A Letter to the Editor from Ray TOLLEY, formerly of South Yorkshire – now of Gateshead, who shares with readers his views on the subject of Headteacher Sue WHELAN’s “eviction” of Councillor Mike WARD (UKIP) from the Eskdale School Board of Governors. (See leading article here).
Dear Editor and readers of the North Yorks Enquirer I am a Yorkshireman now living in Gateshead. I have just heard on our local news about the disturbing action of the Headteacher of Eskdale School in Whitby. This is of national significance and should be brought to the attention of all Governors of all schools in the UK. I write as an ex-Senior Teacher, now retired, and presently a Governor at my local school. This concerns Mike Ward, a serving SBC Councillor (formerly an Independent member) for Esk Valley ward, who recently changed his allegiance to UKIP. And what happened? The Headteacher of Eskdale School apparently does not like UKIP and abruptly asked Mike to resign his position as Chair of Governors of the school. Mike graciously complied with her demand. However, this action by Mrs Whelan in dismissing Mike Ward is grossly unconstitutional, she has got it completely wrong. Surely she knows that the Chair of Governors is elected by the Governors of the School - and for that matter, it is the Governors who appoint or dismiss the Headteacher and not the other way round. I am intrigued by this action and have thus looked further into this case: 1. During Mrs Whelan's recent tenure as Headteacher, the OfSTED reports have dramatically plummeted from 'Outstanding' to 'Requires Improvement'. I don't know but I wonder if there was any festering disagreements between the Headteacher and the Chair of Governors? 2. Similarly, I note that the school roll has fallen in recent years, was this yet another distressing situation for Mrs Whelan? 3. Looking at the Eskdale School website it is hard to find any reference to the Governors of the School. Some years ago I studied for a Diploma in Total Quality Management. One topic I looked at was the role of Governors in schools and discovered that of the 100 most 'failing' schools, none had any support by their Governing Bodies. Perhaps, I wonder, was the appointment of two new Governors with educational experience just too much for Mrs Whelan to cope with? 4. The access by parents to the Governors is essential to the running of a good school. The Governors are the eyes and ears of the school: they listen to parents' concerns, they organise meetings and often are an interface to the school. Above all, it is essential that the school maintains a reliable complaints link to the Governors - I could not find such a link on the website. 5. But the main issue here is to Mrs Whelan's objection to Mike Ward moving his allegiance from 'Independent' to UKIP. This is political dynamite! When does one's political preference debar one from holding office? In most schools' Governing Bodies, there are Councillors of various political persuasions. Is it really possible for any Headteacher to object to the political stance of any Governor? Is this discrimination? What legal justification does Mrs Whelan have for her action? 6. Perhaps Mrs Whelan is ignorant or badly informed of UKIP's stance on issues that would affect her School? As an educationist, I can only say that UKIP's position on educational matters is like a breath of fresh air - perhaps this is what she is frightened of? Rather than a 'one size fits all' view of schools, she should be the first to recognise UKIP's consistent message of 'local policies for local people'. Sometimes a Grammar School might be appropriate, other times a Free School or Academy, in other situations an upper-school Technical College might be appropriate. In such situations it is the Governors of the School who would support the application for conversion. 7. Another 'breath of fresh air' on education matters is UKIP's view on school examinations. As Paul Nuttall states, 'ONE examination board for GCSEs and ONE for 'A'-levels, offering ONE course for the relevant subject. Ending the option for schools to choose the easiest syllabus available.' 8. UKIP would end the trend to shut Special Schools. 9. UKIP would scrap tuition fees for able students following Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine. 10.The advantages of having a member of UKIP who understands the above issues as a member or even Chair of her Governors is a gift that Mrs Whelan should not despise. I just hope that Mrs Whelan can recant before things get silly. Yours, etc R J Tolley Retired Director of Technology Governor in a large Academy Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.