A CHURCH of England multi-academy trust has referred its treatment of a popular head teacher to an independent reviewer, after protests from parents and a crowdfunding appeal in support of a legal challenge.
Richard Dunne, the head teacher of Ashley C of E Primary School in Walton-on-Thames for 18 years, resigned last term on the eve of an investigation by a disciplinary panel of a number of complaints against him, including one that he had not prioritised safeguarding at the school.
Mr Dunne “categorically denies” all the allegations. According to a blog set up to support him, he requested documentation from the Good Shepherd Trust, which runs the school, and time to review it, before a disciplinary panel in November last year. Neither was granted by the trust, and he resigned, concluding that he was not going to get a fair hearing.
The blog suggests that the trust sought reasons to remove Mr Dunne after he expressed criticism of the way that the trust was “asset-stripping” Ashley School, formerly rated “outstanding” by OFSTED.
The disciplinary panel went ahead in Mr Dunne’s absence, upholding seven of the 18 allegations against him. Because he had resigned, Mr Dunne was unable to appeal. He is now believed to be considering a legal challenge. A crowdfunding appeal for his legal costs has so far raised £21,800.
In addition, a petition set up by two parents calling for independent investigation “into The Good Shepherd Trust with regard to its role and behaviour in bringing about the loss of a much-loved and inspirational Headteacher from Ashley C of E Primary School” has gained more than 2000 signatures.
A new interim head teacher has now been appointed, but the row has been referred to the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, the constituency MP, after 60 parents made representations to him.
The interim CEO of the trust, Alex Tear, said: “It was matter of deep regret that Mr Dunne chose to resign the night before the disciplinary and capability hearings. As a result of his decision, the panel did not have the opportunity to consider Mr Dunne’s evidence and for him to set out his position in full.
“The Trust has now referred all its evidence to the statutory regulatory authorities to enable them to conduct their independent investigations into the allegations made against Mr Dunne.”
The Good Shepherd Trust is a family of church-school and affiliated-school academies in the diocese of Guildford. The Dean of Guildford, the Very Revd Dianna Gwilliams, is a trustee, and the Bishop of Dorking, the Rt Revd Jo Bailey Wells, is also listed as a member of the trust.
A trust statement this week said: “The Good Shepherd Trust was concerned about the performance of Ashley Church of England Primary School in 2019. It took action to address these concerns and improve the progress of pupils by issuing a Notice to Improve in October.
“The Trust has appointed an improvement and intervention board to hold school leaders to account for raising educational standards. It has also recruited a National Leader of Education to serve as the school’s new Headteacher from January.
“The Trust has increased support for the school to ensure there is capacity to tackle the improvement priorities identified by its new leadership. The Trust’s focus continues to be on ensuring the school delivers the best possible education and care for the children at Ashley School.”
Mr Dunne sent a detailed email to parents earlier this month querying some of the performance concerns raised by the Trust. It ended: “If the school had not been stripped of its senior resources last year, the results are likely to have been even stronger. In my honest opinion, the Trust has a lot to answer for.”
Mr Tear said that he recognised parents’ frustrations, but said that the trust had a “duty of care” to employees to “maintain confidentiality for all involved until there is an independent public hearing”.