nothing straightforward, nothing simple....) The clarification would be welcome.

PHIL SOWTER RESIGNS

However Mr Sowter's renewed membership of the the Board was not to last. The EFA made its report available to the CHAT Board a significant period of time before it was published. An advance copy. And we have seen that whether or not the Board had access to the report when they reinstated Mr Sowter is not clear. In fact there are a number of points unclear to me regarding this process. (For example is it up to the Board to reinstate? Surely it is a matter for the MEMBERS of the Trust, who under the articles of association elect the Board. But then, who are the members of the Trust? Nothing simple, nothing straightforward) Be that as it may, when the report was made public Mr Sowter "chose" to resign.

As was reported in the press on the 13th February 2015:

"A spokesman from the school told the Advertiser that despite the fact that Phil Sowter, Patricia’s husband has made “no financial gain” from his role as a director of the board of trustees, he has stood down from his position on the board."

That a report had just been published, which found that Phil Sowter HAD been profiting from his role as a director puts a rather different complexion on the matter compared to this press comment. Heigho. So his resignation was required by his misconduct as established by the EFA - he was held in breach of Charities law.

But as the websites for the several Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) schools show, and as the current staff know, Phil Sowter remains Chair of two Governing Bodies. Heron Hall and Enfeld Heights. So problems remain, including the one identified by the EFA when they wrote all those weeks ago :

" Some members of staff also said that having the executive head and local chair of governors as a husband and wife team left them without support or a clear line of appeal if they had concerns. "

He continues to be a frequent visitor to the various schools, where he appears to be indulging in what can only be described, in his circumstances , as unwise conduct. Thus new instances of unusual behaviour are reported of a kind that lead to renewed allegations of bullying of staff.

Let one example stand for many.

THE NQT'S TALE

This part of the post has been removed at the request of a person, alleged by lawyers acting for Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust, to have supplied information used in this part of the post, and who, on that basis has been threatened with a suit for defamation, relating to this part of the post.

Without conceding that that person was the source of the information we have agreed to remove it. Nor do we by removing it concede that the text in question was defamatory.

HOW TO ATTRACT SUSPICION

Moreover by being on site so often in an environment where the EFA found instances of falsification of records, for which as a Board member he must bear some formal responsibility, leaves him open to the gravest imputation. I would stress that although it has been established by the EFA that falsification of records took place, who did this, who ordered this, and who knew about this have yet to be established. Or if it has been established we have not been told. But that it happened on Mr Sowter's watch, ( among others of course) has been established. Which is why having continuing access to what may turn out to be important evidence is likely to raise suspicion, should any further tampering be found, or important records go missing. There is also the point that SATS week is almost upon us and that the allegation of organised cheating by CHAT in last year's SATS is still under consideration by the STA. Obviously a bad idea for Mr Sowter to have, it would seem, universal access while SATS are on, lest a finger be pointed at him in the future. Especially as he has no more of an official role at most CHAT schools than I have. And where he is a Chair of Governors, and so does have a role, it is a role he clearly ought not to have.

In any case it is difficult not to conclude that Mr Sowter's "resignation" forced upon him because the EFA believes him in breach of the law, amounts to a sham. And that the behaviours complained of by the EFA continue.

ADDENDUM

This part of the post has been removed at the request of a person, alleged by lawyers acting for Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust, to have supplied information used in this part of the post, and who, on that basis has been threatened with a suit for defamation, relating to this part of the post.
Without conceding that that person was the source of the information we have agreed to remove it. Nor do we by removing it concede that the text in question was defamatory.

NOTE ONE

Any suggestion that the identities of people posting on LSN can be established by a third party like CHAT is a fantasy. LSN do not disclose what little information they have. However it is true that if you do wish to post on LSN and keep your identity secret there are some precautions you should take. NEVER use a computer or device belonging to the school. If you post here using a mobile device do not take it into school. Always post from a private network, (like the one you have at home) or a cyber cafe. Never post from within the school network. These precautions are worth taking lest you leave evidence of your "nefarious" conduct on a machine that Cuckoo Hall can find a way of laying its hands on. And of course LSN allows you to use a pseudonym. Obviously do take care about disclosing any personal details that might lead to you being identified. But you know that.

I would also ask for commentators to take another kind of care. Some of the recent comments about Cuckoo Hall Academies trust, on this site, driven, I appreciate by very real (and justified) anger were tipping over into what could be regarded as mere personal abuse. Particularly if quoted in isolation. This has the disadvantage that the more reasoned and evidence based contributions, get drowned out, and their impact diminished by association. LSN has enemies anyway, who would be happy to discredit the site by selective quotation.

I do appreciate it is very difficult to keep personalities, and personal matters out of the argument. Easy for me to be preachy on this, as I have no personal contact with the players, However just saying that "X" is a horrible person, while this may be well known in your circle is just an assertion and not an argument. I very much hope the CHAT insiders will continue to participate on LSN but this is a gentle reminder of the limits that do need to be observed in a public, written medium. And where quotes could be taken out of context. There is a discussion of this here.

 
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Comments

Cuckoointhenest's picture
Wed, 06/05/2015 - 16:05

It's all true - quite incredibly.

And what were the parents told of the NQTs sudden departure? That she had left teaching to pursue a different career?

No, she's just a few (safe) miles away, happy, safe and valued in her new school.

Thank goodness that between her union and the borough there were fair-minded people who were willing to step in. Who will be next, and to what end?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 06/05/2015 - 17:23

"For superheads, acclaim from a senior politician often seems to spell trouble. Patricia Sowter, the executive head of the Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust in Enfield, was so admired by Gove that she’s quoted at length, in a special box, in his 2010 Education White Paper, on the subject of the ‘new academy freedoms’. In February, the EFA sent the trust a Notice to Improve letter after an investigation found irregularities in criminal-record checks, poorly managed conflicts of interest and a lot of ‘purchases from Ikea and high-end supermarkets’. ‘As with any organisation that grows rapidly,’ Sowter says in a little video on the Cuckoo Hall website, ‘sometimes it’s a struggle to make sure that back-office functions keep pace.’"

From 'Barely under Control', Jenny Turner on the privatisation of schools in London Review of Books, May 2015

Guest's picture
Wed, 06/05/2015 - 17:56

A truly appalling situation that beggars belief that it has not led to wide ranging formal coordinated investigation and action (e.g. DFE, Ofsted, EFA and charges laid through NCTL.


David P's picture
Wed, 06/05/2015 - 18:57

It is very easy to blame back-office functions and staff and deny any responsibility but we all know that this isn't true. Telling a lie to cover another lie leads to people getting caught out and that is why more and more staff are disappearing from work. Bullied, suspended and harassed so that they don't talk, don't question and are too scared to stand up for themselves. When a governor is on site everyday, in schools that they have no responsibility for then questions should be asked at the top level of the organisation....but wait...they are his friends and family and clearly don't believe what they are told. The DfE need to act now, Martin Post needs to act now, the parents need to ask questions about why so many of the staff they love are leaving from schools across the trust. Why would 3 head teachers have left or be leaving if there were no problems in the organisation?


David Barry's picture
Wed, 06/05/2015 - 22:20

A detail is that while Phil Sowter is Chair of Heron Hall, strictly in the case of the other of the two schools, Enfield Heights, there is no Board of Governors. After Enfield Heights got a "requires improvement" grade from OfSted last June, it was transferred by the DfE from CfBt who were running it, to CHAT. A decision, which given the recent "Notice to Improve" served on CHAT must seem less sound now.

CHAT dissolved the Governing Body entirely and replaced it with what they have chosen to call a "Rapid Improvement Board" appointed by them. The three key differences between this and an ordinary Governing Body are helpfully explained on the Enfield Heights website to be:-

1. That it will "put the necessary expertise and support in place to ensure that the school gets to where it wants to be – and quickly."

2. Is smaller, and able to meet much more frequently to supervise the improvement process than Governors could

3. Provides "intense strategic support"

And it is Phil Sowter who is appointed to the crucial, and no doubt time consuming role of Chair of this small body, on which his wife also serves.

staff's picture
Wed, 06/05/2015 - 23:12

We're not supposed to read this or comment on it, but we all do, and the word is getting round with parents too. We're also not supposed to socialise with ex staff members either, just in case we divulge any top secret information? Or maybe in case they tell us how they've been treated?.

It's ridiculous. If CHAT has nothing to hide why would they be bothered about anybody talking? 19 reports of bullying and/or negative behaviours (see EFA report) yet they don't seem to be taking anything on board. Let's not forget that there were similar accusations made two years ago too.

And as for Mr Sowter, I've seen him in meetings, in Mrs Ahmet's office and around the school (Cuckoo Hall) but I didn't realise that he wasn't a member of staff!

anon's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 07:23

The EFA report didn't simply find 'irregularities' in criminal record checks, it found evidence that the single central record had been amended during the Ofsted inspection last year. The relevant section of the report reads:-

'24. The investigation also looked at the allegation that the Single Central Register was
falsified during an Ofsted inspection. As set out above, the investigation found significant
disparities between the Cuckoo Hall Academy payroll data and the 30 June SCR on start
dates. In at least 25 cases, the SCR records show a start date post the receipt of DBS,
when payroll data show these individuals started prior to DBS clearance. In addition 26
records were deleted from the SCR, 17 of which had start dates prior to DBS checks. The fact that SCR start dates have been recorded as after the DBS checks or records deleted may suggest an attempt to conceal staff being employed without a DBS. This is
supported by evidence from 3 members of staff we interviewed, including staff involved in making the alleged amendments. Specifically, interviewees suggested that the changing of the records took place on 26 June 2014, after the first day of an Ofsted inspection and was done with the intention of showing start dates following receipt of DBS checks. The interview evidence from 3 members of staff is that letters of appointment were also amended on 26 June to correspond with the start dates in the revised SCR. The investigation team have seen 2 sets of appointment letters – one set corresponds with the payroll start dates and the other set with the 30 June SCR start dates.'

Patricia Sowter may like to blame 'back-office functions' for the appointment and start dates of staff before their checks were complete (although the manager of these 'back office' departments (Martin Hesketh), the Headteacher (Sharon Ahmet) and Chief Executive (Patricia Sowter) surely have overall responsibility for this?) but it beggars belief that the records could have been amended on such a scale without at least the knowledge of these senior leaders (staff involved may like to comment here on what actually led up to the falsification of records, although if they still work at CHAT their position may be compromised by revealing the truth).

And what has been the response of the Board? To completely exonerate Sharon Ahmet and Patricia Sowter (despite the evidence from the report). So who IS being held to account for deceiving Ofsted? Surely not the 'back-office' staff....

What kind of Board (who are supposed to hold the leaders to account) fails to act in the light of such overwhelming evidence? Was the decision made before or after Phil Sowter was reinstated? Perhaps Marino Charalambous (Chair) would like to confirm.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 08:46

It's understandable that discussion about CHAT focuses on the chain itself (eg EFA report, allegations of bullying and exam malpractice). But there is a wider concern. That is the influence Patricia Sowter has exerted nationally.

Sowter had been a high-profile supporter of the academies programme. She features in a DfE publicity brochure about academies; in a DfE promotional video; one of Gove’s first press releases and in many national newspapers (see here for one example). She was a favourite of Michael Gove (eg he and the PM have visited her schools; she’s one of Gove’s ‘Magnificent Seven’ and ‘Crusaders for Social Justice', she was awarded a CBE) - and supports ideas which he promoted (eg academisation, free schools, removing preparation time, Core Curriculum UK, KIPP schools). She was a member of the review of Teachers’ Standards and she was one of the ‘Leaders’ Stories’ published by the National College for Leadership in Schools and Children’s Services (this said Cuckoo Hall was in special measures when Sowter arrived, a claim which we know is not true).

Gove was not her only admirer – ex shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg also rated Sowter highly. Conor Ryan, former adviser to to Blair and Blunkett on education, said Gove needed teachers like her (he repeated the ‘special measures’ claim). Sowter gave evidence to the Education Bill Committee (in which she twice told MPs Cuckoo Hall was in special measures when she arrived).

She has had a disproportionate influence on education in England.











Cuckoointhenest's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 10:50

Janet, Patricia Sowter's influence is certainly strong and appears to be spreading. In March she called a meeting of all teachers at Cuckoo Hall and told them that she had a recent conversation with both Ceri Morgan (one of the DfE investigators who contributed to the EFA report) and Martin Post (regional schools' commisioner). She said that '....Ceri agreed with me today that it (the report) is totally misleading because it looks as though this did happen...' She went on to say that her and Sharon Ahmet's investigation involving a lawyer (into themselves) was going on and they (the allegations) are found to be false and that people actually lied. Hmmm... really? CHAT are refusing to respond to a FOI request to release the 'independent report' that the EFA report refers to so do we have to take her word for it? And is the 'independent report' and the above 'investigation involving a lawyer' one and the same? If so, it can hardly be called independent, as Mrs Sowter confirmed that it is hers and Mrs Ahmet's investigation.

She also stated that during a telephone conversation with Martin Post 'he said that he knew what a successful organisation we (CHAT) were... and that Martin Post was very sympathetic towards what we (Patricia Sowter and Sharon Ahmet) were going through'.

In the same meeting she stated that the EFA have no evidence of bullying, which is not true - they have plenty (19 instances of bullying or negative behaviours, and evidence (disputed by CHAT) that some policies were not complied with).

It was very disheartening for the teachers who gave evidence to the DfE, and for others who were too afraid to come forward, to hear that senior staff involved within the DfE were (according to Mrs Sowter) displaying such a lack of impartiality. The DfE were informed of these comments but have not responded. I'm not sure whether this is because both Martin Post and Ceri Morgan feel entitled to demonstrate support for Patricia Sowter, or whether they didn't say anything of the sort have been told that these statements were not made. Whatever the reason it makes staff feel that their very significant concerns and negative experiences are being dismissed and hence the second mass exodus of staff in two years.

For inofrmation, there were a number of people present taking a record of the meeting - this is considered essential practice amongst staff - and evidence could be provided if necessary.

Guest's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 18:33

"CHAT are refusing to respond to a FOI request to release the ‘independent report’ that the EFA report refers to". Have you thought of reporting the refusal to the Information Commissioner's Office:

https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-freedom-of-information/com...

Cuckoointhenest's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 21:17

A request for an internal review has been submitted as their initial response was to say that it 'wasn't in the public interest' to release the report. I think the public would be very interested....

Thank you for the link - I am sure that the person submitting the request will see it here.

staff's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 21:37

Mr Sowter was 'in the building' today (Cuckoo). We'll keep you posted on how often he comes in, just in case he forgets to use his entry fob which will keep a record of days in a school he has no authority/remit over.


Cuckoointhenest's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 22:35

Selected teachers (some who haven't even handed in their notice) have been scheduled for exit interviews this week, in the presence of a lawyer. Why? Where is the HR manager who we all knew well and trusted? Why are they conducting exit interviews so early on?

Some staff are concerned that they will use the feedback to decide on who to target next.

What we need to be clear about is that staff should be INVITED to and OFFERED an exit interview, not 'required' to attend. In many schools staff are usually also invited to state who they would like to have the interview with (so that it can be with somebody they know and trust which encourages honest feedback).

Keep your union informed of what's being asked of you, don't attend if you don't want to, ask for a supporter to attend with you if you'd like a witness or note-taker and/or make notes of what you want to say before you go to the meeting, and hand a copy of these to the lawyer just in case their memory of the meeting differs from yours.

Let's all keep talking, share notes and post our experiences (from the safety of an internet cafe) here.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 22:59

Much as I love "outing" bad practice , insinuations of malfeasance etc etc I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable at this formation of a CHAT staff branch of "Anonymous".

I understand the process of whistleblowing and feel for the staff who believe themselves to be under duress ; however anonymous blogging of incidents within the school to public forums is unprofessional and can only be contributing ( greatly) to the unhappiness within the school at all levels. What staff may feel is harassment may be the SLT's attempts to manage professionalism amongst staff...;the Union certainly seems to have everything in hand and witnessed in terms of HR transgressions . SLTs , unless criminal, need to be able to trust their staffs professionalism and confidentiality...what would staff think if Sowter & Co. had a blog slagging staff off ?
It must be horrible for parents and pupils to find their school under such negative duress.

At the end of the day this is a primary school not an oil company

David Barry's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 23:14

I have to say that involving a lawyer in exit interviews is a most unusual move. Expensive also.


David Barry's picture
Thu, 07/05/2015 - 23:23

Rosie

I would point out, that as Janet Downs has documented and I refer to in my post "Sowter &co" have actually slagged off staff already. And because of the power relation have been able to do so without seeking the protection of anonymity.

I dont know where you get the impression that the "Union" has everything in hand. The power of unions in this matter are extremely limited.

I agree that it must be horrible for parents and staff to find their school under "negative duress" but are you suggesting that the Board of an Academy Trust should be completely above criticism, because criticism negative? Surely not.

In any case the most trenchant criticisms have been made by the EFA and by the outgoing local MP.

Yet as nothing has been done, and as it is reliably reported that any member of staff who expresses a criticism openly suffers a sanction, it is easy to see why they speak out anonymously. At least until they have managed to exit CHAT.

Karen's picture
Fri, 08/05/2015 - 05:32

19 cases of bullying and negative behaviour according to the report. Rosie, this is not simply a case of SLT trying to manage professionalism. And more are disappearing. honest comments are posted on here as matter of urgency not in spite.


Parent's picture
Fri, 08/05/2015 - 14:33

I am a year 5 parent who has heard from Mrs Ahmet that the teacher who left had been bullying the children, and that when she resigned, the resignation was 'mutual' yet the story here seems to suggest something else. Very concerned.


Cuckoointhenest's picture
Fri, 08/05/2015 - 19:31

Don't listen to the stories they tell about good and honest staff who are forced to leave. Did your child ever complain of being bullied? No. The teachers are generally wonderful but are fed up with being lied to, lied about and victimised.

If you recall, they tried to damage the reputation of teachers who left two years ago and are doing the same again. (look at the comments below this article - it's becoming a familiar story at CHAT http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/dec/17/education-failing-prima... )

Talk to the other year 5 teachers - they won't have a bad word to say about the teacher who left. This has gone too far: how many more professional lives need to be ruined before they put their hands up to the mistakes they've made and leave? How much are they spending on lawyers?

Ask Mrs Ahmet what has happened to the whistleblowers. Ask her how many have left or been suspended. It's a disgrace.

Cuckoointhenest's picture
Fri, 08/05/2015 - 19:49

While you're speaking to Mrs Ahmet, ask her how many teachers are leaving this year and why they are leaving. Lawyers are holding exit interviews so there should be a nice expensive report for parents to request to see (under the freedom of information act).

Ask for it before the end of term though, so that you can check that the teachers recognise the comments. Or approach your child directly and ask them:

Are you leaving?
Are you unhappy?
Have you witnessed or been the victim of bullying?
Have you ever been lied to by SLT in CHAT?
Have you been asked to lie about your right to non-contact time, or do you know people who have been asked?

The odd few will be able to state that they are happy. Some may be brave enough to answer 'yes'. If a teacher says 'I'm not allowed to tell you', or something along those lines, take it that the answer is 'yes' but they are (understandably) frightened to tell you the truth.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Fri, 08/05/2015 - 20:31

thanks David....I understand the keep talking and sharing of notes but its the extension of the effect of indiscrimate unmoderated public postings that concern me. { well would if I wasn't too devastated by the election results!]


David Barry's picture
Fri, 08/05/2015 - 22:10

Although comments are not moderated when they are made, when it is judged that a comment goes "over the line" it can be post moderated. I refer you to the last two paragraphs of my post above. Essentially the point is that this is a good forum on which to share information and fair comment, but that some restraint is needed in expression.


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 08:33

David - you're right that restraint is needed however frustrated individuals may feel. Anecdotal evidence can't be proved. It's essential that comments contain links to verifiable evidence. The EFA report, for example, made public the allegations about bullying. This was followed by the unhelpful advice that the trust should investigate. This is asking the trust to investigate itself in this case.

There should be a fully independent investigation into these allegations of bullying. I have written to the new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to ask her to set up an independent inquiry into these allegations. I reminded her the last MP for Enfield North, Nick De Bois (Conservative), had written to her before the election expressing concerns about CHAT.

In the meantime, parents and staff who have concerns about CHAT can write to their new MP, Joan Ryan (Labour).

CORRECTION 15.37 - Nicky Morgan hasn't been made Education Secretary as I thought (careless reading of BBC article). She will be surprised, no doubt, to read my email addressing her as such. I'll email whoever becomes SoS about Cuckoo Hall when I know the identity of the new SoS.

Guest's picture
Sat, 09/05/2015 - 17:22

If I assume that the only staff involved with these interviews are those that have secured a position elsewhere and are leaving CHAT then following factors cannot be ignored:

1. Those colleagues have their references called for either as part of the shortlisting process or prior to being called forward for interview or they were sought immediately after being offered the position. In the case of the latter to the best of my understanding it would be a clear breach of employment law to withhold a reference until a forced exit interview/survey was completed (e.g. hold the outgoing colleague to ransom over their reference). This would be compounded if the exit process also included any form of confidentiality or gagging order.

2. No employee can be forced to attend an exit interview or complete an exit survey or be forced to sign a confidentiality/gagging order about their time at CHAT. Schools are not subject to the official secrets act nor do they their activities embrace commercially confidential operations.

3. Any employee attending such a meeting has the right to be accompanied (e.g. by a friend, work colleague, union representative). If CHAT are using a legal representative at such meetings then any colleague agreeing to attend is entitled to have their own legal representative in attendance too.

Put another way the alleged CHAT situation would explode in their faces if colleagues followed standard protocols (including involving their unions and for those not in a union seeking legal advice - paid or via CAB).

David Barry's picture
Mon, 11/05/2015 - 19:21

I have never heard of lawyers being used for exit interviews. I really cannot see what the point would be. Am I missing something?


agov's picture
Tue, 12/05/2015 - 11:58

David - Presumably they would record any comments made by staff. Should anything be said that could be defamatory then potentially staff could be threatened and perhaps individuals might then choose to sign a non-disclosure agreement.


Cuckoointhenest's picture
Tue, 12/05/2015 - 20:40

A FOI request on how much money has been spent on compromise agreements over the last few years could be interesting. CHAT do not like people talking and appear to do all they can to ensure silence (A FOI request on how much has been spent on legal 'advice' could prove interesting too).

You're right, agov... potentially another tact could be to threaten staff into silence.

Why are they so afraid of people talking? Is there something to hide?

Staff's picture
Tue, 12/05/2015 - 21:47

I see the lawyers in school every day. Is it normal for schools to be using lawyers this much? Why are they using lawyers every day? Perhaps some management could comment here and let us all know.


David Barry's picture
Tue, 12/05/2015 - 21:55

I have placed an FOI to the Trust which includes the question:

"10. Please state the total fees paid for lawyers between 24 August
2010 and end March 2015, and the sub totals for each firm."

This request, if not answered (which of course it has not been yet) becomes overdue on the 14 May...

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 13/05/2015 - 07:53

Staff - according the report into three CHAT academies by the Schools Adjudicator, CHAT used solicitors to challenge an complaint made to the Adjudicator about admission criteria. The complaint was upheld despite solicitors' (expensive?) involvement.

CHAT had been challenged on giving priority to children from nurseries attached to its schools. This was forbidden under the Code. There were precedents which showed the Adjudicator had ruled against several schools which had done this. It's unclear why CHAT should have hired solicitors to fight the complaint when so many schools had already been censured for doing what it was doing.


agov's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 06:55

Cuckoo - Conversely, should staff not say anything critical at an exit interview then conceivably they could be attacked should they subsequently make any criticism on the grounds of not having raised it while they were employees. Perhaps the best option would be to decline to make any comment at any exit interview.


Emma's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 10:27

I have noticed that your post has been amended twice due to lawyers' involvement?

The NQTs tale was true - I work there and saw her dramatic fall from grace play out after she (very professionally) tried to deal with a disagreement with one of the deputy heads. From being an outstanding teacher she was suddenly under scrutiny and the same deputy started to try to solicit negative comments about her from other staff members. This was mostly unsuccessful as she was well respected but I think someone came up with a vague nasty comment about her which another adult said was untrue.

She was called into meetings and reappeared in tears, was berated publicly (again by the same deputy) and I saw Mrs Ahmet and Mr Sowter visit her classroom (I followed them along the corridor and I wondered what they were up to); I still don't know what they were doing there as she wouldn't say but they didn't visit any other classrooms and he has no right to be there. If you haven't worked there you will have no idea just how scared you would feel to have these two appear unannounced to watch you at work. Mrs Ahmet very rarely visits classes.

In just a couple of months she went from being a happy, committed and professional teacher to a nervous wreck, often in tears. We saw all the sudden classroom visits and meetings and the affect these had on her and tried to support her but she didn't want to tell us what was happening.

I'm sorry that I didn't speak up for her and others are too but we were/are all afraid of being on the receiving end of similar treatment. I've heard that she's at another Enfield school and doing well but Mrs Ahmet first told parents that she had left teaching and now says she was bullying children - this is FALSE and is a disgusting thing to say.

NQT - if you read this I'm sorry I didn't help you, but if a parent asks me about you I will tell them the truth.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 13:08

It seems Cuckoo Hall has been censured by the Advertising Standards Authority again. The ASA says two complaints have been 'informally resolved' this year: one on 11 March 2015 and another on 6 May 2015.

The full reasons weren't given because the complaints were 'informally resolved'. I know the first was to do with Cuckoo Hall claiming on its website that the school was Inadequate 14 years ago when it wasn't, but what was the second?

Cuckoo Hall 'informally resolved' a complaint against it in October 2012 for saying the school had been in special measures in 2002. But we know (and the ASA knows) the school emerged from special measures in 1999.




David Barry's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 14:08

@Emma

There has been no approach to LSN by lawyers. The text was amended by an LSN editor, at my request. I requested it as the original writer of the post. This was because I had been reliably informed that an individual, I will not for obvious reasons identify, had received an approach which they understood to be a threat of legal action. The relevant issue was a claim that person was in some way responsible for the full content of those two parts of the post. Actually that individual was NOT so responsible, (I wrote the whole thing). The individual being unused (as most normal people are) to litigation - and how belligerent and threatening a lawyers "letter before action" can appear, if indeed that was what they got - I have not seen it- was very distressed. So they asked for that bit to be removed to reduce the pressure they were experiencing,

Now I could have just said "no".

I could have said that if CHAT want something taken down they should ask me direct. I could have reiterated my invitation to CHAT to get in touch with corrections if they want any made, or for that matter exercise a "right of reply"

However I did not think that that bit of my post was important enough for a third party to suffer distress, so on this occasion I did ask the LSN editors to kindly take it down.

Of course this is in no way a precedent for the future. But it seemed, on balence, the reasonable thing to do in the circumstances.

But please note we have NOT been approached by lawyers, which is, of course, a "neutral fact" from which nothing should be inferred...

cuckoointhenest's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 15:19

They were claiming (on their recruitment page) that the school (cuckoo hall) is outstanding, but said that this was an oversight and the webpage has now been amended.

Interestingly, they are now advertising for a new Headteacher at Woodpecker but not for one at Kingfisher, where Jack Sowter has been re-interviewed and re-appointed for the post of deputy (you will recall that the DfE report was pretty damning about his initial appointment (and others) because of what many could perceive to be a 'conflict of interest'.

No doubt the governors and board, when carefully considering how to be a little more circumspect in officially recruiting for the post after the report was published, thought carefully about how to encourage the strongest field possible so that there could be no further allegations of nepotism. Oh no, silly me, they advertised internally only, received just one application and after what I'm sure was a rigorous process, appointed Patricia Sowter's son.

Will the appointment of the Head be as transparent and seamless? Rumour is that the Head at Enfield Heights (previously a deputy for a whole year so 'experienced') will take over at Kingfisher and Jack will be appointed Head at Enfield Heights. Who knows what will happen at Woodpecker - there are names in the frame for this post but this will leave the Cuckoo Hall headteacher lacking in support.

Watch this space for the list of teachers leaving.....

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 15:52

Taken together with the other threads on Cuckoo Hall, I feel the coverage of this topic has been a bit one-sided. In real life, as opposed to fairy tales, there are seldom absolute Goodies and Baddies and these situations feature multiple shades of grey. That's why it is important to exercise a little imaginative empathy - even towards people you might find unattractive at first blush.

Let me be clear: I have never met the Sowters or Mrs Ahmet and know nothing about Cuckoo Hall beyond what I have read here and in documents and websites David Barry has linked to.

But it strikes me, reading between the lines, than an alternative narrative is possible. (I am NOT saying what follows DID happen, just that it seems possible.......). That alternative narrative might go something like this:

1. Before last November there were no negative stories about Cuckoo Hall doing the rounds. The school was popular with parents and the school had encountered no problem recruiting. Indeed, it had become a training school with links to several universities.

2. Then there was a review of some safety aspects that uncovered alarming problems to do with fire safety. These were so serious that at one point it was touch-and-go whether the school might have to close for several days. In the end, the Executive Head decided to bring disciplinary charges against one of the premises staff. As it happened, that member of staff was the ex-husband of the Trust's Chair.

3. Whether because of the impending disciplinary charges or for some other, unconnected reason, relations between the Chair and the Sowters + Mrs Ahmet broke down. Indeed, the Chair suspended all three and then sent a list of allegations to the DFE or EFA.

4. The EFA investigated and found that there had been breaches - some serious, some more technical. The Trust then launched its own investigation into those breaches, carried out by an independent law firm. The conclusion was that the three suspended individuals: Patricia Sowter, Phil Sowter and Sharon Ahmet were not personally guilty of any of the findings of wrongdoing. The board duly reinstated them. The Chair, Andry Efthymiou either quit or was removed - accounts differ.

5. How can this be? Well, possibly like this: EFA found that the proper conflict of interest procedures had not been followed when appointing family members. Who should carry the can? Well, arguably responsibility for ensuring the Board follows what is in the articles of association + funding agreement lies with the Chair. So that could have been an own goal for the Chair. EFA also found irregularities with DBS checks. So long as the appropriate policies and processes were in place, you could say the senior management and Trust had discharged their jobs properly but maybe an admin person or HR person or someone dealing with NQTs had screwed up.

6. As for bullying: what if there had been NO allegations made before the suspensions and all 19 cases suddenly emerged at once? EFA said these were for the Trust to investigate and it seems the investigation found no case to answer. (I must say there has been a lot of windy accusation on the LSN threads but scant evidence or detail. I missed the NQT tale that has been removed, so all I have to go on are assertions that Mrs Ahmet is sometimes rude, Mr Sowter can be a bit shouty, and ......Emma's I saw Mrs Ahmet and Mr Sowter visit her classroom (I followed them along the corridor and I wondered what they were up to); I still don’t know what they were doing there - , which could just be a mundane Learning Walk or lesson observation! If there are NO proven cases at Employment Tribunal, ZERO cases pending at tribunal and no real evidence that the staff turnover is way higher than in comparable teaching schools relying heavily on NQTs, then there is no case at all for the DfE to intervene... is there?

Where is the hard evidence against the named individuals?

Acuckoo's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 18:41

Hmm, you don't know the school? You have never met the Sowter's? Really?
In response to the above:
1. Yes there were and these have been widely documented and discussed here. A very similar situation occurred two years ago, accusations of bullying, mass walk out and compromise agreements. Look here for a small taster (see comments) http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/dec/17/education-failing-prima... . Hence the large number of NQTs at Cuckoo Hall last September (16. In one school.)
2.Who has ultimate responsibility for health and safety? The head? Why have they accepted no responsibility and why was this not uncovered until the need for an expensive review?
3. Other allegations came to light including a formal grievance against Mrs Ahmet and Mrs Sowter (which wasn't investigated but the member of staff who took out the grievance was sacked 6 weeks later), the statements of children that some teachers cheated during the SATs tests and the falsification of HR records during the Ofsted inspection (see DfE report).
4. The results of the trust's own investigation have not been released despite a FOI request and appeal. Since then, Mrs Sowter has also launched her own investigation. Why would she need to do this if the Trust's first one was thorough? What is the focus of her investigation and are whistleblowers being targeted?
5. This is simply tosh. It wasn't just that people had been appointed without DBS checks but that records were falsified during the Ofsted inspection. It is a nonsense to suggest that the chair could solely carry the can for the appointment of Mr and Mrs Sowter's son and the fake HR records, and a nonsense to suggest that the admin and HR staff should be blamed.
6. There have been allegations, before and since November. Mr Sowter's role within the Trust was questioned in the DfE report so for him to walk into a Cuckoo Hall classroom (remembering that he is no longer a trustee and not a governor there either) is most irregular, especially as it just happened to be the classroom of an NQT who had complained to the DfE and to Istip. As the Trust has such a high turnover of staff and one is not covered by employment law there is no right to appeal against unfair dismissal so the only option is to leave. Hence another mass walkout this summer.

Thank you 'Barry' for providing me with the opportunity to respond to your statements.

Alice's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 19:56

Oh dear, we'll have to call you Barry UNwise won't we? When we look at who you are, to say that you 'have never met the Sowters or Mrs Ahmet' does seem a bit laughable.....
If you are such a keen follower of LSN then you would already have been aware of the links to the previous staffing crisis of 2012/13 - shame you haven't done your homework properly 'Barry'.
So, let's have a look at your comments shall we?
1. Incorrect I'm afraid Barry. Try reading the comment from Acuckoo and follow the link.
2. Incorrect I'm afraid Barry. When all the senior staff sat down and looked at the report for themselves there were three minor items that needed to be looked at. (If only Sharon had shown senior staff the original report and given them a copy instead of taking one copy to the Headteachers' meeting and refusing to send it out electronically) If it was really that serious that seems rather an odd thing to do.
3. Incorrect I'm afraid Barry. The reasons for the suspensions were for allegations of gross misconduct related to cheating, bullying and lying.
4. Incorrect I'm afraid Barry. No one apart from the Board and the suspended individuals (oh...and the 'legal team') has seen the report. Phill Sowter's cronies reinstated him and he then was part of the panel who reinstated his own wife and her friend.
5. Incorrect again I'm afraid Barry. Difficult for the chair to be accountable when the 'interviews' of family members and personal friends of the Sowters are not out in the open.
No screw up with admin, HR or the NQT tutor - just people with a moral purpose asking questions that the Sowters didn't want to hear.
6. I'm afraid Barry that you're incorrect yet again. Rather more than 'windy' accusations. Three Headteachers gone or going, sixteen or more qualified teachers leaving Cuckoo Hall this summer.
If a trust is spending in excess of fifteen thousand a month on legal fees to support its crumbling empire it must be quite difficult to get your case to tribunal. What IS interesting however is the fact that four of the big teaching unions and two of the non- teaching unions have plenty of factual information about what's going on at CHAT.
The thing is 'Barry' that you know as well as I do what's going on at Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust but the difference is that you have no morals and I have.

Staff's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 21:06

If they are spending this amount of money on legal fees per month, then it's no wonder that when people make requests to try new ideas ms Ahmet tells them 'we don't have the budget.' This is what is currently happening. The poor children. Well said Alice! There is something to be said for having morals. For treating people with dignity and respect. For listening and caring. For putting the children first.


Staff's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 21:09

Oh and quick question 'barry'. Why is it that cuckoo hall 'rely heavily on nqt's?' I would love a response on this one!


Staff's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 21:19

I'm just asking since I may have been under the impression that a school who would want to employ a lot of nqt's, may be hoping that through a rigorous training programme they stay teaching within the school. In this way, management would rest safe in the knowledge that they have been trained in the best way possible. Except I believe almost all of last years nqt's are leaving.


Guest454's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 22:47

Cuckoo Hall has 30 teachers not including SMT staff. Over 20 teachers are leaving. That is worrying in itself. Original whistle blowers have all been suspended or sacked. Lawyers in school every day. Headteachers from the other schools leaving. Speak to anyone working there in private and they will all say they are disgruntled with the SMT. I feel worst for the children who will lose all consistency with there education. This school is more like eastenders than a place to learn.


David Barry's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 23:12

@Barry

As you will have noticed from the reaction to your post, there is a lot of emotion about regarding CHAT and I think this is a factor that needs to be taken into account. So, in a way having to some degree crossed swords with you in the past (but It hasnt always been argument - I recall you adding useful information in the past which did help to keep the debate grounded - it was some comments in connect with Whitehall Park School and the legal framework for Free Schools...) I find myself defending you to a degree. You challange, and why not? You seek to establish an alternative narrative based on the same facts as you see them, as those facts I have based my own notes on.

There have been some detailed responses now rejecting your points, put in some cases rather forcefully so I will stick to two points, a general one, and a specific one:-

1. The evidence is very clear that there is something seriously wrong at CHAT. We know this from a number of sources - the most definitive and authoritative one available being the EFA report. For that reason without prejudging whose fault any of this is, would you be willing to support Janet Downs' call for an Independent Inquiry as to what is going on?

2.The " hard evidence " against Mr Sowter is contained in the EFA report. This report would have to be the starting point of any inquiry. The issue I was seeking to highlight is that he has been found by the EFA to have been in serious breach regarding the conflict of interest issue, and to have unlawfully benefited financially from being a Charity Trustee. It is reasonable to infer that this is why he stepped down as a Trustee. In which case his continued De Facto involvement with CHAT is deeply concerning as it gives the appearance of evading the practical consequences of the EFA's finding.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 23:29

Readers of this site may be interested to know that I submitted some FOI requests to CHAT over a period of time. The first was due to be answered today.

They have responded today by:-

1.Aggregating all my requests into a single one as they were made within a 60 day period, which is certainly something they are allowed to do in law.

2. Then counting the requests in such a way as to make it look as If I am making a very large number, with each part of a request being treated as if it were a full request.

3. Declaring answering my requests as too expensive by way of an absurdly inflated estimate of cost.

4. Declaring my requests to be vexatious.

David Barry's picture
Thu, 14/05/2015 - 23:32

In my view this response strengthens further the need for an independent inquiry to establish, amongst other things, the facts I was looking for.


Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 15/05/2015 - 01:24

@ David Barry


Yes, some of the reactions to my post do seem emotionally charged. Indeed, some people have come up with frankly paranoid suggestions that I am an agent of the Sowters or even maybe the Sowters themselves!. As you and Janet Downs know, I am a regular contributor of comments on the full range of topics at LSN and have been commenting at this site since the beginning of the 2013/14 academic year. I genuinely have no connection with the Sowters and have never even been to Enfield in my life. Honest! It occurs to me of course that if people are inclined to fling totally wild and untrue allegations at me (a total stranger) then why should I believe any of their accusations about their bosses? It hardly makes them very credible, does it?

But let's take some detailed points raised. Alice at 7.56 says I am "incorrect" to describe the fire safety audit's conclusions as serious and takes issue with my point 2. Yet my source for this was the EFA report itself. Para 26 says This audit raised significant safety concerns, particularly in relation to fire safety. Para 28 says ...she had taken immediate action on the day of receiving the audit to address the most serious risk which was flammable substances being stored in the boiler room.

Alice then says my point 3. is "incorrect" yet it too is based on what is in the report. See point 1 of the Executive summary and para 47 relating to the former chair of the Trust's possible conflict of interest relating to pending disciplinary charges.

And so it goes on. I could go through everything I wrote again giving chapter and verse, but it might just be easier if people read the EFA report carefully.

David, I'm afraid you ought to do that too as I think you have seriously misinterpreted one bit. You say of Mr Sowter: he has been found by the EFA to have been in serious breach regarding the conflict of interest issue, and to have unlawfully benefited financially from being a Charity Trustee. Really? I can't find anything in the report that stands that up. Where does it say Phil Sowter personally benefited financially or was paid? Nor does the report even say Phil Sowter was wrong to be a Trustee - in fact, at para 49 it says his role is "not prohibited".

In my point 5 I suggested that although EFA found that proper conflict of interest procedures had not taken place, they were not directly blaming any of the three suspended individuals. Having re read the appropriate sections I am even more convinced I'm right in saying that the criticism is of the Trust (and by implication the Chair) for failing to ensure the procedures stipulated in the Articles of Association were carried out. This is spelled out at para 34.

Cutting to the chase: no, I don't think Janet's inquiry is appropriate just yet. The EFA report sparked a change of Trustees and the appointment of a new chair. There was a governance crisis, but it could be that the new team have solved it. Fair dealing requires they be given reasonable time to try.

cuckoointhenest's picture
Fri, 15/05/2015 - 08:38

Barry, how much time do you suggest is given? And at what cost? There is significant union involvement with the school at present (of course those involved cannot openly complain of bullying as they will be accused of unprofessionalism and be put on a charge of gross misconduct), staff have left mid term and many more will be leaving in the summer.

You say we should give the new trustees time, but isn't the fact that they are refusing to release the 'independent' investigation a concern to you? Do you not think it unusual that staff are questioned by lawyers about who they don/do not socialise with and speak to?

Isn't it enough that there was an attempt to hide the discrepancies in the single central record from Ofsted? This was NOT an act of 'backroom' staff and surely you can see how ridiculous such a claim is.

I have made it quite clear before, while everyone procrastinates, the whistleblowers who presented evidence (including the falsification of HR records during Ofsted) are being pursued, systematically and relentlessly. Staff are not even safe once they have handed their notice in and people 'disappear' without reason or notice.

The evidence you request (in addition to the DfE report) cannot be forthcoming until they are safely away from that place, without having to sign 'compromise agreement'. Ask yourself: why keep staff silent? Why refuse to respond to FOI requests?

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 15/05/2015 - 09:17

cuckoointhenest

1. This was NOT an act of ‘backroom’ staff and surely you can see how ridiculous such a claim is.

The EFA report specifically says it WAS an act carried out by backroom staff. At Para 24 it says:

This is supported by evidence from 3 members of staff we interviewed, including staff involved in making the alleged amendments. Specifically, interviewees suggested that the changing of the records took place on 26 June 2014, after the first day of an Ofsted inspection ... {my emphasis}

Para 21 suggests DBS checks were delegated to HR staff:

In interviews, the executive head, the head at Cuckoo Hall Academy, and the deputy head at Cuckoo Hall Academy stated an Ofsted inspector identified issues with a couple of records as part of an inspection in June 2014. .... The interview evidence from the head of Cuckoo Hall was that she was reassured by HR in both these cases children had not been at risk and proper processes had been followed. {my emphasis}.

2. You ask: isn’t the fact that they are refusing to release the ‘independent’ investigation a concern to you?
Truth is - I'm not sure. Yes transparency is generally a good thing, but it could be that you only get to the bottom of things and have people speak freely if there is some guarantee of confidentiality. Ultimately that's a matter for the Trust to decide.

As for the fact that there are lots of staff leaving - that may be a good thing in the long run for the kids. Relations between the SLT and some staff have clearly been poisoned and there is too little trust for them to be repaired. Maybe it is beter for all for those staff to go off and make a fresh start elsewhere and new teachers to start at CH.

As for how much time - I would think it sensible for the new Regional Schools Commissioner to check things out at the beginning of the next academic year - September/October time and give EFA a heads up if problems are persisting or the commissioner thinks the Trust is unable to resolve them without extra help.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 15/05/2015 - 12:00

Barry - the responsibility for safeguarding is ultimately with the Governors. As Ofsted said, 'Although they can demonstrate that pupils are not at risk, governors have not carried out their duty with sufficient diligence to ensure that administrative safeguarding requirements have been documented comprehensively.'

Note: 'governors have not carried out their duty...'. Perhaps they should acknowledge this instead of blaming backroom staff.

There have been 19 directors of CHAT since its inception. 3 remain. Marinos Charalambous has been a director since July 2011, Professor Anthony O'hear since July 2012 and Donald Graham since September 2012. These are not new directors but ones who have been involved with CHAT from early on.

Mr Charalambous, CHAT's Chair, wrote to parents on 14 January 2015 saying an investigation had cleared Patricia Sowter and Sharon Ahmet of wrongdoing. It included a tribute to them by Dr Graham. Yet these directors are the ones who are supposed to investigate allegations of bullying. It is difficult to see how they could be impartial after such a partisan letter. It's essential, therefore, than an independent inquiry be set up.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 15/05/2015 - 12:11

You say there were no negative stories about Cuckoo Hall before the EFA report. This is not true. Articles have appeared on this site since December 2012 showing Ms Sowter's claim that she had turned round Cuckoo Hall from special measures was untrue. Cuckoo Hall had emerged from special measures in 1999, three years before Sowter arrived in 2002. And the last Ofsted when Mr R Allen was head said Cuckoo Hall was a good school.

Yet this claim was made by Michael Gove in the London Standard and Ms Sowter had even made it to the Education Bill Committee. Someone, somewhere must have know this claim was false. But no-one said anything. Were CHAT's governors ignorant of this even after the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint about the 'special measures' claim on Cuckoo Hall's website? Were the staff unaware? Did DfE officials not know?

These questions, and many others, need urgent answers.


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