A protective mask and a gag are different things: Free Speech, Whitehall Park School, and Asbestos.

David Barry's picture
 1

Part two of two (part one is here)

At the end of March Islington received  a formal  complaint of  serious misconduct by me. The complainant was a person who knew that if a way could be found to bring a complaint under the Public Interest Disclosure Act (“whistle Blowing”), then the complainant would be able to be anonymous with their identity protected by law.

So all I can know about them is:

 (1) That they stated that they were a person "acting on behalf of the parents of Whitehall Park School" (So, if you are a Whitehall Park parent reading this blog did you know about this? Were they indeed acting on your behalf?)

(2) That they assumed when they wrote the complaint that it would have to be considered and investigated by Islington Council because they thought that education in Islington is "run" by Islington Council. They thought that as I am an Islington School Governor, and also sit on the Islington School's Forum I was an "office holder" under Islington. This was why they thought they could bring the complaint using whistle blowing legislation.

(3)  It is also possible to infer that they  had legal advice which raises the issue of who paid, if the advice  not pro bono.  The full text of the complaint is a word document eleven pages along. Obviously I can only use edited highlights here, but if anyone would like a full copy, contact me through this site with an email address and I will send it to you.

THE COMPLAINT...

...relates to  posts,  on social media of which the Local Schools Network is named together with others. (Footnote 1)

It states  I have

"initiated and maintained a substantial online campaign against Whitehall Park School"

 and goes on to argue:

" David Barry’s behaviour online contravenes Ashmount School’s own governors code of conduct and calls into question his ability to fulfil his role objectively on the Islington Schools' forum in which members have a responsibility to ".. represent the interests of their peer group rather than the interests of their own individual school.”  We would also suggest that points (f) and (h) of Islington’s own Internet acceptable use policy are of relevance in this case along with the London Grid for Learning Acceptable use agreement"

Consequently:

We would therefore ask that you (Islington Council) ensure that:

(1)     Mr. Barry is aware of the responsibilities of his official roles and appropriately trained if not;

(2)    Insist that he refrain from further social media posting about Whitehall Park School;  

(3)    That the most inflammatory and inaccurate posts... are removed.

(4)    Islington and Mr. Barry actively work to repair the reputational damage caused by such a volume of negative posts strongly influencing Google search results for Whitehall Park School."

THE OUTCOME

It is not at all clear what jurisdiction if any Islington Council actually had in this matter.  Despite  what the complainant  appears to think, Islington Council has no power to instruct a school governor of an Islington School to carry out any particular course of action. (Contrast the position of a Governor at Whitehall Park School who is indeed subject to the Board of Bellevue Place Trust). Nor of course has Islington Council any power over an elected member of the Islington Schools’ Forum, a body set up statutorily to be independent of the Council. Islington Council cannot "insist" I do anything. (In the same way anything I write is in a personal capacity and not in any way as a "representative" of the Council.)

So the accusation having been made, and as one senior Islington politician put it to me, the groundwork laid for a smear, how was I to clear my name?

The solution was to for me to ask to be fully investigated by Ashmount School on the one hand and Islington Schools Forum on the other. This has been done, interviews have taken place, written submissions made, and the outcome is that I have not been found to commit any breach of any disciplinary code. THE COMPLAINT IS COMPLETELY DISMISSED.

THE ASBESTOS THING

So, you may well ask apart from demonstrating that my posts about Whitehall Park School here on LSN  have clearly struck a  nerve, what bearing does this have on the asbestos problem?

Well it would appear the complainant   carried out an investigation into the activities of a  member of  Mumsnet.

MUMSNET

For those who do not know it Mumsnet is "one of the UK's largest websites for parents. It hosts discussion forums where users share peer-to-peer advice and information on parenting, products and many other issues."

Parents participate by registering themselves and choosing a nickname or pseudonym under which they can then post comments.  Mostly people make up the nickname, do not post under their real name, and do not reveal their real identity.  It is felt anonymity aids people who are seeking advice.  It also has the advantage, as a member  put it that "people are judged by what they say, not who they are."  "Outing" a poster by identifying their real name, from perhaps something they have posted, is regarded as bad form.  In short there is nothing sinister or underhand in a poster not identifying themselves on this site.  It is the usual practice.  Members of the site are in great majority women, graduates and with young children.

Not surprisingly education is much discussed. When Nicky Morgan wrote for Mumsnet, Janet Downs discussed the outcome here.

There is a whole section for Primary Education,nd individual schools are often discussed.  Every year in the autumn before the admissions deadline the merits of different schools are debated and after offer day there is a further flurry about waiting lists etc.

On the 16 April 2014 a new thread was started. This was called "been offered brand new free school or last choice."  While the Free School in question was another one being set up by BPET, most of it ended up being about Whitehall Park. T he thread is still live with the most recent message being posted on the 1st June 2016. There are 405 messages and, if you are a reasonably fast reader, the whole thing is a rather intriguing document. (All mumsnet posts are public and free to read by anyone on the Internet.)

There are some people posting on this thread who have three characteristics in common. They only post on Mumsnet threads relating to Whitehall Park School, of which there are now several.  They declare themselves to be parents of children at the school and they express a very high opinion of the school as a learning environment for their children.  They tend to be hostile towards any criticism of Whitehall Park School and some of these posts  were forceful enough  to be deleted by Mumsnet moderators.

Another poster on this thread is called “nlondondad.”  It would appear the complainant  has carried out an investigation of the Mumsnet member "nlondondad" which would seem to have involved them reading everything he has ever posted on Mumsnet, on a variety of educational topics going back over the last seven years. Impressive industry.  Was this done by volunteer labour?  Gratifying surely for nlondondad to know he has such a dedicated readership.  What triggered this would appear to be a posting about dust on the Whitehall Park building site.

As a result of this investigation  into Mumsnet they have concluded that I am nlondondad.  Well I can’t be bothered frankly to confirm or deny this.  As I mentioned earlier, Mumsnet normally works on a pseudonym basis and "outing" someone's real identity is regarded as bad form on Mumsnet, but really, whatever.

BUT

What does matter is that they make absolutely explicit that the immediate trigger of the complaint against nlondondad, and therefore against me, was the post  on Mumsnet about dust in the thread discussing Whitehall Park School. This is part of what they quote:

QUOTE FROM MUMSNET

"Posted on 5th March 2016

As of yesterday demolition has started. I walked past the school entrance yesterday, at the end of the school day and saw little children coming out of the school through clouds of dust.

How this can be safe for either the children or the staff baffles me. But it is for the parents and the staff to get assurances on safety. I noted that the workmen were wearing dust masks.

Followed up on 11th March 2016
      
I would be surprised if what I saw was an isolated incident. Dust, children, workmen in dust masks. You really do need to seek formal assurances in the interests of your children."

END OF QUOTE FROM MUMSNET

You will see that nlondondad did not actually allege that the dust contained asbestos; he would have had no way of knowing this.  He urged parents to get formal reassurances "in the interests of your children".  (Other posts mention that there was asbestos on the site in the past)

And it was this posting that led to the complaint.

So the only response we know of so far to the questions about dust  on Mumsnet is for someone to threaten the person they believe to be the author of this post. That is myself.  They also  threaten me because of my postings on the Local Schools Network and "elsewhere” which are certainly by me and under my name.  This on the basis that nlondondad and I have caused Whitehall Park School "reputational damage".

So someone,  is concerned about "reputational damage" to Whitehall Park School.  I would prefer  concern about the possibility of damage to the lungs of children.  Indeed if that "someone" were indeed "representing the parents of Whitehall Park School" would  it really be the case that the parents have a greater concern for the "reputation" of the school their children attend than the health and safety  of their children while they attend it?  I very much doubt it.

DISCLAIMER

Note:  I am not alleging that the person who made this complaint in an attempt to have me silenced has any connection with Whitehall Park School, or BPET, or Bellevue Education limited, or Place Group Ltd, or even the parents of Whitehall Park School, ( a connection claimed by them) as they have chosen to use a special legal route for their complaint which makes any such connection impossible to discover, or verify. Who they are, and who, if anyone, they were acting for must remain one of those mysteries.

IN MEMORIAM

Andy McClafferty, a good friend, who died of Mesothelioma about 20 years after a work place exposure to asbestos. He left a wife and young family.

FOOTNOTE ONE

There was also a complaint regarding my use of FOI to get information about Whitehall Park School. This was further evidence it appears, of my "hostility".


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David Barry's picture
Fri, 02/12/2016 - 16:25

I have just, today, received this email about asbestos in Schools. Its a campaign worth supporting I believe.

 

"Dear Friends,

Today, I hope you will hear coverage of asbesos in schools in the BBC. I have been working with them to understand the extent of the problem across England and Wales through submitting freedom of information requests.

We have found that

- in the last 5 years there have been 99 significant incidents of asbestos disturbed in schools. This is likely to be the tip of the iceberg. An NUT survey in 2015 found that 44% of teachers have not been told if their school contains asbestos so they wil not be in a condition to report an asbestos disturbance.

- in the last 10 years over 230 claims have been submitted to local authorites by teachers and school staff who have been affected by asbestos. Over £10 million already paid in compensation payments and there are still more than 100 claims unsettled. Each of these compensation payments represents another family devastated like mine by this horrible disease where people have died simply from breathing the air where they work.  

- 519 teachers have died in the last 30 years from mesothelioma. All of these deaths are preventable as mesothelioma only comes from exposure to asbestos.

 

Whilst more coverage of this issue is essential that this leads to an actual change. Today more than 7 million children and teachers will be studying and working in schools that contain asbestos. This has to stop.

Please can you help me to build on this increased awareness and get more people to demand action. Can you take a moment and tell your friends and family about our petition on social media and in the playground?

http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/protect-our-children-and-teachers-...

You can also spread the good news by forwarding the email below to your friends or colleagues.

I know that many of you signing the petition have also been personally affected by asbestos in schools. Please, if you feel strong enough, do contact your local BBC station to share your story too. It's so important for them to know thow many of us have been affected by asbestos in schools.

Thank you so much for everything you do.  

Lucie"


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