Protesters criticise Dean and Chapter of York Minster over suspension of headmaster

13 July 2018

Three teachers, including the headmaster, at the Minster School, York, have been suspended after air-rifles were found in the building

MARK WOODWARD PHOTOGRAPHY

Parents demonstrate outside York Minister on Saturday

Parents demonstrate outside York Minister on Saturday

THREE teachers, including the headmaster, at the Minster School, York, have been suspended after “unsecured” air rifles and ammunition were found in the building.

But the suspension of Alex Donaldson, who has been head since 2004, and his two colleagues, has angered parents and former pupils, who have accused the Minster Chapter and the then chair of governors and Dean of York, the Very Revd Vivienne Faull, of secrecy and insensitivity over the incident, mirroring the claims made against them in 2016 when the Minster’s bell-ringing team were summarily sacked (News, 21 October 2016).

On Sunday, a group of parents demonstrated in front of members of the General Synod. Their placards bore slogans including: “Dean and Chapter practise what you preach”, “Christian values for a Christian place”, and “York Minster Chapter not fit to govern our school.”

The three air rifles were found during the Easter weekend, but it was not until 25 May that Dean Faull, who was consecrated bishop for Bristol on Tuesday of last week, suspended the three. Minster staff escorted them off school premises immediately. One of the teachers — pupils have said — was removed from his class mid-lesson.

An investigation has now been completed, and Mr Donaldson’s two colleagues have been reinstated.

Mr Donaldson, however, who has worked at the school for 30 years, has received a “sanction”, and has been sent on paid leave until the end of term this week, reportedly because of a second unconnected investigation. He was also barred from attending speech day.

The school’s governing committee was not told of the incident until 17 May. One governor, the poet Shash Trevett, who has two children at the school, stood down as a governor last month, saying in her resignation letter that she believed “that Chapter have acted without moderation, compassion, or dignity towards these men”, and “without honour and integrity towards the parent body”.

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The Minster school is a fee-paying, day prep school for 180 children aged between three and 13. It was founded originally to educate choristers for the Minster, and about 40 of its pupils sing there.

In a statement disclosing the suspensions, issued in May, the Chapter said: “No child was at risk and no child has been harmed by this situation. . . The priority in the coming weeks will be to ensure continuity of education and care for the children.”

On 30 May, at a meeting between parents and the Chapter, it was disclosed that the school had attempted to remove Mr Donaldson earlier this year. In late February, it had advertised for a strategic adviser on future school development: the advert included the phrase “with the possibility of becoming Interim Head”.

In March, Dr Faull had told Mr Donaldson that they wanted him to go. He was offered a severance package with a request that he did not return after the Easter holiday, but he rejected it. The Dean assured parents, however, that the discovery of the rifles was the sole reason for the suspensions.

A spokeswoman for the Chapter said in a statement this week: “We understand that some parents are both concerned and angry, and we are working hard to keep them updated and informed with information that is appropriate, and that will not compromise responsibility, confidentiality, and the proper processes.”

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