Katharine Birbalsingh was not the first at St Michael and All Angels Academy to be harassed, bullied and slandered
His Grace has to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently His Grace’s blog is in a state of discontent and disappointment with Canon Peter Clark.
Since this school is financed by the public purse, it is undoubtedly in the public interest to disclose the truth of its deficiencies in leadership and insufficiencies in governance, which are far more disturbing than the appalling treatment meted out upon Ms Birbalsingh.
For she is not the first senior teacher at St Michael and All Angels to blow the whistle on management incompetence, a bullying headteacher and an incompetent chair of governors.
And neither is Ms Birbalsingh the first to be subject to arbitrary and discriminatory disciplinary procedures, and thereby deprived of justice.
It beggars belief that this school purports to operate under the aegis of the Church of England.
It gives His Grace no particular pleasure to force-feed a pharisee a mouthful of his own hypocrisy...
Like Ms Birbalsingh, Sairah Shah was an experienced and highly successful teacher who had been graded by Ofsted to be of the highest calibre. Her abilities had also been highly commended by her previous employers. Like Ms Birbalsingh, Sairah Shah was also employed by the Academy as an assistant headteacher in June 2008.
By 5th November that year, she had been signed off by her GP suffering from acute depression and work-related stress.
She never returned to work at the Academy.
In pursuit of justice, with the generous assistance and support of her family, she has forked out £38,000 in legal costs, which are about to be augmented by a further £20,000 in Tribunal proceedings.
She did not qualify for union support, so has pursued this with admirable determination for two long and lonely years, intent on restoring her personal honour and professional integrity.
Is it not a damning indictment of Canon Peter Clark that no way could be found to mediate in this dispute, and that neither the Academy nor the Diocese of Southwark appear to be equipped to deliver justice?
They bring the Church into disrepute and drag the name of Jesus through the mud.
When Sairah Shah joined the Academy, she had praises poured upon her by the then headteacher Mrs Sue Graham. But within weeks, she was being sidelined, undermined and harassed. Despite requests, she was given no job description and no induction, and then she was confronted with a proposal to change her job title to a tier beneath that for which she had been engaged.
Ms Shah attempted to communicate her concerns to Mrs Graham, not least because of the perceived demotion.
As with all bullies, Mrs Graham’s attitude towards Ms Shah was noticeably different from that day on.
Mrs Graham belittled and ridiculed Ms Shah in front of her colleagues. Ms Shah was summoned without notice (and unaccompanied) to quasi-disciplinary meetings, because bullies like to isolate and intimidate.
It is textbook.
Ms Birbalsingh was subjected to the same treatment by the present headteacher, Mrs Irene Bishop.
And like Ms Birbalsingh, Ms Shah was falsely accused of being ‘aggressive’, ‘ambitious’, of unsettling the leadership team and causing general discontent in the school. Just a few months into her employment, Ms Shah was being encouraged by Mrs Graham to begin applying for alternative employment.
It was clear that Mrs Graham wanted her out, which, naturally was a cause of great distress to Ms Shah.
At subsequent meetings, Mrs Graham denied having said what she had said at previous meetings (another classic strategy of bullies), and insisted that Ms Shah had ‘misunderstood’ and ‘taken things out of context’.
Significantly, in September 2008, Ms Shah was informed by Mrs Graham that as a result of a drop in the number of pupils at the Academy, there would be a need for redundancies, including among the Leadership Team. She said that fixed-term contracts would not be renewed. Ms Shah was the only leader so employed.
Thereafter, her name was expunged from all official paperwork, and even from the Staff Handbook.
Mrs Graham refused to speak with Ms Shah, whose health deteriorated significantly:
On 10 September, during the day, Ms Shah became very unwell. She was so unwell, with a pain in her stomach, that she could not walk. Several concerned colleagues commented that she had “gone grey” and said that she looked “dreadful”. Ms Michelle Ferguson, the Director of Communication, escorted the Claimant to the Academy’s medical room and insisted on going to the local pharmacy to buy some medicine for the Claimant. However, on her way out of the Academy, she was stopped by Mrs Graham. Mrs Graham then came to see the Claimant in the medical room, where she said to the Claimant: “You are not allowed to direct people to get your medicine: you are not a child and we don’t do this for adults. You can go home. I can call your husband. You’re not pregnant, are you?”This was in stark contrast to the very supportive and sympathetic treatment Mrs Graham demonstrated towards her favoured staff.
Ms Shah was made to feel inadequate, incompetent, and simply ‘not up to the job’.
Interestingly, those who were invited to apply for the new positions in Mrs Graham’s restructuring were all white, despite there being two BME people on the Senior Leadership.
By this time, Ms Shah was on beta-blockers and anti-depressants.
There was then an attempt to curtail Ms Shah’s sick pay (contrary to her statutory entitlement), and she was erroneously asked to repay c£2,000 while she was already signed off with work-related stress.
In February 2009, Ms Shah commenced formal grievance proceedings against Mrs Graham, and escalated issues to the Chair of Governors, the Very Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave.
Astonishingly, he did not intervene and called no meeting to consider that grievance.
Unable to secure justice by using the school’s policies, and unable to secure justice with reference to the statutory procedures of the Southwark Diocese, Ms Shah has had no recourse but to pursue the matter through the courts.
Her case (re-)commences this coming Friday in the Croydon Employment Tribunal.
Dr Ipgrave has, of course, since been replaced by Canon Clark, who dismissed Mrs Graham after last May’s damning Ofsted report.
That alone ought to inform us that Mrs Graham’s leadership and conduct were found wanting and falling far short of the standards required in a church school.
And Ms Shah’s testimony is corroborated by the damning letter of the four unions involved with the school, who observed:
The Principal's management style does not inspire or motivate. It is not an inclusive style. The staff here is 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.So, Canon Clark, why have you seen fit to treat Ms Birbalsingh in the same shoddy and cavalier fashion?
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.
Unfortunately many people have left under compromise agreements and so are now unable to come forward and bear witness; however there are others who are happy to come forward and give evidence when necessary.
Does that have to go to Tribunal as well?