Five of Lee Donaghy’s former colleagues have had their names muddied and their careers ruined, he argues, through politically-motivated negligence
As headteacher from 2001, Lindsey Clark transformed Park View School in Birmingham from a byword for low standards in the city into a school feted by a prime minister, with David Cameron citing it in 2010 as an example of a school succeeding against the odds.
She was even awarded an OBE for services to education in 2013, but last week released a statement describing herself as “utterly spent – both emotionally and psychologically”. She has been brought low by having to defend the way she ran Park View in front a professional conduct hearing of the National College for Teaching and Leadership.
The hearing was stopped on 30 May by the independent panel hearing the case, after, in their words, “an abuse of justice” by the NCTL, which failed to fully disclose to the defence the witness statements upon which its case was based.
Along with another four of my ex-colleagues, Clark had been accused of allowing “the inclusion of an undue amount of religious influence” at schools in the Park View Educational Trust, in a case linked to the Trojan Horse affair.
There are two more pending NCTL hearings involving similar allegations, against a further five of my ex-colleagues. Having followed the three cases closely and given evidence at two of them, it is no surprise to me either that the case last week was thrown out, or that the process has taken the kind of toll described in Clark’s statement.
All the while, my ex-colleagues have shown unimaginable fortitude
The proceedings began two and a half years ago, and each of my ex-colleagues has since been subject to an interim prohibition order forbidding them from teaching. In that time one of them retired years early on grounds of ill heath, sacrificing a significant chunk of his pension entitlement. Another was forced to retrain in a different sector.
Two have hung on, determined to clear their names and return to teaching, suffering financial hardship in the process. They remained in suspended animation, employed (and supported – because they’ve patently done nothing wrong) by their schools but unable to teach.
As for Clark, having already retired from teaching in 2014, it seems ludicrous she should have been pursued to the point of exhaustion.These hearings were politically motivated from the outset, and monumentally ill-judged and chronically mismanaged – and every teacher in England should be aware of how disgracefully the body which holds their right to teach has behaved.
It was a massive overreaction by Ofsted and the Department for Education to the hoax letter, which created a climate of moral panic out of all proportion to the seriousness of the allegations.
In such a fevered atmosphere, it would have been impossible to have given the accused a fair hearing, even if the NCTL had been able to conduct itself competently. In the event, in its determination to get the teachers, the National College abused process to such an extent that it “offend[ed] the panel’s sense of justice and propriety”.
Meanwhile, the three cases, although clearly overlapping in terms of allegations and evidence, have been heard separately.
This confusion led in October 2016 to the High Court striking down the teaching bans imposed in the only case to have concluded so far, on the grounds of ‘serious procedural impropriety’, because of the NCTL’s failure to disclose evidence used in one of the other cases.
In another of the three cases, one of the accused teachers was cleared by the panel of all allegations after the NCTL failed to offer any evidence against him in the first four days of the hearing.
Finally, it’s all been chronically mismanaged: from the constantly changing allegations before they began, via frequent months-long adjournments, to the late and non-existent disclosure of evidence to the defence counsels, which last week eventually persuaded an exasperated panel that justice could not possibly now be done.
All the while, my ex-colleagues have shown unimaginable fortitude, arguing that the education we provided at Park View represented best practice and transformed hundreds of lives: a legacy that cannot be taken away.
Lee Donaghy is a former senior leader at Park View School, Birmingham