The ‘malevolent’ Canon Peter Clark
It is certainly something when staff joining a school are warned not of incompetent colleagues, a bullying head of department or a barking headteacher, but of the ‘viper’ who is chair of governors.
But such is the case with Canon Peter Clarke: the word ‘viper’ (and worse) is used to describe him and his modus operandi; his reputation for ‘unpleasantness’ certainly precedes him.
This perhaps comes as no surprise from a former vicar who has no time at all for the great Victorian and mediaeval church buildings which so magnificently radiate the majesty and glory of God: when the Nazis bombed London, Canon Clark is of the view that Hitler ‘did us a favour’, permitting them to build a cowshed of a church in which ‘most importantly ... (the) modern liturgy can be seen by everybody’.
Appearance is foremost.
Which is no surprise when the heart is full of bitterness.
Some of the Rev Peter Clark's parishioners certainly did not sense much of the fragrance of Christ about the man, accusing him of being ‘factually inaccurate’, ‘calculatedly partial’ and ‘wilfully misleading’ in his expressions; even of making ‘malevolent pejorative remarks’.
What kind of minister of the gospel may be misleading and malevolent?
On the run-up to (and since) his retirement as the vicar of Battersea Christ Church and St Stephen (Southwark) in 2008, Canon Clark seems to have made a profession out of being a governor at multiple schools – even boasting of holding three positions simultaneously – at Christ Church Battersea, St Saviour’s and St Olave’s Southwark and St Cecilia’s Wandsworth.
He could hardly be a model of focused intervention and undivided attention. Did no-one in the Southwark Diocesan Board of Education think to ask how on earth he could possibly be dedicated to the welfare of so many staff and students?
What is interesting to note is that he is also Chairman of Governors at St Saviour’s and St Olave’s, which is where the ‘Blairite headteacher’ Irene Bishop presides (we won’t call her ‘Doctor’). Mrs Bishop was moved in by Canon Clark to be the part-time, temporary ‘Executive Headteacher’ of St Michael and All Angels after its damning Ofsted report in April 2010, when it was graded ‘inadequate’ and failing across so many areas.
It beggars belief (more than a little) that the Chair of Governors of St Michael and All Angels should believe that such a litany of deep-seated problems and chronic underperformance might by fixed by a two-day-a-week flying headteacher who is used to calling herself ‘Doctor’ and having archbishops and prime ministers fall to kiss her feet.
But Canon Clark appears to be rather fond of appointing ‘leftist’ headteachers. He even threw a party for Mrs Frances Bussy, who was headteacher of Christ Church School Battersea when Canon Clark was Chair of Governors. Like Irene Bishop, Mrs Bussy wears her political allegiance on her sleeve: ‘Even the school uniform is to have a new colour. It will change from red to blue. “Certainly no political significance”, says Frances Bussy, the Head. “Blue is simply a less aggressive colour!”.’
Certainly no political significance?
God forbid that she or her school might be sullied by colour association with the stench of Conservatism.
But Canon Clark is concerned that all Church of England schools in Southwark should receive ‘every support and encouragement, rather than constant carping criticism’. He adds: ‘The Church’s role in education in Southwark should be an occasion of praise rather than blame.’
Which begs the question of why he is inclined to the persistent ‘carping criticism’ of Katharine Birbalsingh; of why, instead of praising her for exposing the systematic failure of a rotten education system, he chooses to blame her for the closure of a school which he knew full well was destined for closure before Ms Birbalsingh was even employed.
Could it be because she publicly exposed and derided the foundation of discredited ‘leftist ideology’ upon which Canon Clark has built his whole education empire and carefully constructed his continuing power base? With so many ‘leftist’ headteachers under his aegis, is it that he had to act swiftly to eliminate this quite mad Tory harridan and neuter her ‘right-thinking’ malignance before she could throw too much light upon his incompetent governance and murky dealings?
Apparently, Canon Clark prefers ‘hard facts’.
He says they are ‘an essential preliminary for reflection and subsequent action’.
In his comments to the Mail on Sunday, he not only blames Katharine Birbalsingh for the falling school roll, he added that an inspection of the school held shortly before Christmas had shown that ‘nothing that she said was right’.
Nothing that she said was right?
But she spoke in October 2010.
Here is a letter sent to Canon Clark by the secretaries and national officers of the four trade unions involved in the school. It is dated May 2010:
Dear Mr Clarke,In light of this appalling state of affairs, which has arisen and been perpetuated while Church of England ministers chaired this school’s Governing Body, could Canon Clark please explain how Ms Birbalsingh was responsible for any of this, occurring, as it did, before she even joined the school?
Formal Meeting Request: to discuss issues raised by the members of four unions (NUT, ATL, NASUWT and UNISON) at St Michael and All Angels Academy, Camberwell.
The members of the NUT, UNISON, ATL and NASUWT after an overwhelming majority vote in a joint meeting held on Wednesday 19th May have asked us to write to you and express our serious concerns with regard to the running of the academy. We have grouped the reasons put forward into three groups:
Pupil Behaviour and Safety
Pupil behaviour was identified by OFSTED recently as its main concern. This issue has been raised many times in the past three years with the Principal and the staff and their unions have been keen to be involved in formulating policies and procedures. Instead the academy has introduced three different behaviour policies, with no apparent improvement to behaviour. The staff have had promises of involvement in working parties but these have not been followed up. Behaviour of the students has steadily deteriorated since the academy opened. In April 2006 the school was awarded a Good by OFSTED and since then behaviour has regressed at an alarming rate. The incident book appears to be inaccurate and unobtainable.
The staff have kept their own records of incidents to show to you when necessary.
The wider issue of safety has been a concern since the academy opened and in spite of NUT/Unison informing the Principal that staff no longer felt they were working in a safe environment, there was a refusal to acknowledge this. With the school about to become a building site we have grave concerns about the academy's ability to create a safe environment. The Health and Safety JCC with branch union representation has been disbanded with no reason despite the unions suggesting moving the meetings to Thursdays to ensure that all could attend. The unions have had a difficult relationship with the Principal and organising union meetings are not without difficult especially if the members have invited branch reps from outside.
The principal has been pressurising union reps and members to tell her what happened in our meeting on the 19th May and we would like you to investigate her behaviour around union meetings in general. We feel that this lack of constructive dialogue and less than good industrial relations are not helpful for a National Challenge school. Furthermore the NUT surveyed the staff and found that many staff were suffering from work related stress due to working under the Principal's direction. We would be happy to share the results of the survey with you.
Curriculum and Assessment – Impact on pupils
The results seem to have stagnated and the school is still a National Challenge school. Students are made to do BTEC subjects simply because these will increase the results for the school, rather than because they are the right course for a particular student to take. Students’ future choices are therefore restricted, and teachers are forced to jeopardize their professional integrity through encouraging students to make choices that are not in their best interests. As far as we aware there is no information about what happens to students once they have left the academy. So the Academy is unaware of the outcomes of students doing so many non GCSE exams. Students are also made to do exams far too early, in Year 9 and Year 10. They are not ready, both emotionally and in terms of knowledge and ability, to take these exams. Often the timetable has not allowed enough time to cover the curriculum. Some subject areas have time ‘stolen’ from them in order to give extra time to exam subjects. This sets up divisions between subject areas and teachers. SEN and EAL students are often entered for entirely inappropriate exams, at which they have no chance of succeeding. Obviously this can be extremely upsetting and is concern to us. When we also factor into the equation that many exams can only be taken twice, then it is disappointing that the students are being treated in this way. Seventy five staff this week were assigned as readers for exams - a figure which seems high to us. There is also a lack of clear transition between KS4 and KS5.
The extremely high turnover of staff and pupils in the school has a negative and detrimental effect on the whole school community, and in particular on the students, many of whom are vulnerable, and for whom school used to be a consistent and positive influence. Student progress is also affected by having different teachers. In addition to high staff turnover, there is also a high instance of long-term stress-related sickness, which is also detrimental to student learning as well as being costly to the school and extremely damaging for the individuals concerned. We understand that the numbers for Year 7 are very low for next year and must be a concern to you, since clearly parents and pupils are not choosing the academy or choosing to stay at the academy, since the number of in year leavers is also high.
Leadership and management style
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.
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.
We look forward to hearing from you and meeting with you to address our concerns directly and to begin to share with you the evidence that we have and work with you to address these issues and improve the school.
Please could you include all four unions in any response – contact details given below. We are hoping to hear from you, by next Friday, before considering further action. For information we have copied the Diocese, The Local Authority, the HMI and The Academies Unit into this correspondence, since we know that the school is of particular concern to them all.
Michael Davern (Joint Secretary, NUT)
John Puckrin (National Officer, ATL)
James Lewis (Secretary, NASUWT)
April Ashley (Secretary, UNISON)
More importantly, since apparently ‘nothing’ of the systematic failures alleged by Ms Birbalsingh in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference are deemed to apply to St Michael and All Angels Academy, could Canon Clark please explain how a further inspection just a few months after a damning Ofsted inspection and this subsequent letter of grave concern, could possibly establish that all of these problems have been eradicated and all of these concerns addressed?
Surely, Canon Clark, you are not engaged in some sort of cover-up and mutual back-slapping with ‘Dr’ Irene Bishop?
If the turnaround and transformation are so seismic, perhaps you might consider throwing a party for her as well?
His Grace is quite sure that Ed Miliband would be delighted to attend.