St Michael and All Angels Academy – the truth behind its closure
For some reason, the Chairman of Governors of St Michael and All Angels Academy, Canon Peter Clark, has seen fit to humiliate and publicly denigrate his former deputy headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh (via the Mail on Sunday), pointing the finger well and truly in her direction as being responsible for the closure of this Church of England school in the London Borough of Southwark.
She is maintaining a dignified silence.
Apparently, the academy has suddenly been declared ‘non-viable’ after applications ‘fell dramatically in the wake of Ms Birbalsingh’s remarks’. Canon Clark is of the view that her speech at the Conservative Party conference dealt a fatal blow to the school. He said: “The publicity that she generated was very unhelpful, which certainly didn’t help in terms of pupil recruitment.”
He added that an inspection of the school held shortly before Christmas had shown that ‘nothing that she said was right’.
Canon Clark makes it sound as though Ms Birbalsingh was referring directly and specifically to St Michael and All Angels in her speech, which she most certainly was not: she had only been there for a few weeks. As she says, her speech ‘prompted three articles the following day saying the school system was broken’. These were not remotely concerned with her school. Just as the furore was dying down, the part-time Executive Headteacher, ‘Dr’ Irene Bishop, instructed Ms Birbalsingh to leave the premises immediately and to ‘work from home’.
As Ms Birbalsingh says, ‘the press went insane’.
When Canon Clark personalises Mr Birbalsingh’s criticisms of the education system with his crass assertion of ‘nothing that she said was right’, it becomes evident that he knows very little about the situation in the school of which he is Chairman of Governors, let alone the wider education system. Indeed, he appears to have nothing to qualify him to be a school governor.
It is not only that a ‘senior Whitehall source’ has dismissed Canon Clark’s assessment that Ms Birbalsingh had caused the school’s closure as ‘complete c**p’. This person is quoted as saying: ‘It was going down the plughole anyway.’
A few questions for Canon Clark:
If the Department for Education is of the view that your school was ‘going down the plughole anyway’, why have you sought to pin the blame upon Ms Birbalsingh in the national media?
Does it give you some sort of perverse pleasure to scapegoat the innocent, shoot the messenger or kick someone when they’re already down?
Is it not a fact that the school of which you are presently Chairman of Governors has suffered chronically from inept leadership, weak management and deficient governance?
Ah, but to admit that would implicate you, would it not, Canon Clark?
And when, barely a month into her employment, ‘Dr’ Irene Bishop, chose to suspend Ms Birbalsingh, did she not do it with your full support, Canon Clark?
‘Dr’ Bishop is, of course, the inept, part-time headteacher you appointed to address the school’s profound problems. Why did she not follow the school’s written procedures in suspending Ms Birbalsingh, Canon Clark?
Are you not aware that such high-handed contempt for the school’s written procedures amounts to discrimination, breach of contract and trust, and even constitutes prima facie harassment?
Yet you insist: ‘She was not suspended. She resigned.’
It is a cause of great sorrow indeed when a man of the cloth is so ‘economical with the truth’ and keen to redact matters of historical record in order to conceal the truth that he brings not only himself into disrepute, but also impugns the integrity of the school, the purity of the Church and the sanctity of the name of Jesus.
Those who teach in the most deprived areas of our inner cities have a vocation every bit as sacred as that pursued by Canon Clark. To minister to the poor, nurture the hopeless and inspire the downcast is what Katharine Birbalsingh did best. Every day in some of these schools is like walking into a bear pit, crawling over hot coals and sticking pins in your eyes. Those teachers who are prepared to suffer for their calling ought to be nurtured, encouraged, appreciated and loved by their headteacher and governing body.
Not bullied, intimidated, humiliated, misrepresented and slandered.
It is not clear if this Mail interview was a moment of madness on the part of Canon Clark, or evidence of a more permanent breakdown, an inability to cope with his own failures or some sort of mid-life crisis.
His Grace did very politely ask the Executive Headteacher and Governing Body to respond to a number of questions some months ago.
They did not do so.
His Grace did very politely request that they refrain from slander, misrepresentation and news manipulation where Ms Birbalsingh is concerned.
They have chosen to ignore that request.
It is with regret, therefore, that His Grace has no choice but to put the truth into the public sphere.
Canon Peter Clarke is either a fool or he is inept; he is either naïve or he is a liar.
Perhaps he is all four.
The decision to close this academy has not recently been taken: that decision preceded Ms Birbalsingh’s employment. This is why Canon Clark appointed only an acting, temporary, part-time Executive Headteacher. And ‘Dr’ Irene Bishop knew of these plans all along.
Is that not a fact, Canon Clark?
The Diocese would have preferred to close the school and sell the land, but the title deeds did not permit such a course of action. And so a new school with co-sponsorship was the only route left to you.
Is that not a fact, Canon Clark?
For some reason, the impression is being given that the number of applications to the school has plummeted to just 16. But that was the 2010 figure, before Ms Birbalsingh even joined the school. Falling roll has been an issue for the past three years: from 72, to 30, to 16. The academy appear to be using historic data to justify a course of action against Ms Birbalsingh.
Is that not a fact, Canon Clark?
The Sixth Form was closed down just two years ago, again due to falling numbers and the fact that the curriculum was not appropriate for very many students. This preceded Ms Birbalsingh’s employment.
Is that not a fact, Canon Clark?
The Ofsted inspection of March 2010 was damning, but they actually wanted to go further and place the academy in special measures. It was only as a result of serious haranguing by the previous principal, Mrs Sue Graham, that it was placed into category ‘4’, which is wholly inadequate and ‘poor’.
Is Canon Clark not aware that Mrs Sue Graham was not only a weak headteacher, but a bully and a liar?
Is Canon Clark not aware that Very Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, his predecessor as Chairman of Governors, also failed to address the school’s chronic concerns?
Is Canon Clark not aware that Ms Birbalsingh is not the first member of staff to attempt to bring a grievance against the headteacher of this school?
Is he not aware that Ms Birbalsingh is by no means the first one to fall victim to the school’s refusal to follow its own written procedures, which are designed to ensure fairness and justice?
Is he not aware that there has been a catastrophic breakdown in trust between the staff and leadership, which preceded Ms Birbalsingh’s employment?
Is he not aware that some members of staff have alleged racism by the headteacher, and have pursued their own tribunal claims?
Is he not aware that a phenomenal 106 members of staff have left this academy over recent years, and that black and minority ethnic teachers have been appalled at their treatment?
Is he not aware of a letter, dated May 2010 (again, before Ms Birbalsingh was employed), from the school’s four union representatives to the Chairman of Governors, which includes the following:
Leadership and management styleUnfortunately, it would appear that executive, part-time, temporary headteacher ‘Dr’ Irene Bishop simply meted out more of the same, though no-one is alleging racism.
The Principal's management style does not inspire or motivate. It is not an inclusive style. The staff here are keen to be involved but everything is imposed without consultation. Where there are policies and procedures these are changed at a whim without staff involvement.
In some important areas there are no policies e.g. the Pay Policy despite being requested.
106 staff members have left since the academy opened began and of these, 44% were from the old school and 56% were recruited by the Principal herself. Many of the staff from the predecessor school had been there for a good many years and seen many changes, including going through, and coming out of, Special Measures (1999 – 2000). It should also be noted that hardly any staff have left because of reasons of promotion.
Recruitment and retention is a massive concern with huge knock-on effects for the whole school community. Sometimes people just leave with no notice and it is rare for someone’s leaving to be celebrated by the school community in an assembly or the like. In several cases, staff members have still not officially been informed that colleagues are no longer a part of the staff, years down the line. We have attached a list of staff that have left over the three years since Mrs Graham has been in charge. It is interesting to consider that many staff who have left are of black and ethnic minority origin – those who have left are disproportionately from ethnic groups. There is currently only one BME member of the SMT. The staff as a whole spend too much of their time worried about their prospects and job security and this does not help move the school on.
Perhaps Canon Clark might care to reconsider what he has said about Ms Birbalsingh, who was employed to try to sort this mess out. His Grace has quite a few documents he will put into the public domain unless a clarification and apology to Ms Birbalsingh are forthcoming.
These documents will come out every day this week unless Canon Clark responds.
That apology may be emailed directly to His Grace (email address in the top right corner of this blog).
His Grace looks forward to hearing from you, Canon Clark.
If you are not able to offer an apology, your resignation will suffice.
For the truth is rather more important than your petty displays of vacuous and discredited authority.