Salford is littered with people who feel they have been badly treated by the Council but have been gagged, either through contractual agreements or because they are still employed by the Council and daren't speak out for fear of 'bringing the Council into disrepute'.*
Over the years the Salford Star has spoken to councillors, ex-councillors, employees, ex-employees and, indeed, head teachers (not too far from Harrop Fold School) who have told of truly shocking issues but just couldn't go 'on the record' for fear of what might happen. Indeed, the Salford Star believes that there is a culture of fear and secrecy pervading the city that keeps everything under wraps at the 'transparent' Council.
Leonard Cohen once wrote a stunning song called Anthem, with the much quoted line 'There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in'. Yesterday, a bit of light was shone on Salford Council by Drew Povey, Executive Head at Harrop Fold School, as he accused the authority of a "heavy handed approach" and pursuing a "personal vendetta" against him.
In a letter to his chair of governors, Anne Boyson, released on Twitter, Drew Povey writes that he is "at a loss to understand the 'heavy handed' approach adopted by the Council, which appears to have completely ignored the best interests of the students, staff and school...My overall feeling is that Salford City Council are determined to pursue me personally, with the end goal of removing me as Executive Head...
"They appear to have assumed guilt on my part from the outset, and have brought significant pressure on you and the governing body to accede their demands" he adds "...You will be aware that it has been suggested previously that I should resign and accept a financial settlement to 'walk away'. Any such settlement would inevitably require me to agree to various confidentiality undertakings – otherwise known as 'gagging clauses'. As you may also be aware, the use of such clauses by the NHS has recently been heavily criticised...
"...This feels very much like a personal vendetta" he explains "and I hope that by removing myself from the situation, that some semblance of normality will return to the school, for the benefit of all..."
The Twitter release of the letter also came with the statement from @drewpovey: "The time has arrived where I can no longer sit quietly under the threat of 'you cannot comment or you will breach your code of conduct'. I'm speaking up for myself but also all the leaders who have been in touch to say the same happened to them #TakeAStand..."
Within the letter, Drew Povey recounts his personal 'tireless' work to reduce the £3million+ debt of the school, halving it to £1.6million through fundraising, donating proceeds from his book and via Channel 4's Educating Greater Manchester series which he estimates to bring in a further £100,000 for the school.
He also answers what he understands to be the allegations by the Council against him...that Harrop Fold was 'off-rolling' pupils, to which "I am fundamentally opposed and condemn it as a practice".
'Off-rolling' happens in loads of schools and colleges, where students are removed from the official 'roll' to make the statistics for attendance or exam results look better. OFSTED is currently investigating the practice.
In his letter Drew Povey states that 'administrative errors' in recording attendance, exclusions and home schooling involved five pupils in 2018, and three in 2016 and 2017, representing 0.5% of the school population.
In an Annex to the letter he explains more fully that the students "were originally coded as being 'off-roll' and when this was identified as being incorrect, they were immediately reinstated...
"While we accept an error was made by us, it is also perhaps worth noting that despite having a statutory duty to check this data in each of the three years, it would appear that Salford City Council had overlooked these errors as well" he adds.
He explains that the school has a 15%-20% cohort of 'managed moves' and pupils with learning difficulties and "if we were in the business of 'massaging results' we would surely be looking to this much larger group of students to boost our exam results...Refusing to take 'managed moves' – or having a different approach to excluding pupils – would, for example, have a much more significant impact than the very small number of students that were coded incorrectly..."
The other allegations cited are that the school was deliberately encouraging parents to home school 'difficult' children, which he denounces as "completely untrue", and that the school was inappropriately coding students who are sent home for poor behaviour. These, he states, were not recorded as formal exclusions "as it is always done in agreement with the parents – unlike formal exclusions...
"These errors are, I have no doubt, being replicated in secondary schools up and down the country" he writes "I take full responsibility for these errors...but I do not believe they constitute grounds for me to be pursued in the way that I have been, with what appears to be a complete disregard for the damage caused to the school, its pupils, the local community and the Governing Body..."
Finally, Drew Povey accuses the Council of wasting money with the investigation and bringing in additional staff to cover at the school... "Surely a better, more effective way to spend this money would be to contribute to paying off the outstanding debt", he writes, offering to work "unpaid" to support the school until the situation is stabilised.
Lots of parents of pupils and ex-pupils are continuing to support the suspended staff...One parent tweeted "Absolutely disgusted by Salford council's behaviour and treatment of you. My oldest did well at the school and my brother has a degree in something he loved doing at harrop thanks to Ross."
Another tweeted; "I have no words!...Such sad news. The children of Harrop need an inspirational leader like you and will be lost without you. Pity the corrupt system can't recognise this. Hold your head up, stay strong and be all of the things you tell the rest of us to be...Lots of luck x"
And yet another tweeted: "A sad day. Well done for dragging this into the light. Good luck with whatever you do next..."
Leonard Cohen would certainly be proud of Drew Povey!
Salford City Council refuses to be held to account by the Salford Star and hasn't responded to interview requests or questions from this publication for around five years.
Elsewhere, however, Councillor Lisa Stone Executive Lead Member for Children's and Young People's Services at Salford Council, who, last year praised school staff and pupils during a full meeting of the Council**, issued a statement..."In my experience governors do not launch investigations and suspend senior members of staff for mere administrative errors...This is an in-depth and wide-ranging investigation into many serious allegations and it will continue in the interests of the school, pupils, parents and the members of staff who remain suspended. The governing body is trying to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible. It is in no-one's interests to rush through something so serious."
* Nine Thousand Salford People Gagged by Council – click here
** Salford Councillors Proud of Harrop Fold – click here
See also previous related Salford Star article...Harrop Fold Shuts As Parents and Pupils Protest Head Teacher Suspension – click here