Guest Post from @Brixtonite
In 2002 Jo Shuter took over Quintin Kynaston School in St John’s Wood, north London. Her appointment wasn’t popular with everyone – 100 staff left in her first year, 70 in the first term – but despite such a high staff turnover (which might have raised eyebrows elsewhere) she soon acquired the unofficial title of ‘superhead’ and the approving eye of Tony Blair, who used the school to launch his Children’s Services Green Paper in 2003.
In 2005 a BBC documentary ‘Head on the Block’, billed as an “inspirational tale about an inspirational teacher”, was due to be broadcast but it had to be pulled after it was discovered that film had been produced by her sister, Debbie Shuter, and directed by her sister’s partner.
Debbie Shuter told the Telegraph: “I am gutted about the disappointment of all those children. The fact that it is my sister is totally irrelevant…I can absolutely hand on heart tell you that the film is objective. I have reported the truth.”
In 2007 this inspirational superhead was deemed to be just what Pimlico School needed. Pimlico had recently been failed by Ofsted and, despite vociferous opposition from staff and parents, plans had been raised to turn it into an academy.
“I’m never frightened to say what I think,” she told the Times Educational Supplement at the time. “I’ve never doubted myself. I will not be the head of a failing school.” “Leadership is my strength and if I can make a difference to other schools then I am keen to do so.”
A few months later Shuter was named Head Teacher of the Year. Ann Barton from SOL Consulting commented on the Teaching Awards website “The girl done good… A fantastic achievement Jo Jo, and richly deserved. Onward and upward!”
In September 2008 Pimlico School was duly re-opened as an academy and handed over to hedge fund manager John Nash (now Baron Nash and an unelected schools minister) and in 2010 Shuter was awarded a CBE for “services to education”.
Fast forward to September 2012 and the revelation that Shuter had been suspended from Quintin Kynaston after what Patrick Lees, Chair of Governors called “serious allegations relating to the management of the school” were referred to police.
By this time Quintin Kynaston had also become an academy so the local authority, Westminster, was left unable to intervene. Students and parents were left in limbo as the Department for Education refused to get involved saying “The suspension of the head teacher is a matter for the Quintin Kynaston Trust.”
So what were these allegations that were so serious that a woman with a CBE for services to education had to be suspended from her job? After an eight month suspension the governors announced that Jo Shuter had received “a formal final written warning” following “a long and robust disciplinary process”. But the reasons for the written warning or remained shrouded in mystery.
That is until the BBC reported that one of Shuter’s alleged misdemeanours had been using £7000 of the school’s money to pay for her 50th birthday party.
The full findings of the DfE internal report into the goings on at Quintin Kynaston appear damning. They include:
• Evidence that since November 2011 the Academy has spent £17,293.75 on taxi accounts including trips to some of London’s leading restaurants such as the Savoy, the Ivy, and the Wolsey,
• Overnight meetings by the Senior Leadership Team of the school were held at the five-star Landmark Hotel at a cost of thousands.
• Shuter was paid tens of thousands of pounds for consultancy work completed in school time.
• Shuter’s PA, whose salary was paid by the Academy, was used to book family holidays, schedule consultancy work, and organise the rental of her Turkish holiday villa
• Expenses were claimed more than once from different organisations
• A number of issues related to the employment of family members are still being investigated
The report notes that, as an Academy, the school was allowed to assess itself for Financial Management and Governance. Shuter as Head Teacher and Accounting Officer was ultimately responsible for the fiscal well-being of the school. The report notes that the rating the school gave itself for Financial Management was ‘Good’. The DfE report downgrades this self-assessed rating to ‘Inadequate’.
As I write, Shuter remains Head Teacher of Quintin Kynaston. But, following the publication of the DfE’s report, it seems unlikely she can remain in place for long.
So, how did we get to this point?
A big part of it is the rise of the cult of the personality in school leadership. Our schools are among the best in the world but they have been denigrated and our teaching standards have been besmirched. Jo Shuter was one of a number of school leaders lauded as being the new broom needed to sweep away all of the detritus and make us all shiny and new. Perhaps they felt invincible?
But the main culprit is Gove and his obsession with privatisation and deregulation. Schools are being encouraged to run themselves on business models. Head teachers are ‘CEOs’, or “public sector entrepreneurs” who are “saving” education and “raising standards”.
In reality, academy status and autonomy for heads isn’t about raising standards, it’s about breaking up state education allowing individual heads to build small business franchises and large chains to take tens, if not hundreds of schools. This is what Gove meant when he wrote in the 2009 Tory election manifesto about a ‘supply side revolution. The next stage is running schools ‘for-profit’.
Freedom isn’t what schools need to be successful. It never has been. What they need is good teaching and learning and good leadership. Most often this is secured by ensuring effective support and accountability. Just the kind of support and accountability that they might get from a local authority.
In some ways this story is a tragedy. For someone who has dedicated so much of her working life to state education to be seduced by Gove’s shilling is pitiful.
Some are suggesting Shuter has done nothing wrong and is the victim of a media witch hunt. Well, I suggest you read the DfE report in full.