Saturday, 26 February 2011

Sudhana Singh

is a person I have never knowingly met. She originates I believe from South Africa, and is of Indian heritage. Until the autumn of last year she had had a successful teaching career, and was the head teacher of Moorlands Primary School in Tilehurst, west Reading. Some parents did not like her style it seems, and soon there was a playground campaign by parents to get her removed. A small but vocal group. Not representative of the parent body. They got up a petition seeking her removal. It does not appear to have contained any specific allegations, merely to have stated that parents were "unhappy" with Ms Singh. This petition was submitted first of all to the Reading Evening Post, and then to the governing body of the school. That body appears to have realised that if there is a petition then there must be an issue (they were right). What should they have done next? In my view they should have contacted the lead signatory of the petition and asked that person, along with anyone else who had signed the petition and wished to attend, to come and make their allegations to the governing body. Then, having heard those allegations in detail (which the petition does not give) they should have asked Ms Singh to appear before them to answer the allegations. They did not do this. Instead they referred the whole matter to Reading Borough Council for an independent inquiry. That inquiry has not yet reported so far as I am aware. But Ms Singh has thereby been denied, so far, the opportunity to put her case. In the meantime she has been sent home on full pay, and thus deprived of her job.

A parent who reportedly played a leading role in the petition, Heidi Craske, was reported as having said that she did not think "that Indian woman" should be "in charge of our children". A person who played a leading role in the petition reportedly called a parent, Kes Williams, who supported Ms Singh, a "Paki-lover". That person, who may or may not have been Heidi Craske,later said that a fake email account had been set up in her name and that she had never said such things. However the report I read indicated that the person, who may or may not have been Ms Craske, made the offending remarks verbally and not by email.

Whatever the truth of the above, and if I am factually incorrect please tell me how and I will publish it, a very serious question arises. Natural justice demands that if allegations are made the person against whom they are made should be heard. Ms Singh has not been so heard. This is presumably why she has brought an employment tribunal case, and she is being represented in this by a member of the Bindmans partnership. That partnership does not mess about. I do not imagine that Ms Singh is of independently wealthy means,though of course I could be wrong about that. If I am not then the action is being brought on a no win no fee basis. Which means Bindmans think they will win.

I have no reason to believe Malcolm Powers, the chair of the governing body of that school,now and at the time the decision was taken to take the unsubstantiated petition seriously and not to hear Ms Singh, was a local authority appointee to the governing body. Although he may have been. He is more likely to have been appointed as a parent governor. However he gained access to that body, he became the chair of it, and as such the person ultimately accountable for its decisions. And the decision for which he is accountable, namely to kick the petition away to an independent inquiry and to deny Ms Singh the opportunity to be heard, may cost Reading Borough Council a deal of money if Ms
Singh wins her tribunal case. In practice local authorities prefer to settle these cases out of court to avoid prohibitive increases in their insurance premiums. Whether Reading Borough Council does this or not remains to be seen.

Malcolm Powers is a former employee of Berkshire County Council, having studied geology at Reading University. He left the County Council to work in the constituency office of Jane Griffiths MP (me) in early 1998, and left that employ, on amicable terms, in late 1999. He then worked for the Labour Party, and currently is its regional director for the south-east region, based in Reading. He was a Labour councillor for Battle ward in Reading for a number of years and most recently was a Labour candidate for Church ward in Reading (not elected). He has Labour credentials going back a number of years and it is unlikely to have escaped the then controlling Labour group on Reading Borough Council, when Malcolm Powers became a member and then the chair of the governing body of Moorlands Primary School, that he was one of their own. Indeed, in 2002 Malcolm Powers was press officer of Reading Labour Party, and thus responsible for its public pronouncements.

What does Reading Labour have to do with this decision, which has ousted a head teacher from her job following an apparently racist campaign by some parents, and which may cost Reading Borough Council a great deal of money, and what are they going to do about playground racism?

I only ask.


Anonymous said...

Governing body is ultimately and collectively responsible, not the Chair. The Chair has almost no powers. See Governors, Guide To The Law from DfE.

" Individual governors have no power or right to act on behalf of the governing body, except where the whole governing body has delegated a specific function to that individual, or where regulations specify that a function is to be exercised in a particular way. The governing body is legally liable for all actions taken in its name by individuals or committees to which it has delegated functions."

Jane Griffiths said...

indeed, and your point is? Powers was clear in his remarks to the press that the governing body took no action other than to take the petition seriously and refer it on, and he was speaking in the name of the whole governing body. He did not comment to the Daily Mail when it covered this important story. So?

Anonymous said...

Oh, for Gods' sake - natural justice will have nothing to do with it. There is obviously a witch hunt against this poor woman. Malcolm Powers is a Regional Labour Party official - thus well-versed in stitch ups and witch hunts.

Bindmans are shit hot. I was once recommended to use them on a different matter by Sarah Harman.

Powers should bow his head in shame. BUT THEY HAVE NO SHAME.

Anonymous said...

Hold on Jane, can the lady bring a case against the LA whilst the independent inquiry is still going on? Bit of a lengthy one. Why is it taking so long? Who is responsible? Many questions unanswered indeed.

Jane Griffiths said...

Indeed so, and this is why. I highlight this issue. Let us see.

Anonymous said...

"thus well-versed in stitch ups and witch hunts." Is this particular to Labour? All parties are guilty of this to a greater or lesser degree but anon 13.20, if this is the case for this lady, what has she done to deserve this treatment???

Anonymous said...

Don't know about other parties - I haev only ever been in the Labour Party.

In my experience, it is never the case that anyone 'does' anything to 'deserve' such wretched treatment. They just get it stuffed at them. Sadly.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should check facts before you comment. Perhaps if ms Singh had actually listened to concerns of parents and governors instead of hiding in her refurbished office and when she did deign to spare 5 minutes actually sat and looked at her watch the whole time walking out after the 5 mins was up things would have been different! Interesting to note she also has another case running for a similar issue with another school ! Just because someone is given negative feedback on their capability to perform their role does not make that feedback racist if they are an ethnic minority.

Jane Griffiths said...

Ah, now we are getting somewhere. So this negative feedback appeared in Ms Singh's performance appraisals, did it? Must have done. So why talk to the Reading Evening Post? As you are a senior person responsible for Ms Singh's performance appraisal - you must be, or you would not know what they contained - presumably you are very upset with those who not only launched the playground petition but talked to the Post about. It. And you must be even angrier with whoever made the allegation of racism and referred to "that Indian woman" Am I right?

Anonymous said...

Aha! Appraisals!

Only in Labour World could anybody be sacked for looking at their watch.

But in Labour World it happens all the time. I have known people be 'terminated' for existing.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I feel that the governing body sat on their hands and didn't appear to want to get involved in parents' concerns, parents - including me, felt that our concerns were not being addressed.

It was Mr Melvin Brant who was the Chair of Governors when the Vote Of No Confidence (not a petition) was delivered. However, I do not recall Mr Powers being voted in as a Governor, so I would like to know how he became a Governor. Whilst saying that, the school has some serious problems. It is alleged that it has the highest number of racist incidents in the whole of Reading. The Governors seem reluctant to publish these incidents even though I believe they have to do so, and indeed, they have stated that parents will be 'alarmed' with the number of racist incidents. Does this mean that the school/Governors are reluctant to act when it comes to instances of racism? Should Black/Asian children have to put up with that kind of abuse whilst those who can do something sit on their hands afraid of the 'R' word? Is there anyone of colour within the Governors who can/will do something about the prolonged issues of racism? Was Mrs Singh's reported problems with the Governors race related - even though they employed her? Did they employ her for all of the right reasons? Did they have a number of people (maybe three or four) to interview and she was the best of them all? Was she recruited as there was no other suitable candidate and the Governor's felt somebody was better than knowbody at all? Or, did they recruit her, knowing the racsit problems the school has, with a view that she would sort these issues out? Only they can answer that.

Whilst I personally feel Mrs Singh's problems are all self inflicted, I do believe she has a case against the Governors. They sat on their hands for too long and I feel they were complacent having had Mrs Parry there for some time. My personal opinion is also that Mr Brant was a totally unsuitable Chair. I understood he decided to step down before he was voted out by the other Governors. A totally useless 'wartime' Chair in my opinion. Unfortunately I had the misfortune of sitting in two meetings with him and, once again in my opinion, he seemed totally clueless and out of his depth. At present, the two Heads of the school, Governors and LA are keen to keep things under wraps. They are very keen that parents' do not comment publicly on the ongoing situation, but they themselves still have work to do. They still do not appear to have a grasp of what is going on around them and appear surprised when incidents have been reported to them.

The findings of the Independent Review has not been released by the Governors/LA, even though Mrs Singh has brought it into the public domain. Why won't the Reading Borough Council release it? They are claiming that it is an ongoing legal situation so cannot comment. My opinion is that it will never be released. They have lead the parents a merry dance since June/July 2010 that we would have have the findings by the end of that term. Mr Powers appeared in the local media explaining what the Governors going to do. The findings that were eventually released to parents didn't highlight any of our concerens. Whitewash sprang to mind. The school/Governors, once again in my opinion, only appeared to act on parents' concerns once it hit the headlines in the local media. It did nnot go to the media first. However, the sheer number of staff (teachers and support staff) and pupils that have left the school during Mrs Singh's 'leadership' tells a story in itself.

Whilst I have no time for Mrs Singh and in my opinion her incompetence, if the LA/Governors did not follow the correct procedures, raise their concerns to her in any appraisal she may have had, they have left themselves open to this lawsuit and only have themselves to blame. They therefore deserve to lose this case.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the parents who signed the petition because of Mrs Singh's incompetence. It had nothing to do with race. Ever. The petition was actually very specific and I agreed with most concerns raised. Her race was never mentioned in any conversation I had with other concerned parents and there were many. Race only became an issue when Mrs Singh used it to save face trying to cover for her obvious inability to run the school. I transferred my child to another school rather than risk having to deal with her continued "leadership". Racism is a smokescreen.