Monday 26th June 2017,
North Yorks Enquirer

Political Hatchet-Job 2015: Double Discrimination

Political Hatchet-Job 2015: Double Discrimination

  • an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on BIGOTRY in school – a brewing scandal that North Yorkshire County Council CEO Richard FLINTON is hoping to keeping out of the papers at all costs – the POLITICAL HATCHET-JOB, first alluded to here on the North Yorks Enquirer.

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There is perhaps no more contentious topic in the political arena at present than the recent emergence, as a major political force, of the United Kingdom Independence Party – UKIP.

Between now and the elections in May next year, the acronym UKIP will reverberate to infinity down the corridors of Westminster, County Hall and our local District and Borough Town Halls.

Here in the Borough of Scarborough, the political balance bears some similarity to the House of Commons, in that a fragile Conservative advantage is clearly vulnerable to any appreciable swing to UKIP – and already, with six months yet to run, defections have been reported at both levels. (See: Douglas CARSWELL [national], and Colin HADDINGTON [local]).

One fiercely Independent member of Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) has recently surprised observers on both sides of the fence. He is widely-known and well-respected as a wise and experienced man in the world of business, with a special interest in education, having himself been a teacher. He has served on two Councils and many Committees and is looked to for his scrupulous research and rigorous fair-mindedness. He has served on the Board of Governors of Eskdale School here in Whitby for the better part of a decade, holding the Chair for the past five years.

Mike WARD has always maintained that there should (and need) be no place for party politics at the local level, where decisions should be made on individual merit, for the greater good of the community. His independence is his trademark. He is incapable of toeing the party line.

And yet, a few short weeks ago, Mike WARD – for he is the Councillor to whom I refer – announced his decision to abandon his independence and join UKIP.

MIKE_WARD_UKIP

Forthrightly, as is his wont, Councillor Mike WARD wrote a Letter to the Editor of the North Yorks Enquirer, offering the public some insight into the reasoning behind his decision.

In his Letter to the Editor, Councillor Mike WARD listed a number of UKIP policies that he now discovers coincide with his own views:

UKIP_POLICIES

In my view, this list – never intended to be comprehensive – omits two very important considerations.

To take the second first, I am convinced that the significant fact that UKIP stands alone amongst the leading parties, in operating no Party Whip system, must have weighed heavily in Mike WARD’s decision.

WHIPS

Members of UKIP are free to vote according to conscience in representation of their constituents – that is to say that there is no enforcement of the party line.

I believe that this must mean a great deal to Councillor Mike WARD, who I am quite sure would never have relinquished his independence of judgement to any political party.

But the principal sphere that Councillor Mike WARD might perhaps have been expected to address is that of Education. Mike WARD has been an active and dynamic Chair of the Board of Governors of Whitby’s Eskdale School for some five years now, and a valued member far longer than that.

The school has seen difficult times recently in its endeavours to maintain independence in the face of the pressure to be absorbed into a federation of schools comprising Eskdale School, Caedmon School and Whitby Community College. The latter two amalgamated at the beginning of the present term, under the name Caedmon College.

Eskdale School sought Academy status, unsuccessfully, and the school is still campaigning to retain students until the age of sixteen. Mike WARD has driven these attempts because he believes that it is important that parents and children in Whitby should have at least some degree of choice in schooling.

This is by no means an extremist stance – so one wonders why Mike WARD made no mention of Education in his Letter to the Editor.

My guess would be that he did not wish to bring his wider political values into his work as Chair of the Eskdale School Board of Governors.

The Immediate Fall-Out

Readers will be aware that I enjoy a lively dialogue with a considerable number of local politicians. Mike WARD’s move to UKIP has been a frequent topic of discussion lately and opinions (as one might expect) have been diverse.

Polarised, in fact.

Some feel strongly, and regretfully, that Mike WARD will lose support precisely because his widely-respected determination to be his own man may now be seen to have been in some sense compromised by the perception (at least) that UKIP represents a hidden ideology – a racist ideology. This is mistaken, because one would struggle to find a man who more whole-heartedly embraces the full diversity of mankind.

Others feel, equally strongly, that Mike WARD’s decision was informed entirely by the pragmatic realisation that only UKIP offers a good chance of election in Whitby, where five of the six present Borough Councillors are Conservatives. In short, they think that he has ‘sold out’. This is also mistaken. Mike WARD has twice been elected in wards previously considered safe Conservative seats, because those who have voted for him know that there is no more trustworthy recipient of their votes.

Both of these distinctive views are extreme. There is no truth in either. Mike WARD is absolutely no racist. Equally, he is emphatically not one of those plastic Councillors whose aspiration to re-election is driven either by the imagined kudos of having ‘Councillor’ in front of one’s name, or by the ‘bonus’ of picking up £3,837.96 per annum in Allowances (for turning up to five meetings).

So I was shocked by the news that Councillor Mike WARD imparted to me some four weeks or so ago, very shortly after his move to UKIP.

The Bombshell

Mike WARD’s position as Chair of the Eskdale School Board of Governors is not a Council appointment. He does not sit as a member of a political party. He sits as a private citizen. Like every other member of our society, he has a right enshrined in statute to form and hold an opinion, and to express it through any medium, without frontiers. His political inclination is an expression of this right, no less than his religious persuasion or his philosophical beliefs.

I do not intend to interrupt my narrative here to offer a comprehensive disquisition on the correct interpretation of the Equality Act 2010; suffice it to say that it is wholly wrong, both legally and ethically, to discriminate against anyone on grounds of belief, be it political, religious or philosophical. Mike WARD’s political convictions are entirely and solely a matter for him. The fact that they are sincere, well considered and openly declared in no way justifies discrimination against him.

Under no circumstance would it ever be permissible to cast a man aside from one day to the next, after years of deep commitment, voluntarily fulfilled, on no other grounds than that he had nailed his colours to the mast of a political party – a particular political party – in an open and forthright way. That the party in questions happens to be UKIP has no bearing on that.

Yet this is exactly what Eskdale School Headteacher Mrs Sue WHELAN did when, a little over three weeks ago on Friday 10th October 2014, she intimated to Mike WARD that his membership of the United Kingdom Independence Party rendered him persona non grata within the ethos and aims of Eskdale School and, therewith, invited his resignation – on those grounds.

In particular, Sue WHELAN discriminated against Mike WARD on the grounds that she now – suddenly – on the sole evidence of Mike Ward having joined UKIP and declared a personal opinion (i.e. that immigration requires regulation) – she now suddenly considers him to hold potentially discriminatory views and is therefore unfit for the office of Chairman of the Eskdale School Board of Governors. This is unmitigated bigotry – and, like all bigotry, it is irrational.

It is also a very far cry from the rigorous impartiality parents rightly demand from a Headteacher.

The school website tells us that the ethos of the school includes this:

  • Our core values of respect, honesty and responsibility are central to everything we do from celebrating success to the way we manage behaviour.

Membership of UKIP is not alien to these aims. It is bigotry that is alien to these aims. It is bigotry that has dictated the way in which Sue WHELAN has “managed her behaviour”.

And, ironically, it was Mike WARD who, as Chair, signed off the document delineating the School’s aims thus: ESKDALE_AIMS

It is difficult to see how and why Mike WARD’s declared views might exert any negative impact on the Eskdale School ethos and aims. In fact, it is preposterous.

Neither can it be argued that it is simply that membership of a political party – any political party – is axiomatically incompatible with Governorship. We know this because the Board presently includes another Scarborough Borough Councillor – Jane MORTIMER – who is a Conservative member (though she, of course, like Mike WARD, holds a seat on the Board as a private citizen and not as a Councillor, Conservative or otherwise).

And speaking of Conservatives, one wonders whether or not Defence Secretary Michael FALLON [Con.], following his remarks about British towns “feeling swamped by immigrants” and their residents feeling “under siege”, would have survived Mrs Sue WHELAN’s compatibility criteria.

Discrimination in our schools is always abhorrent. Discrimination by a Headteacher against a Governor is outrageous.

SUE_WHELAN

THE HATCHET JOB

This hatchet-job is extraordinary.

Clearly, there must be an ulterior motive. Mike WARD has been stitched up – and for political reasons.

Which begs the question; who could have been pulling Sue WHELAN’s strings? If Sue WHELAN were merely the ‘puppet’, who could have been the ‘puppeteer’?

Mr Pete DWYER is the Corporate Director for Children & Young People’s Services at NYCC, the Local Education Authority. He is the top man in Education in North Yorkshire, and it is well-documented that he strongly opposes Eskdale School’s locally popular bid to maintain its independence and provide secondary education up to the age of 16 – as even the Whitby Gazette has reported:

GAZETTE_DWYER

Pete DWYER apparently had written a five-page letter that was subsequently ‘leaked’ to the Whitby Gazette, and elsewhere. In it, he stated that:

  • “We are concerned about the potential impact caused by such a dramatic reduction in pupil numbers (and therefore budgets) at Whitby Community College.”

The “potential impact” that Pete DWYER refers to is strictly financial. The best outcome for Whitby children is not Pete DWYER’s primary goal. The primary goal is budgetary frugality.

Clearly, Pete DWYER was antagonistic to the prospect of Eskdale School remaining independent; he wanted (and still wants) all three schools federated – and there is one major “fly in the ointment” – Mike WARD, whose declared aim is to keep options open for the parents and children of Whitby.

PETE_DWYER

And when Pete DWYER acknowledged Mike WARD’s resignation on Monday 13th October, he tacitly, perhaps too hastily, accepted the validity of Sue WHELAN’s justifications.

He neither suggested, nor took any action to instigate, an investigation of Sue WHELAN’s unauthorised action; he accepted it as proper when clearly it was not. And he has known about this for four weeks now . . .

This compounds and endorses Sue WHELAN’s original discrimination against Mike WARD on 10th October.

Pete DWYER seems to have readily adopted a precarious position, perhaps in his private satisfaction at Mike WARD’s departure. Too readily? Almost, in fact, as though he were expecting it?

(Readers who struggled with my rhyming riddle will perhaps now see a glimmer of truth peeping through).

Another, more direct, potential beneficiary of full tripartite federation (Community/Caedman/Eskdale) will be Mr Keith PRYTHERCH, formerly Headteacher of Whitby Community College (WCC) and now (with a massive salary-hike – but, curiously, no recruitment interview), Headteacher of the newly-federated Caedmon College (incorporating WCC and the recently-assimilated Caedmon School).

Apparently, Headteachers’ salaries are correlated to the number of students, so Mr Keith PRYTHERCH – an ambitious man in administrative terms, but by no means an academic (he was a PE teacher) – can expect further financial gains if Eskdale School’s 300+ students are absorbed into the federation. The greatest single obstacle to that is . . . no prizes, Mike WARD.

How often it is that by acting altruistically, in the wider public interest, one makes enemies amongst the ranks of the self-serving.

So let me repeat Pete DWYER’s own words:

  • “We [by whom he means the Local Education Authority – NYCC] are concerned about the potential impact caused by such a dramatic reduction in pupil numbers (and therefore budgets) at Whitby Community College.”

Mr Keith PRYTHERCH possibly shares that concern, since it would be very likely to have direct consequences on the size of his salary. And pension. And kudos. Federation spells win, win, win for PRYTHERCH, and there is one major “fly in the ointment” – Mike WARD.

KEITH_PRYTHERCH

Of course, both Pete DWYER and Keith PRYTHERCH can call upon reliable allies of considerable influence. A cursory perusal of the other Caedmon College Governors reveals a name with a long-standing history of political manipulation. The prime mover in this present hatchet-job may be somebody further up the food-chain. Somebody with an interest in Mike WARD’s re-election prospects, perhaps?

CaedColl_Governors

Be all that as it may, what remains clear to me is this:

1) It does not fall within the remit of any Headteacher to intervene in the composition of the Board of Governors. I am confirmed in this view by Pete DWYER himself, who wrote to me on Friday 7th November 2014, stating “it is not for the Headteacher to decide who chairs a governing body”.

Thus far, Pete DWYER and I stand in agreement on this; Headteacher Sue WHELAN has wildly exceeded her remit.

2) Even more serious is the matter of the grounds Sue WHELAN cited to justify securing Mike WARD’s resignation. Discrimination on any grounds is intolerable. Discrimination on grounds of conviction – whether religious, philosophical or political – is beyond forgiveness and an abuse of human rights. Mike WARD’s political beliefs, like yours and mine, are protected under the European Convention on Human Rights; specifically:

  • Article 9: one is free to hold a broad range of views, beliefs and thoughts.
  • Article 10: one has the right to hold opinions and express one’s views alone or in a group. This applies even if those views are unpopular or disturbing.
  • Article 14: one has the right not to be treated differently because of one’s race, religion, sex, political views or any other personal status, unless this can be justified objectively.

In my view, there is a strong prima facie case to support the contention that Sue WHELAN has breached Mike WARD’s human rights.

And given that Sue WHELAN has considered it appropriate – necessary, even – to impose her bigotry on her immediate employers – Eskdale School Board of Governors (whose composition, membership and Chairship  is absolutely none of her concern), what are we to imagine might restrain her from imposing, or attempting to impose, that same intolerable (and unlawful) bigotry on her subordinate staff – her teachers – and, by extension, her pupils?

The conclusion that I draw from all this?

SUE WHELAN HAS TO GO.

I believe that the Board of Governors has already recognised that fact. It is vitally important, in any school – most especially one in transition – that a cordial working relationship exists between Headteacher and Governors. Many of the Eskdale Board are on the record as being deeply regretful regarding Mike WARD’s sudden departure. Given the appalling nature of this hatchet-job, few will savour the prospect of Sue WHELAN’s continued presence. She has to go.

I do not anticipate that Sue WHELAN will go gracefully. Nor do I anticipate that she will point the finger at the prime mover in this disgraceful episode – the ‘puppeteer’. So be it. Let her suffer the accountability alone. And I suspect that neither Pete DWYER nor Keith PRYTHERCH will gallantly step in to share her disgrace.

Nevertheless, Sue WHELAN has to go.

I also suspect that, in accordance with Conservative practice, no anonymous ‘prime mover’ further up the food-chain will ever be seen to have been tarnished, even through association, by the hatchet-wielder on the front line. (Such is the politics of skapegoating).

Except, perhaps, in the event of exposure by the North Yorks Enquirer.

What Next?

Earlier in the week, Pete DWYER assured me that I would be contacted by the hastily appointed Acting Chair – one Sue VERRILL. A game of ‘pass the hot potato’ is in progress. It is a form of procrastination, of evasion. But readers can be assured that the Enquirer will be pursuing full transparency on this matter. That is not made easier by the fact that Pete DWYER has thus far disregarded my repeated requests for sight of Sue WHELAN’s employment terms of reference. Presumably, that document must be decisive. I continue to press for it.

More immediately, I believe that many parents and Governors will be pinning their hopes on Mike WARD responding to the suuportive emails of his (erstwhile) fellow Governors by re-applying for a position on the Board of Governors.

We shall then see who has the gall to re-iterate Sue WHELAN’s discrimination against him under the the bright lights in the court of public opinion. And if such an application were to be accepted, who could justifiably oppose Mike WARD’s re-appointment to the Chair?

Such would be the course of natural justice. Let us now watch the travesty of due process that NYCC can be expected to contrive in order to pervert it – a travesty which has already begun.

Late yesterday afternoon (Saturday 8th November 2014), I received a letter from Sue VERRILL, the hurriedly-appointed acting Chair of the Eskdale School Board of Governors. She tells me:

“Under the Eskdale School Complaints Procedure I have exercised my discretion, as acting Chair of the Governing Body, to commission an independent person to conduct a full and thorough investigation.”

Unsurprisingly, the terms of the Eskdale School Complaints Procedure do not provide any such “discretion”. In fact, the word “discretion” does not appear at all in that document. Sue VERRILL would appear to have exceeded her remit.

Unhelpfully, Sue VERRILL has not “used her discretion” to disclose to me the identity – or even the gender – of the “independent investigator”.

And surprisingly, Sue VERRILL does not mention immediate suspension on full pay, which is the customary approach to misconduct and gross misconduct investigations.

And I have not been offered a comment for publication by Sue VERRILL or Pete DWYER.

The fancy footwork is already under way.

And so, on with the show . . .

SCHOOL_4_SCANDAL

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