Richmond School governors resigned after council failed to back them over head's decisions, documents reveal

The Northern Echo: Richmond School Richmond School

RICHMOND School governors believed the headmaster was acting without authority - and resigned when the local authority failed to back their efforts to bring him in line, reveal documents obtained by The Northern Echo.

The papers shed new light on the background to the bitter dispute which prompted the entire governing body to stand down after being served with a warning notice by North Yorkshire County Council.

The documents - including the former governing body's formal complaint to Ofsted and the Department for Education - reveal that headteacher Ian Robertson was warned by governors that he could face disciplinary proceedings if he continued to take major decisions without their approval.

In response, Mr Robertson made a formal complaint against the chair of the governors, Anne Skeoch, claiming she had unfairly challenged his actions.

By February when North Yorkshire County Council issued the warning notice, Mr Robertson had resigned as a member of the governing body and an attempt by the authority to mediate between the two parties had failed.

The warning notice included several criticisms of the governing body including a claim that, through the actions of the chair, it had made the body "extremely vulnerable" to charges of constructive dismissal by the headteacher, with "potentially significant financial and reputational damage for the school".

A rebuttal by governors to the notice included in the leaked documents described this claim as the "nub" of the matter, suggesting this was the main reason behind the authority's decision to issue the warning notice.

Governors go on to claim that Mr Robertson has twice previously threatened to resign.

The notice later calls for a new chair of governors to be appointed given the "fundamental breakdown" in the relationship between the current chair and the head.

In response, the former governing body said: "The governing body had no desire to remove the leadership of the body, and in any event no-one wanted to take on the responsibility of dealing with a headteacher who fails to operate within the local authority’s own financial procedures and his own pay and conditions, and whose behaviour is generally not trusted by governors."

They added: "Governors decided unanimously that their statutory duty to monitor and hold to account the leadership of the school was fundamentally undermined by this notice, and even if representations were made to Ofsted and were successful, governors had no faith or trust that the leadership of the school could be ever held properly to account given the local authority’s unqualified support."

In response, North Yorkshire County Council said the Department for Education had endorsed the authority's appointment of an interim executive board to take Richmond School forward under strong governance.

It added: "The board’s priority is to re-establish trust and clear channels of communication between governors, the school and its community.

"In this way board members are acting swiftly to engage openly with parents, local members and members of the previous governing body to ensure that continuity is provided in maintaining the progress the school has been making."

The board's task was to establish a strategic direction for the school, hold the leadership to account and work for the good of all students, the authority said.

It added: "Such strong interim governance is required as a stepping stone towards the establishment of a new and fully constituted governing body in the relatively near future.

The council stressed that it had sought some improvements in the way the previous governing body carried out its work.

It added: "It did not seek the governing body’s resignation and was disappointed that governors chose to take that path.

"The governors had the right to make a formal appeal to Ofsted; a right they decided not to take up."

Former chair of governors, Mrs Skeoch, declined to comment.

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