In 2014, Andrew Gilligan brought out his wrench set comprising “Islamists”, “takeover”, “Islamising” and “schools” and proceeded to produce a hatchet-job focussing on two schools in Bradford: Carlton Bolling College and Laisterdye Business and Enterprise College. Gilligan’s piece was typically routine; a Muslim villain who is not entitled to behave like his white counterparts, an oppressed white teacher of sorts who accuses said villain of various things ranging from nepotism, “relentless” questioning and/or some sort of financial mismanagement.
It typifies the necessary demonization required for the people to be distracted enough so that they do not question the measures the government is taking to cure or excise this mythical Muslim villain or indeed whether there is any actual substance in the claims being made.
The claims are varied in Gilligan’s piece and various subjects of smears are cut and pasted from his other articles into this piece to conjure up the image of an “evil” group of Muslims – Gilligan even cites a teacher’s reference to Muslim governors as dementors: “evil characters from the Harry Potter novels, described in the books as “among the foulest creatures that walk this earth”.
One couldn’t go more Goebbels even if one tried.
I will take aspects of Gilligan’s accusations piece by piece. My focus on this piece will be the story behind which the following claims were asserted in news reports,
“At Laisterdyke, another mainly Muslim secondary in Bradford, staff said Mr [Faisal] Khan had led “relentless attempts” to undermine the current head teacher, Jen McIntosh. “The tactics are reminiscent of those employed in Operation Trojan Horse, with governors constantly questioning decisions, school results and vociferous complaints from the community,” said one person connected with the school…”
“Last month all the Laisterdyke governors, including Mr Khan, were sacked by Bradford council. A spokesman said the dismissal was due to “concerns about [their] actions and effectiveness”. Ofsted has also been called in to inspect the school, finding serious problems in the governing body.”
Gilligan reported that the “entire governing body” was sacked and that according to unnamed “senior officials”, the sacking was to prevent the “Islamisation” of the school.
With Faisal Khan being, in Gilligan’s words, “at the centre of the Bradford plot”, and a secretly recorded video which, when watched does a pretty good job of exposing Gilligan’s journalism (i.e. Mr Khan is clearly seen talking about raising standards, a point which is ominously omitted from Gilligan’s written piece which instead focusses on a completely unfounded “Islamist” suspicion), we have presented the ultimate enemy for the people to rally against and unite upon its solution: closed-society measures cooked up despotic neocons like Michael Gove.
So what exactly happened? Was the principal at Laisterdyke “relentlessly” undermined? Or were personal gains at stake? The following is the first part of the story of Laisterdyke.
Background – Failing Sixth Forum
The issues between the members of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) (comprising the Principal Jen McIntosh, Vice Principal and the head of the 6th form) and the governors seems to trace back to April 2013, when management failures led to a lack of specialist provisions for 6th Form science students. In a revealing letter from the students to the then chair of governors for Laisterdyke John Robertshaw, the students wrote,
“We feel frustrated as we have very little time left and Teachers and Admin don’t appreciate the situation… Please help us to salvage what little is left of this Year. We have 20 chapters to study in 3 weeks after the Easter holidays, before the exam.”
As made evident from the letter, instead of the Senior SLT intervening to resolve the insufficiency of provisions, the personal assistant to McIntosh blocked students from raising issues to the governors and other administrative staff. The students further highlighted:
“The school did not authorise the Head of Science Department to hire an A level Biology Specialist despite the ‘U’ grades in the Mock Assessment….
The Head Teacher has failed to help us by stepping in and sorting out this mess”
The disturbing letter goes further and highlights that the students felt at a loss; their morale was down whilst some were contemplating changing colleges and even career directions. Governors, once notified, swiftly intervened and did what they could to salvage the situation however, late notification meant that the measures implemented had limited impact.
Soon after, the management seem to have attempted to mask the failings by trying to close down the 6th Form, according to sources, citing difficulties in recruiting. This was resisted by the governors. Despite the resistance, the English A-Level language was dropped for the abovementioned reason. However, it was widely known in the school that the three members of the SLT including the Principal specialised in English, but were not teaching. The damning Ofsted report published in October 2013 (inspection took place on 12th of September) criticised the quality of teaching.
On Friday 13th of September 2013, a feedback session was attended by concerned governors. Here we begin to see the governors trying to take rapid action. Governors present at the meeting confirm that the need for all Governors to be informed of the outcome of the inspection as a matter of priority was emphasised and that another governor meeting should take place on 16th (the following Monday). Sources state that the responsibility for ensuring this was left to the school and for an unknown reason, the school did not take the necessary steps to ensure the meeting took place. The meeting instead took place on the 23rd of September.
The Bone of Contention?
A full Governing Body meeting took place on 7th of October 2013. At this meeting, McIntosh recommended that certain senior leadership temporary promotions be forwarded to the Human Resources Sub-Committee Meeting on the 21st of October with a view of granting them approval of their positions. However, Ofsted in their report explicitly highlighted that,
“Governors are still developing their skills so that they can hold leaders fully to account for the college’s performance. They do not ensure that there is a sufficient link between the progress students make and teachers’ salary progression”.
With this link between progress of students and teachers’ salary progression firmly in view, and given the fact that at the time of McIntosh’s request, the temporary senior leadership positions had only been held for four weeks, it was contended that they had yet to demonstrate any impact.
This however, was set to become a bone of contention in subsequent meetings, turning things somewhat sour.
Using “Getting to Good” Plan to Cement Posts
Given the urgency of the issues of raised, the “Getting to Good” plan – devised after the visit from Ofsted – took some time being produced. Discussion about it took place on the 23rd of September (bearing in mind Ofsted had visited on the 12th) but the plan was still in an incomplete state. The first version was given by the SLT to the Governing Body 7th October 2013. This too was still incomplete. According to a leaked Bradford Council document marked “confidential”, which contains the minutes to a “School Specific Monitoring Group Meeting”, held on 27th November 2013, the plan was still being “tweaked”, with further input to be made from vice principals, Richard McManus and Chris Scrivens. McManus it should be noted, claimed in a report at the height of the Trojan Hoax lies, that “pupils were expected to study at home”, which was contradicted the actual study guides supplied by pupils who were sat outside school, which had numerous study sessions scheduled. Pupil were sent home according to the report, to avoid them having contact with the Ofsted inspection.
In this document, McIntosh’s frustrations around promotions are also documented:
“Temporary Senior Leader roles in hands of Governors, JM [Jen McIntosh] voiced frustration that Governors unable to authorise for the posts to be made permanent…”
This meeting, it should be noted, took place without governors (aside from the chair) being present. The governors were also unaware of the content of the meeting.
On the 9th of December 2013, a full Governing Body meeting took place. Skipping versions two and three, the fourth version of the “Getting to Good” plan was emailed to governors the day before, and on the 9th the governors were asked to approve the document. During the course of the meeting it emerged that McIntosh had already presented the document (created with a date stamp of 1st of November) to Ofsted during a visit on the 5th of November and that she did not have time to obtain approval of the Governors. When queried about this, McIntosh stated that, with a two-day notice, it was “not feasible to get sign off of the plan with the entire Governing Body prior to the visit” [Minutes from GB meeting, 09/12/2013].
Ironically however, she was pushing for an approval of the latest plan with only a day’s notice!
Despite McIntosh’s pushing for swift approval citing the demoralising nature of advertising for the SLT roles, understandably the governors could not approve the plan due to the short notice (they had a detailed, updated plan which they received only a day ago). Khan noted that “a robust recruitment process was needed in respect the SLT roles”. As such it was agreed that the posts should be advertised internally and externally. [Minutes from GB meeting, 09/12/2013]
A Threat to the Governing Body
Moreover, a brief analysis of the document at the meeting revealed that the proposals were underhandedly bypassing the Human Resources decision-making process: approval of the document would mean automatically accepting the permanency of the temporary SLT appointments, which had yet to yield major benefit. With a vote being passed to withdraw the plan pending further updates, my sources close to the Governing Body confirm that McIntosh issued a passive aggressive threat, stating that since Ofsted was now telling the school to make the positions permanent, with the governors refusing, an Interim Executive Board would be served.
This eerie threat would serve as a crude foreshadowing of what was to come.
Focus on Governing Body
From here on the focus shifted towards the governing body. The then Chair of governors, John Robertshaw, sent an email notifying everyone that the school did not have the money to recruit externally to fill the SLT roles. Given the fact that the question of finances was explicitly discussed (and it was confirmed that there was a surplus, although it would go into a deficit the following year) and the fact that departments were exceeding their budgets without authorisation [Minutes from GB meeting, 09/12/2013], this prompted Khan to request an extraordinary meeting in line with DfE guidelines on the 17th of December with a view to determine a sustainable SLT structure given the new financial information. This was metamorphosed into an eventual meeting by the Chair held on the 7th of January 2014 with the focus now switched by the Chair to concerns over governance. It emerged that the Bradford Council’s Assistance Director of Education and School Improvement, Paul Makin, had sent a letter on the 20th December expressing concerns that the governing body was “obstructing progress” echoing the views of McIntosh and the slow pace of the implementation of the “getting to good” plan. This was despite the fact that the governing body had already instituted governor training, had visited an outstanding school, and brought an example of a dashboard relating key information for the Principal. The Body had also engaged the services of Mr John Barton as National Lead Governor to carry out an interim Review of Governance. This was all done without the support of and to the complete and seemingly deliberate ignorance of the Bradford Council [minutes from full GB meeting, 07/01/2014]. Additionally, the delays, as explained above were in fact due to the SLT’s lethargic response in actualising a plan and adequately dealing with governor’s recommendations.
McIntosh’s “Obstruction of Progress”
At this point it is worth summarising some key points with regards to the “Getting to Good” plan which was conveniently overseen by the Council.
- The getting to good plan was in an incomplete state on the 23rd of September and was not handed in by the SLT.
- It was still being tweaked by the SLT on the 27th of November 2013.
- McIntosh had shown a version of the document to Ofsted on the 5th of November without approval from governors.
- The governors for the first time viewed a completed plan which skipped two version on 9th of December. Here updates were suggested by governors and the plan subsequently withdrawn.
McIntosh and the SLT, clearly frustrated by the non-approval of their friends’ positions, became difficult to work with.
To get a more informed view of the progress of the school, one of the governors, Khan, had requested data from MacManus about the percentages of “good” or “better” for Teaching and Learning in the school to be provided to the Governing Body. The request was repeated at three successive meeting without the information being provided properly [minutes from full GB meeting, 07/01/2014, p.2]. Notably, this request was concordant to and supportive of Ofsted’s recommendation:
“- systems to improve the quality of teaching and monitor the progress students make are consistently applied by all senior and middle leaders and teachers”
On the 13th of January 2014, the Curriculum sub-committee approved the “Getting to Good” plan. The minutes for this meeting are interesting. McIntosh deflected criticism of the SLT [minutes from Curriculum and Inclusion, 13/01/2014]:
“Cllr Khan and he requested that members of the SLT be identified against the different sections [of the Getting to Good plan]… Mrs McIntosh advised that no issues were raised by Ofsted in respect of staff understanding the lines of management in college.”
Ofsted however, ranked “leadership and management” as “requires improvement”, specifically, highlighting that “senior and middle leaders are still being developed due to staff changes”.
The minutes also make a reference to the highlighting of the absence of “behaviour targets” to tackle the issue raised in the Ofsted report about some low-level disruptions. Former governors at the meeting confirmed to my sources that McIntosh insisted that this was not an issue.
Despite the Council’s insistence – clearly influenced by McIntosh’s version of events – that the governors were “obstructing progress”, the hard evidence points to delays and “obstructions” perpetuated by the former Chair (Robertshaw) and the SLT comprising McIntosh, Scrivens and McManus.
The explanative nature of this first part is important for setting the context for what followed: a conspicuous mix of collusions between the Bradford Council and McIntosh; contradictions and lies; and more “obstruction” by McIntosh. Far from an “Islamist” plot, evidence, as shall be shown, will demonstrate a “plot” to excise Muslim governors who were holding management to account.