Growing concern at staff exodus from Folio Trust primaries

Education correspondent GENE BRODIE on the sudden resignations of headteachers at two primaries which were recently academised

The St Peter’s Primary badge

The head of a local academy trust issued firm instructions to staff last week ordering them to answer no questions about the abrupt departure of the headteacher from a Croydon primary school.

Paul Thomas resigned as head of St Peter’s Primary in South Croydon last Tuesday, announcing his departure in a letter to parents just as the school was breaking up for Easter. Members of the school community have confirmed that there had been no indication given previously that Thomas had intended to leave the post he had held since September 2011.

St Peter’s is now part of the Folio Education Trust, a relatively new academy group, funded directly from Whitehall, and run from Wallington County Grammar School in Sutton.

Around the same time that Thomas was resigning at St Peters, Cathy Daniels, the head of Park Hill Junior, another Folio Trust-run primary in Croydon, was also leaving her job. Daniels was the science teacher of the year in 2012, but has been struggling with ill-health lately and had been on long-term sick leave.

Daniels is the sixth member of teaching staff, plus a school secretary, to leave or plan to leave Park Hill Juniors since last July. Other teachers are known to be applying for other jobs.

Cathy Daniels: one of seven staff to have left Park Hill Junior in eight months

At St Peter’s, on Normanton Road, staff were issued with a terse memo following headteacher Thomas handing in his resignation.

Inside Croydon has obtained a copy of that memo.

Sent from Jonathan Wilden, the executive headteacher of the Folio Education Trust, it told staff that Paul Thomas’s sudden departure , “… may well attract enquiries to the main office via telephone or email looking for further information.

“Please do not attempt to answer or be drawn into any questions regarding this issue.”

The emphasis had been added, in italics, in Wilden’s own letter.

Wilden then offered his staff a tightly scripted form of words to use as a response for anyone making enquiries, while naming Caroline Barriball and Samantha Sandle as acting co-heads. It is suggested that Barriball and Sandle have been told they will have no say in who is appointed eventually as the new head.

At Park Hill Junior, Ann Pratt has been announced as the replacement head teacher, the “unanimous” choice of the Folio selection panel.

Both St Peter’s and Park Hill had been rated as “Good” schools according to their most recent Ofsted inspections, St Peter’s having risen from a previous “Satisfactory” (although its latest inspection was in January 2013, and another is expected soon).

Jonathan Wilden’s note, distributed at St Peter’s, telling staff how to handle questions about their headteacher’s sudden resignation

St Peter’s results for Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 were above the national average last academic year.

But weak KS2 results last year drew Folio’s closer attention to the school.

The 2017 KS2 results showed 71 per cent of pupils at Park Hill Junior reached the required standard, ranking it 34th among Croydon’s primaries, while at St Peter’s, 50 per cent of pupils attained the standard, placing the school 64th of the borough’s 71 primaries.

It is the Folio Education Trust which recently obtained planning permission for a £30million build of a school with what Folio calls “a grammar school ethos” at Coombe Wood, near Lloyd Park. It will be Croydon’s first selective secondary in 40 years.

Wilden has spoken publicly about his ambition of opening a grammar “annex” in Croydon by 2019. This back-door move towards selection is enthusiastically supported by the Tory MP for Croydon South, Chris Philp.

Meanwhile, parents and staff at St Peter’s are still coming to terms with the shock when they received the formal notification of Thomas’s departure. No reasons were given for the sudden move, either by the school, the trust or by Thomas himself.

Thomas opted not to speak to the school, writing in a letter to parents, “I am sorry that I am not there to say goodbye in person but you know that I cry easily and just would not have been able to cope with that.”

Thomas made the announcement by writing, “Sometimes in life, you have to make incredibly difficult decisions. Sometimes those decisions will upset other people even if they are the right ones to make. In the last week or so, I have had to make such a decision and the hardest part for me is telling you. However, here goes.

Sudden decision: Paul Thomas

“I have decided to step down as headteacher of St Peter’s with immediate effect. I feel that I have done as much as I can to make the school a great place to learn…

“… I will miss you all very much. I feel incredibly proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to be your headteacher.”

Staff and parents say that they were angered at the news, and the manner in which it was smuggled out, just before the Easter holidays.

“We were told that the headteacher made the decision and chose to resign,” one told Inside Croydon. “We feel that there is a lot of information being withheld from the school community. We believe they may have done this to take full advantage of a two-week break hoping that parents’ outrage would die down.”

The school became a part of Folio trust in April 2017, though parents and staff suggest that they had been cool to the idea of academisation. “Parents were given the very minimum information about this,” a parent said.

Another said, “Staff and parents are increasingly worried and concerned about further actions of the executive head, Jonathan Wilden.” Staff have confided that they are concerned about the security of their jobs and the impending changes to leadership.

St Peter’s has undergone a series of “reviews” from Folio since December, when the KS2 results were published. Staff have been told that the current state of our school is “unacceptable”.

Jonathan Wilden, left, at the announcement of his appointments of head and deputy head at Coombe Wood

During one such review, Wilden apparently questioned why the school spent so much time practising for the Christmas production, which was performed for parents by children aged five to seven years old. It is also alleged that Wilden asked why the school accepted so many children who had English as their second language.

St Peter’s pupils, as at many schools in Croydon, come from diverse backgrounds, and include at least one Syrian refugee.

It is suggested that Wilden took a view that teaching assistants were spending too much time supporting students who were learning English.

It has also been suggested that the school’s curriculum budget has been halved, with £6,000-worth of cuts, impacting the school’s science programme.

Funds from the PTA have been used to make good the lost budget.

The concerned source said, “We have been given no information about where this money will be directed and how the academy is supposed to use it to improve KS2 results.”

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4 Responses to Growing concern at staff exodus from Folio Trust primaries

  1. jessrfitness says:

    I’m a parent at St Peter’s, and I can honestly say that I, like the vast majority of parents are deeply saddened by the sudden resignation of Mr Thomas. He’s a fantastic head teacher, loved by the children and parents. So many children were crying on the last day of term, which can only reflect how important he was to them.
    We are totally in the dark about what is happening and why his departure had to be so sudden, and are worried about our children’s education and well-being. As the article suggest, I believe this was intentionally done just before the Easter break to let ‘tensions’ simmer down. Parents want answers, well they want Mr Thomas back.

  2. derekthrower says:

    The never ending addition of bureaucratic control and additional tiers of management that Academisation imposes on schools and their budgets. Have we been told yet how much the Folio Trust will be draining away from school resources? The Byzantine arrangements of how School services are now provided mask the additional indirect costs imposed on Education Resources and which are diverted from actually providing educational resources.

  3. Alen Clifford says:

    I am a parent of a child at St Peter’s and my family are shocked and saddened to learn the news of Mr Thomas’ departure. His leadership is crucial in making the school such a great place for kids to learn.
    The Christmas production (which Folio seems to have taken issue with) was a fantastic experience for my child. The St. Peter’s Christmas production is one example of what makes St. Peter’s a genuinely supportive learning environment. Activities like this aid academic development rather than hindering it.
    Its sad that things have taken such a drastic turn for the worse under the Folio Trust and they should urgently meet with us parents so we can relay our concerns.

  4. veeanne2015 says:

    Unfortunately too many academies consider League Tables for GCSEs/SATs etc are more important than individual children.
    The principle ought to be that the children achieve in learning the best that they are capable of, whatever education ability they have, and are motivated in this direction by enjoying their school life.
    Education money seems to be spent on building luxuries for academies, and often TWO heads, called one thing or another, instead of extra teachers to ensure every child leaves their infants’ school with reading prowess and numerate, so they get the maximum benefit from their education.
    This also benefits their classmates.
    Giving infants homework just extends the ability difference between those with parents able to help them, and those who can’t, or don’t for whatever reason.
    Good heads care for ALL their children – regrettably many are lost to education because this is more important to them than exam percentages. Is this the case here, I wonder ?

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