On the 14 February my first posting
on Cuckoo Hall appeared (I actually wrote it on the 13th, in this saga exact dating seems to matter) I wrote it based on press reports, and before the EFA report was published.
Then on the 16 February Janet Downs was able to post
about the newly published EFA report.
In what follows I shall assume that either you have read the EFA report or Janet's account of it. So I won't quote from the EFA report. I have realised that part of my original post requires correction or clarification. My posting was based on press reports at the time, but I now have better information. I now have the text of the letter written to parents and carers announcing the lifting of the suspension of Patricia Sowter, CBE and Sharon Ahmet, obtained by google search, and it makes informative reading.
The passage from my posting that needs updating, in light of the letter, is this one:
"..the decision made by the Board to first suspend, and then remove the Chair and reinstate Patricia Sowter’s Husband as a member of the Board, was made BEFORE the DfE inquiry...was.. complete. This was then followed, it would seem, by a further meeting under the new chair which reinstated Ms Sowter and the Head of Cuckoo Hall School. Whether Mr Sowter participated in the meeting which decided to reinstate his wife is not clear. This does not ... exclude the possibility that advance information was given to the Board by the DfE which led them to act quickly to reverse the removed Chair’s decision, despite the DfE enquiry not being complete. "
This was based on the press reports. But now for the letter.
The letter is from Marino Charalambous described as "Chair" Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust. It is dated 14 January. I shall quote the relevant paragraphs only. And then comment on them.
CUCKOO HALL LETTER TEXT
"Dear Parent or Carer,
I am writing to inform you of the outcome of a CHAT Board meeting held yesterday, Tuesday 13 January 2015.
At the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting the Board of the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) voted unanimously to lift the suspensions of Patricia Sowter (Executive Head Teacher) and Sharon Ahmet (Head Teacher, Cuckoo Hall school). The suspension of Phill Sowter, Trustee, was also lifted on 8 January 2015, following a comprehensive review."
This confirms that there were at least three meetings in the process of reversing the decision by the (now former) Chair.
First, the meeting at which the Chair who had carried out the suspensions was removed both as Chair and a trustee was held before Christmas, as the letter announcing that action to parents was sent out on the 22 December 2014. Perhaps this was also the meeting at which Mr Charalambous was elected as chair.
Second, the meeting on 8 January 2015 at which the husband of Patricia Sowter CBE, was reinstated as a trustee following a "comprehensive review." However it is not clear what the "comprehensive review" carried out at that meeting consisted of, or what it was based on.
Third, the meeting of 13 January which reinstated the two teachers and with Mr Sowter again a member of the Board, which is what the letter is mainly about. Did he take part in the discussion and vote on re instating his wife?
CUCKOO HALL LETTER TEXT CONTINUES
"Yesterday’s meeting took place after the Board had received the detailed findings of two external reports - one by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and the other by an independent investigation commissioned by the Board."
This would appear to establish that the decision to reinstate at the 13 January meeting was, indeed, taken in part on foot of a pre publication version of the EFA report. Does this conflict with the later repeated statements by the DfE to the press that the investigation was still on going? This discrepancy might be resolved if the EFA report referred to was a draft, which would have been superseded by the published report.. (So was it different, and if so how?)
Of more interest, perhaps, is the reference to a second investigation - the "independent investigation commissioned by the Board" which has not been published. Were the DfE informed of the contents of this? Given that this report is quoted (together with the EFA report) in aid of "vindicating" the suspended persons, ought it not to be published? This would be all the more so if one felt the EFA report as published, taken by itself, did not vindicate.
CUCKOO HALL LETTER TEXT CONTINUES
"The meeting included comprehensive interviews of Patricia Sowter and Sharon Ahmet with reference to the detailed findings of the two external reports and as a consequence of which the Board unanimously concluded that the evidence in support of earlier allegations did not support any charge of misconduct let alone gross misconduct."
A definite and categorical statement. "evidence...did not support any charge of misconduct" ANY charge? Nothing wrong at all? Not even an error of judgement for which excuse could be found? The evidence quoted includes the EFA report, which as it stands no reasonable person could regard as supporting this conclusion. So was it a different version of the EFA report? In which case re consideration would be required in light of the published version. What did the independent report say? And was a record kept of the interviews, the content of which appear to be important (as would be the usual practice)? Given the impact of the proceedings on the individuals concerned, if the second report and the interviews are of such force as to override the findings of the published EFA report surely they should be published? Did Mr Sowter take part in the interviews?
CUCKOO HALL LETTER TEXT
" Therefore, the allegations should not be the subject of disciplinary proceedings against either Patricia Sowter or Sharon Ahmet. Both will shortly be returning to work."
Well the conclusion that no disciplinary proceedings against Patricia Sowter CBE, or Sharon Ahmet certainly does follow from the forgoing. However given the published EFA report it is reasonable to ask against whom ARE disciplinary proceedings going to be taken? It has been established by that report that misconduct by SOMEONE has occurred.
CUCKOO HALL LETTER TEXT
"We will also pursue with vigour the completion of the £40m investment secured under the leadership of our Executive Head, Patricia Sowter, for the building of a much needed new secondary school for the area."
The TRUST has been issued with a Financial Notice to Improve
. It is essentially required to put in place procedures for monitoring financial expenditure, that is the expending of public money, which were lacking. In those circumstances it might perhaps not be prudent to "pursue with vigour" a 40 million pound investment.
CUCKOO HALL LETTER TEXT
(A).... Member of the Trust, Dr Donald Graham, took the opportunity, on behalf of the Board, “to record its appreciation for the outstanding contributions made by Patricia Sowter and Sharon Ahmet to the education of pupils at Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust. The Board recognises the regrettable damage that has been done at a very personal level to the reputations of these two senior teachers and academic leaders at the Trust who have been vindicated by this process."
I am a little surprised by this quote. Dr Donald Graham appears to be regarded as someone of some standing by the Trust and someone whose opinion we should take seriously (see addendum) but unfortunately I do not know who he is. I am intrigued and would welcome more information on this point. However for him to be quoted in a public letter conceding that "regrettable damage" has been done "to the reputations of these two senior teachers" seems to me to be unwise and makes me wonder whether proper legal advice was taken on the text of this letter. Presumably it was thought that this concession was overtaken by the categorical assertion that the individuals in question had been "vindicated by this process". But assertion is not argument. The process as described to us does not do this. Perhaps the contents of the interviews together with the contents of the independent report together with the contents of the pre publication draft of the EFA report DO vindicate. The published EFA report does not.
CUCKOO HALL LETTER TEXT CONCLUDES
"Finally, Professor Anthony O'Hear from the Board, said that both "Patricia Sowter and Sharon Ahmet have conducted themselves with great dignity" and conveyed his appreciation to them both."
I am also a little surprised by this quote. Professor Anthony O'Hear is also clearly regarded as someone of some standing by the Trust: and they have a good case for that. He is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buckingham and a prominent Conservative Party supporter. (He favours school vouchers, top up fees and for profit schools and is a strong supporter of the Government's Free School policy, as far as it goes. His blog post
on the "Riddle of the Voucher makes interesting reading
However while what he is quoted as saying at the meeting is the sort of thing one might say, at the end of a meeting at which two people you admire have been put through some sort of inquisitorial process, it lacks relevance to the matter at hand.
It is not the dignified bearing of the two teachers that is at issue, especially when they had grounds (the removal of the previous Chair and the reinstatement of Mr Sowter) to suppose that the environment they were in was not hostile.
In the most recent letter to parents and carers, undated (only the month February, is given) but reported by the press to have been issued on the 13th of this month, the Trust writes:
"We have, and continue to act, on recommendations from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) report. There is now a new Chair of the Trust, Marino Charalambous, which will strengthen our governance. Marino has excellent knowledge of CHAT and its schools, and we will therefore be in the best possible place to move forward and successfully manage our future growth. He will be continued to be supported on the board by Dr Donald Graham and Professor Anthony O’Hear."
From this you will see the impression is given that the appointment of Marino Charalambous as chair is both really recent and on foot of a recommendation from the EFA, with a continuing role for Dr Graham and Prof O'Hear being highlighted. Interestingly this letter was signed by no less than seven individuals. The Chair, Mr Charalambous, Patricia Sowter, CBE, the four headteachers of the schools run by the Trust, and intriguingly, Martin Hesketh. " Director of Finance and Operations CHAT"
This would seem to imply that despite the "Financial Notice to Improve" the "Director of Finance" along with Patricia Sowter bears no responsibility for the state of affairs that brought the notice to improve about.