Capability: abuses of power in education and policing




 

 

 

 

 

 

The involvement of South Yorkshire Police: a  Harassment Warning (Police Information Notice, PIN) and the Humpty Dumpty view of words

 

In early December, 2015, there was a knock at the door, and when I opened it, I found a uniformed police officer there. She'd come to issue a  Harassment Warning. The Harassment Warning was introduced and explained. The  sanctions for infringing the Harassment Warning were made clear, by the officer and the document itself:

 

' ... if the kind of behaviour described here were to continue, then you would be liable to arrest and prosecution.'

 

Crime Ref: K/116966/15

 

What kind of behaviour? What had I done, allegedly?

 

The police call these documents 'Police Information Notices,'  a harmless-sounding term concealing the not-in-the-least harmless reality, a euphemism if ever there was one. This was why I was risking arrest and prosecution (if this kind of behaviour continued), according to South Yorkshire Police:

 

YOU CALLED AND LEFT A VOICEMAIL MESSAGE ON MR  & MRS CONHEENEY LANDLINE CALLING THEM BLUNDERING BUFFOONS.'

 

YOU HAVE ALSO EMAILED MR CONHEENEY AT WORK STATING THE SAME INSULT.

 

If this had been checked after writing it, an obvious mistake might have been detected. It should have been 'Mr & Mrs Conheeney's landline' not 'Mr and Mrs Conheeney landline.'

 

Was I contacted before this document was issued, to find out my own opinion, to hear the arguments and evidence I had available? No.


Did I call Mrs Conheeney a 'blundering buffoon' in the voicemail message or at any other time? No. The claim that I did call her a blundering buffoon  is completely false. I did point out to her that the 'Capability document,' which gave a list of my alleged failings, with the initials of the people making the claims, contained this: CH, or Chris Conheeney, the Head of Physics at the time, had made certain 'criticisms' of me. I pointed out that my examination results in Physics had been consistently outstanding and that it was intolerable that she had made 'criticisms' of me but that I had no idea what the criticisms were. She refused to tell me. I've still no idea what the criticisms were. Any person in a position of leadership who can't be bothered to give this essential information, or is afraid to give this essential information, is showing leadership of an abysmal standard.

 

Did I call Mr Conheeney a blundering buffoon in a voicemail message and an email? Yes, I did. In what context?

 

Just in case the police enquiries before the issue of the Harassment Warning failed to include a look at the actual email evidence, an extract from the relevant email to Andrew Conheeney:

 

'Dear Andrew, I’ve now added a short section to my ‘Capability’ page [I gave a link to the page]. This is simply a first draft. It will be revised and extended. If you find it unfair, by all means contact me. If I think that your objections are valid, I’ll make some necessary changes or remove the section altogether.’

Although the first draft contained the phrase ‘blundering buffoon,’ the entry was modified and the phrase was removed – not at Andrew Conheeney’s insistence, since he never contacted me to object to the entry. (Now that the harassment warning has been issued, with its prominent mention of the phrase, then I saw every reason to reinstate the material, and I've done so.)
 
The tone of this isn't remotely the tone of someone writing with the intent to harass. Suppression of emails, censoring of emails should only be done in cases where malicious intent is overwhelmingly obvious. If South Yorkshire Police wishes to be known as a force which tries to suppress fair-minded emails such as this, then it is making a serious mistake.

The voicemail message I left gave reasons and arguments why I found the behaviour of Andrew and Chris Conheeney unacceptable - not just unacceptable but disturbing. The phrase 'blundering buffoon' was a tiny part of the message. The tone was moderate, rueful, not in the least threatening or harassing.

Charles Moore, writing in 'The Daily Telegraph' (5 December 2016) gives information about a voicemail message which was anything but moderate:

'In the autumn of 2008, for Radio 2's Russell Brand Show, Brand, with Jonathan Ross, rang up Mr Sachs, who had been unable to appear on the show. They left a voice message that Brand had recently "f ....d" his granddaughter. Then they left three more message, joking about her menstruation, imitating Mr Sachs's voice and imagining him saying he would kill himself because of the shame. One message pointed out that grandparents often have photos of their grandchildren playing on a swing, and said that it was in this position that Brand had "enjoyed" her. They shouted "I'll kill you!" into the answering machine and said that they would knock his doordown and "scream apologies into his bottom", They broadcast this, to the acclaim of the programme's producer.' [And without any intervention from the harassment squad of any police force. ]


Was a recording of my message retained, as important evidence? I've been informed, over the phone, that the police officer responsible for the decision to issue the 'Police Information Notice' did listen to the recording. If so, then I'd expect her to have ensured that the recording was kept and not wiped out. Evidence seems to have counted for very little in this case. The warning was issued without bothering about the evidence I could give, which was and is very comprehensive.

So much of this site is about language, responsible use of language, scrupulous use of language. The English dictionary I have and the one I've used for many years is 'Collins English Dictionary.' These are the relevant entries:

Buffoon

1. A person who amuses others by ridiculous or odd behaviour, jokes etc.
2. A foolish person.

Blunder (verb)

1. To make stupid or clumsy mistakes.
2. To make foolish tactless remarks ...
3. To act clumsily, stumble ...
4. To mismanage, botch.

Andrew Conheeney isn't in the least a colourful person. He has never amused me, and it's not likely that he amuses too many other people. The meaning for 'buffoon I had in mind is much closer in meaning to  (2) here. I do regard him as worse than foolish, but the word I used didn't express anything which is worse than foolish. The use of the word was an instance of understatement and not excess. The meaning for 'blundering' here is close to meaning to (1).  I've personal experience of his ability to make stupid mistakes. I'm thinking of mistakes such as disregarding evidence, but there are many more.

Perhaps the Police Person who took the decision to issue this Harassment Warning to me uses a dictionary very different from mine. Perhaps this person's peculiar  dictionary informs her that 'buffoon' is a vile insult and 'blundering' is a vicious description. What she did in all likelihood is pay no attention to significant differences of meaning let alone shades of meaning.

Lewis Carroll's 'Alice in Wonderland' includes this:

''When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. "It means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

In this case, South Yorkshire Police was following the Humpty Dumpty view of the meaning of words.  'Buffoon' and 'blundering' were defined in their terms. They were oblivious of the obvious difficulties, oblivious of the consequences - and oblivious to semantics and semantic difficulties.

'Which is to be master?' In this case, they had the naive belief that the meaning of the words 'buffoon' and 'blundering,' obvious to them, must be obviously correct, the only possible meanings - and  they had the power to act on their naive belief.

The passage quoted here which gives the opinion of Humpty Dumpty has been cited in many legal cases. It was used in Britain by Lord Atkin, in a dissenting judgement in the important case Liversidge v. Anderson (1942). He protested against  the distortion of a statute, as he saw the matter, by the majority in the House of Lords. It has been cited very often in judicial decisions in the United States, including Supreme Court cases (TVA v. Hill and Zschernig v. Miller.)

If this PIN case isn't resolved informally, then legal action is one of the options I intend to consider. (I'd refuse absolutely to consider claiming damages. This is a matter to do with justice and fairness, not financial gain.) This would add a new case to add to the striking history of cases which cite Humpty Dumpty, the case Paul Hurt v. South Yorkshire Police.

Humpty Dumpty has been cited often in the law, then, as well as in other serious contexts. In science, Humpty Dumpty has been used to illustrate the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which concerns the total entropy of an isolated system. In literature, Humpty Dumpty is used by James Joyce in what is surely the most difficult of all novels, 'Finnegans Wake.' But the best known appearance of Humpty Dumpty is, of course, in the children's nursery rhyme:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Many people would consider that South Yorkshire Police have had a great fall, for a variety of reasons. If so, unlike Humpty Dumpty, at least they have it in their power to pick up the pieces and to transform their shattered reputation.

Put the search term "Boris Johnson" "blundering buffoon" into Google and you'll be rewarded with an embarasse de riches. The results include this, from the site

 

http://www.theweek.co.uk/27197/voting-boris-johnson-mayor-london

 

'He is seen by many as a blundering buffoon with no experience of running a large team ... ' (from the 'Arguments against,' although the page fair-mindedly includes 'Arguments for.')

 

And this, from the newspaper 'The Liverpool Echo,'

 

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/mondayliverpool-box-bbc-four-730pm-3478947

 

'WEDNESDAY Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC1, 9pm)

'BLUNDERING buffoon Boris Johnson (pictured), the new Mayor of London – perhaps the city deserves him and perhaps he deserves the city – gets the chance to delve into his family’s past, with a little help from the BBC’s licence-payers.'

 

The incidents which preceded the issuing of this Police Information Notice - my use of 'blundering buffoon' in a voicemail message and email - are surely trivial.

 

Blackstone’s ‘Guide to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997’ states,

 

‘Deciding what is and is not acceptable behaviour and whether particular incidents are trivial or significant lies at the heart of day to day policing and is also the essence of this Act.’

 

However, the issues raised by the mistaken use of a PIN in this case aren't in the least trivial. They are significant.

 

Chris Conheeney's and Andrew Conheeney's behaviour during the Capability proceedings had significant, not in the least trivial consequences.

 

At a time when vile and vicious insults on a vast scale are traded on Social Media, at a time when outpourings of mindless, poisonous, deeply disturbing rubbish engulf Social Media, South Yorkshire Police made the decision, after inquiring about the issues - inquiring without any attempt at fair-mindedness - to devote some of its scarce resources to this case, the Case of the Blundering Buffoon Allegation. It concerns a term which is mild, not vicious or mindless or poisonous or deeply disturbing. 

 

Their action may have been ridiculous but in this instance, South Yorkshire Police misused its power. This is also a time when large numbers of  people  have no conception at all of the legitimate uses of power in politics and policing and other areas, including people who never resort to outright abuse - people who think that signing an online petition should replace a criminal and civil justice system, or that twitter can be a substitute for an elected government. The political system of a democracy and the police force of a democracy both require informed consent, not ignorant consent or ignorant lack of consent.

 

But politicians and the police have to  be very careful that avoidable mistakes don't feed the frenzied cynicism about politicians and the police. Mistakes, including major mistakes, are inevitable but every care should be taken to avoid them and to do something about them - to lessen their damaging effects if damage can't be undone.

 

A financial balance sheet shows profit and loss, assets and liabilities, credit and debit. The police have enormous achievement to their credit, such as prevention of terrorism and those terrifying times when they confront violent people - I think, for example, of a recent attack in Sheffield by a man with an axe which left a woman police officer with a fractured skull and other injuries and which injured other officers. Their achievement includes too far less dramatic but very important matters, which make a very substantial contribution to the safety and well-being of people in this country.

 

As I explain on the page on Ireland and Northern Ireland, the section on 'the Troubles,' I lived in Northern Ireland when the Troubles were at their height. The army and the police force conducted themselves with exemplary courage and commitment in the face of terrorist action. The experience left an indelible impression. Those times would have been far more difficult and dangerous if it had not been for the army and the police. The presence of the security forces was immensely reassuring.

 

To do everything possible to reduce to the absolute minimum those other cases, the very minor cases, is surely essential. Police forces, like the NHS, can't afford to devote scarce resources to frivolous or very minor ends.

 

When someone from South Yorkshire Police came to my house to warn me, when time and money were spent on interviewing the Conheeney's, when time and money were spent at the police station on planning and recording the fiasco (the police devote vast amounts of time - and money - to record-keeping, often essential, often not in the least essential, at the detailed level expected now),  then this was time and money not spent on far more serious matters.

 

The 'Central Economic Problem' - but it's far more than a purely economic problem - puts it very clearly: there are unlimited needs but the resources available to meet the needs are limited.

 

The failure of South Yorkshire Police here is a more general failure of policing in this country. Police forces across the country show such determination in issuing PIN's and such weakness in deterring and punishing the use of mobile phones whilst driving.

Which is more important? Spending time and money on pursuing someone who had used the phrase 'blundering buffoon,' or spending time and money on deterring and punishing actions which have serious, or exceptionally serious consequences? 

 

From the 'Daily Mail,' 2 November, 2016:

 

'As it happens, the chilling photographs on our front page, showing foreign lorry drivers using mobile phones while travelling at speed, were taken yesterday on the M20 – the day after HGV driver Tomasz Kroker was jailed for wiping out a mother and three children while he was doing the same.

But they could have been taken any day, on any motorway, to illustrate the terrifying scale of this menace to lives.

How deeply disturbing, therefore, that figures last week show the number of drivers prosecuted for this killer offence is falling, because police can’t be bothered to enforce a law so routinely broken.'  (Obviously, it isn't only 'foreign' lorry drivers who break the law.)

 

From 'The Guardian,' 27 October 2016:

 

'Drivers using mobile phones at the wheel are regularly escaping punishment, with police now imposing a fraction of the number of fines given five years ago.

Although mobile phone use has been linked to a string of traffic accidents, official figures show that the number of fixed penalty notices issued by police in England and Wales for the offence has fallen from 123,100 in 2011 to just 16,900 in 2015. The total fell by 43% in 2014-15, the last recorded year.

 

What if the NHS spent a great deal of time and money on treating very minor injuries, insignificant injuries - ones which could hardly be described as injuries -  possible injuries, or even non-existent injuries, whilst neglecting conditions which are very serious or exceptionally serious? Police forces, South Yorkshire Police included, do something not so very different.

 

The National Health Service, facing unprecedented demands and unprecedented financial crises, may well have to introduce rationing of its services. Harsh realities are having a huge impact. Police forces, however, also confronted by harsh realities, sometimes act as if money is unimportant - public money, that is -  if we're to judge by their readiness to spend money on completely unnecessary PIN's.

 

The page

 

http://londoninvestigates.uk/?p=41


makes it clear that police forces are more than willing to devote scarce resources to such 'problems' as grandparents who send Christmas cards. An extract:

 

'Grandparents who send their grandchildren birthday cards or presents following a family break-up are being threatened with arrest in some instances.


'Police are being called to investigate cases under “harassment” laws involving elderly relations who attempt to maintain contact during acrimonious separations.


'No official figures are currently available but incidents have been reported in Bristol, Suffolk, Norfolk and Hertfordshire amid fears many others are too traumatised to speak out.


'Campaigners said police forces had different ways of dealing with harassment cases and called for a dedicated national policy on the issue.


'One Bristol-based Grandfather, who asked not to be named, was threatened with legal action after sending birthday cards to his “precious” grandson who he had not seen in three years.


“I find it difficult to find the words to express my disbelief and heartbreak that this has happened,” he said.


“I know things have changed but why is it harassment to send a beloved grandchild a birthday or Christmas card?”


'One Suffolk-based grandparent, known as “AJ”, was summoned to an Ipswich police station after she left a birthday present for her granddaughter on the doorstep.


'She added: “Of course there was no case to answer so I walked out, but it was an awful experience.”


'Another Suffolk-based grandparent, “Clare”, suffered a breakdown after she received two “Police Information Notices” after attempting to contact her three year-old grandson.

'She said: “I do understand issues about harassment but we are just a decent family who shouldn’t have patrol cars sitting outside our front door, all because grown-ups have fallen out.”


'Jane Jackson, chairman of the Bristol Grandparents Support Group, said the traumatic experience for many grandparents was “humiliating” and “distressing”.


'She said: “This is not a small issue, it is something that desperately needs looking into.

“It is leaving loving grandparents frightened and suicidal.


“All they want is to let their grandchildren know they have not been forgotten.”


'Mrs Jackson, was also denied contact with her own granddaughter, now 12, in 2007, when her son and his then partner separated, added: “Grandparents are living in fear that if they drop a present at the door then officers will come and march them to the cells.”


'Charlotte Leslie, the Conservative MP for Bristol North West, is leading a campaign for reforms. She said while real harassment was a “very serious issue” and genuine stalking cases had to be dealt with “robustly”, the current situation was “absurd”.

'On the same page, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has this to say about the prevention of stalking:

'Overall, we believe that the use of PINs is more dangerous than helpful. They appear to us to be used as a quick and easy method of appearing to deal with stalking without actually tackling the crime. They are simply leaving victims and perpetrators confused without, very often, having any effect on the stalking behaviour at all.'

 

Another very informative page on harassment warnings - it could be describing my own experience with South Yorkshire Police - followed by a short extract from a very different source, also very informative, a report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee (my treatment didn't follow in the least the Committee's recommendations for good practice.)

 

http://crimebodge.com/harassment-warnings-how-to-challenge-them/

 

includes this:

 

'Police harassment warnings are a one sided, and often dishonest account of a grievance between two parties. Not only do the police commonly hand them out without ever bothering to confirm the truth of the allegations, they then remain on record where they can cause damage at a later date, preventing you from getting a job or used as evidence to prosecute you.

 

'They are in effect a verdict without trial.

 

...

 

'What are harassment warnings?

Harassment warnings – or PINs as the police refer to them (Police Information Notices) are formal written notices given to people who have been accused of causing another alarm and distress. They contain an account of the incident as alleged by the complainant and a warning that any further incidents could result in arrest and prosecution.

 

'Each harassment warning contains details of alleged conduct which can range from exaggeration, wrongful accusation through to outright fantasy.  

 

'The police issue PIN notices – or so they claim – to serve as a ‘reminder’ to stay away from the complainant. The notice will often conclude with blithe assurances that the document isn’t an indication of guilt. However, these warnings become a permanent record on police computers and can be used and disclosed to your detriment. ['Permanent record' is false - but it may take many years before the record is removed.]

 

'How harassment warnings become verdict without trial.

Whenever a harassment warning is issued an entry is made on the Police National Database (PND) and a corresponding warning flag is placed against the recipient’s name and address on the Police National Computer (PNC). The PND entry contains a full list of the allegations as they appear on the warning. No rebuttal, explanation or denial of the allegations are entered even if they are given.

 

'Although they do not show on basic criminal record checks, they are disclosed on enhanced criminal record checks. Which means if you are applying for a visa or working in a high security environment then such a warning notice could cause you problems. Worst still harassment warnings can remain on police files for 7 years; often longer if they go unchallenged.

 

' ... in a disagreement between two parties, the police will commonly favour whoever makes the first complaint. If they do bother to check the records in advance of issuing a notice, the mere existence of a harassment notice against somebody’s name is usually all the the evidence the police need to decide who is the victim and who is the aggressor.

 

...

'The police will tell you that an allegation of harassment has been made about you by a third party. Irrespective of anything you say in your defence, you will be handed the notice and asked to sign it.'

 

One of the questions put to South Wales Police as part of a Freedom of Information Request,

 

http://www.south-wales.police.uk/en/disclosure-log/police-information-notices-pins/

'Is it a lawful/legal requirement for the alleged perpetrator to sign this Police Information Notice when served with it?' (Request Date: October 29, 2014.)

 

The response of South Wales Police to the Freedom of Information Request (18 November, 2014) includes this:

 

The recipient does not have to sign the PIN. If the recipient refuses to sign or accept the PIN the officer would record the refusal. Whether the recipient refuses or accepts possession of the PIN does not discount the PIN being issued.'

 

Or, if you don't sign, it will get you nowhere. We have the power, you don't.

 

Unfortunately for police forces, there's such a thing as the power of publication, including publication on the internet - which can publicize  misuses of police power, including misuse of police power in the issue of Harassment Warnings. Police forces risk ridicule as well as strong criticism when they misuse their power to issue PIN's.

 

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Report on Police Information Notices (Fifteenth Report of Session 2014 - 15)

 

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmhaff/901/901.pdf

 

includes this,

 

'It is vital that police forces provide further guidance and training to officers on the appropriate use of PINs ... Remedial courses should also be given to police officers who have used PINs inappropriately.' (I don't favour remedial courses in this case. Remedial courses cost money and the money can be better spent. Police officers can learn 'the 'appropriate' use of PIN's (until such time as the legislation is reformed to make the worse blunders, the most ridiculous blunders, all but impossible) without attending a course. I'd even claim that this section of the page will have an 'educational' function (using the word 'educational' very broadly). It may reduce the risk of a police force making bad mistakes in this dismal field of activity.

 

South Yorkshire Police has made serious mistakes from time to time. I think I can safely call them serious blunders without risking a second Harassment Warning.

The force's failure to protect vulnerable girls in Rotherham is the best-known example of the blunders of the force (although 'blunders' seems too mild a word here). Isn't it comforting to know that at least the force is completely willing to shield two middle-class people in a middle-class suburb from the use of the term 'blundering buffoon,' even if I did use it only about one of them? Isn't it comforting to know that at least the force is completely willing to do that without bothering themselves about the background to this case?

 

After signing, I phoned the 101 service for advice on complaining. I was treated to a mini-lecture on what I couldn't do, according to the person who took my call. Without any legal training, except the kind which is given to 101 service people, I presume, she presumed to order me around. It was so bad that I simply asked her to make sure that a recording of our conversation was made available as evidence. She assured me that it would be done.

 

I sent a document to the South Yorkshire Police Complaints Department which was not mainly about this person but about the harassment case itself. Eventually, I received a response, but not a written response. A written response was surely essential.  Someone phoned me and said that there were difficulties in dealing with the complaint against the 101 person because there were difficulties in finding a recording.

 

Did the police listen to a recording of my voice-mail message left on the phone of Andrew and Chris Conheeney? If they did, they would be in no doubt at all that my tone wasn't in the least abusive.

 

I made the call because I thought I was justified in making the call. The two of them had treated me as a confidante, they'd spoken to me about matters which were intensely personal. Since they'd spoken to me in these terms, a call to them about their abysmal behaviour to me was justifiable. It was at a reasonable time, not in the middle of the night. and there was only one call, not repeated calls.

 

The police obviously considered a recording essential evidence in the case of the 101 operative. It was surely essential evidence in the case of my call to A' and C' Conheeney. If they listen to the recording - assuming they have one - they will find that I never called Chris Conheeney 'a blundering buffoon' and that my tone wasn't aggressive in any way.

 

I have good reason for calling Andrew Conheeney 'a blundering buffoon,' but of course the Police enquiries  before issuing the 'Police Information Notice' will not have included any of this evidence, only the one-sided evidence of Andrew and Chris Conheeney.  I recognize that he is more than a blundering buffoon, that there are other aspects, but I have ample evidence for my claim.


Obviously, if I'm informed that any of the material here is unfair to South Yorkshire Police, then I'll make some necessary changes or remove the section altogether, if the arguments and evidence provided seem valid to me.

 

I'm sure that South Yorkshire Police has made mistakes in this harassment case, and serious mistakes, I don't claim  that South Yorkshire Police is any worse than many another force in its use of Harassment Warnings.  The blame lies primarily with the faulty legislation on Harassment Warnings, which allows any police force in the country to act unjustly, such as the Metropolitan Police, which issued a Police Information Notice to Gareth Davies, a journalist with the 'Croydon Advertiser.' The Guardian gives a compelling account of the case

 https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2016/may/17/reporter-exonerated-after-long-battle-with-metropolitan-police

It includes this, ' ... a journalist was being threatened with arrest for doing his job.' The Harassment Warning was eventually withdrawn, but only after very determined efforts (The Independent Police Complaints Commission rejected his appeal against the issuing of the harassment warning, a decision which was manifestly unjust).

 

I give my personal experience but this is simply the starting point. In the Capability section of this page I discuss people as well as issues. In this section of the page I focus attention on the issues and I don't give the names of any members of South Yorkshire Police (or auxiliary staff) here or anywhere else on the site - for the time being. Recent developments have led me to reconsider. In a few instances, I think that giving names can be justified.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

What's New

 

David Woodcock, of South Yorkshire Police

 

 

The material in this column is the newest in the site. It will be revised and extended.

 

Star ratings, from five star to half-star to no star, can't convey complexities, uncertainties, difficulties,  strength-with-weakness, weakness-with-strength. In this site, I do everything I can to avoid this simple-minded world, but some people and some issues do seem to call for a very simple and unsympathetic response.

 

I can't comment on the strengths in general of David Woodcock. For all I know, he may be a remarkable person. All I can do is comment on his strengths as an employee of South Yorkshire Police. He's a member of the Complaints and Discipline Department. He's handled my complaint concerning the Harassment Warning so badly that for once, a simple-minded rating system seems completely adequate: hopeless, no stars Other people may have had better experiences. There may be people who would give him half a star or even one star or  more than one star.

 

I don't describe him as a 'blundering buffoon' - so there's no need for South Yorkshire Police to come to my door to issue a second Harassment Warning - but I think that to describe him as 'blundering' or rather ‘blundering in his handling of this particular issue’ is fully in accordance with the facts (I'm  sure that to describe Andrew Conheeny as a blundering buffoon is also in accordance with the facts, with my own experience of his ability to stir up trouble and to create problems where none existed previously.)

 

As a result of David Woodcock's blunders - as they seem to me - I've decided to end my policy of not naming any individuals in South Yorkshire Police, starting with him. I can't find any way of avoiding mention of Andrew Hartley, even though he's someone I respect.

 

To make general criticisms of an organization or department, the Complaints and Discipline department in this case, and to avoid mentioning a specific person may give the impression that the whole organization or department is somehow at fault, to some extent. I've no wish to give the impression that very competent, hard working individuals in a department are somehow at fault --better to make it clear that I'm criticizing just one person, or  words and actions of that person, whilst making it clear that my criticisms aren't general ones.

 

Working in a department like this does seem to me one of the easier jobs in South Yorkshire Police - more pleasant than facing the missiles of violent protestors, more pleasant than confronting dangerous criminals, for instance. My challenge to David Woodcock won't be challenging  in the same way, but it's likely to pose problems.

 

This is an email I sent David Woodcock. I'd presented my case to him in detail, and after a long time he informed me that he couldn't take any action, because my complaint wasn't about the conduct of an individual. I informed him that I'd now contact the Divisional Commander - and he gave his opinion, unasked, that I'd get nowhere. He gave his opinion, very freely, unasked, on other matters as well - more of this later. He blundered.

 

I'm not happy with the tone of this email to him - it's stilted, it hasn't the least trace of individuality - but although I'm critical of the phrasing I can't fault the content. This is it:

 

'Dear Mr Woodcock,

'As you'll have gathered, I found the opinions you expressed in our phone conversation earlier today deeply disturbing. To mention just one, your opinion, or rather conviction, forcefully expressed, that the District Commander of the North West Region of South Yorkshire Police would take no action in response to the Police Information Notice issued to me, despite the  arguments and evidence which I've given, such as the fact that the PIN was issued and brought to my door for me to sign without the least attempt to listen to what I had to say. It was issued after listening to one side only. You are completely happy to allow a directive issued with minimal care to restrict my freedom to send reasonable emails, emails which put forward reasonable arguments, with evidence.

'I'll email Chief Superintendent David Hartley, the District Commander, with a summary of the matters which I've documented in my detailed emails to you - and a strong protest at your response. This series of emails began
with my email to you of 3 / 2 / 2016. I sent this email, and subsequent emails, under the impression that the department of which you are a part was the appropriate department to receive my complaint, which wasn't primarily a complaint against an individual.  That email, and the many others, should have left you in no doubt whatsoever that my complaint was broadly-based. It was only yesterday that you informed me that you couldn't take any action, since your department was only concerned with complaints against individuals. A very great deal of my time has been wasted. You ought to have informed me soon after 3 / 2 / 2016 that the District Commander was the appropriate person to address, and not yourself - but without any prejudicial comments about my chances of success when I did contact the District Commander.

'This is only to touch upon a few of the issues which are raised by this case.'

 

In that same phone conversation, he said that if he'd been in the same position as the woman who issued the Harassment Warning, he would have issued a Harassment Warning too. (This didn't make me think any the better of him.) He also recommended this course of action: I should speak to this woman, and to the junior policewoman who came to my house to issue the warning, as a way forward.

 

This was a ridiculous suggestion. I'd made it clear that I wanted the harassment warning revoked and neither of these people had the power to do that. Strong leadership involves strong support for subordinates, for people just starting on their career in the police service, or the army, or in some other sphere. Questions from me to these people would necessarily have involved pressure for these people. In the case of the woman who decided to issue the harassment warning, I wouldn't have been sympathetic at all. In the case of the woman who came to my door to issue the warning, I saw no reason to subject her to any pressure at all.

 

I decided it would be worthwhile to speak to both of these people, just to find out more, as a student of human nature and not just someone determined to correct an injustice, but I got nowhere. Neither person agreed to speak with me. A request to South Yorkshire Police for the name of the woman who issued the Harassment Warning went unanswered. David Woodcock's earnest advice was ridiculous. He was mistaken in thinking that both these people would agree to talk.

 

If David Woodcock really does think that the use of the words 'blundering buffoon' justifies this expenditure of time and money, he has to answer the objections, which I've set out in detail in the column on the left. If a policewoman is sent on this ridiculous errand, to warn me about my use of the phrase 'blundering buffoon,' to attend to their demand that there should be repercussions for me for the slightest of slights, then this policewoman isn't available for any other duties during that time, including duties which might actually protect society against the dangers and threats it faces or which might actually help individuals facing dangers and threats.

 

The police should have better things to do than sparing a former head of department (Chris Conheeney) the bother of informing a former subordinate (me) why she chose to make general criticisms of me without ever informing me what those criticisms were about. Or sparing someone whose history of doing me down on the flimsiest of pretexts is blatant and abysmal (Andrew Conheeny). The profiles of this pair will fill in the details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

A summary of some issues

 



Above, a certificate, presented to me when I left teaching. The 'Cabinet and Governing Body' of the school expressed its gratitude, although one crucial fact is omitted, the fact that my examination results were outstanding or never less than good or very good during all this period. A 'principled person' may be ineffectual. My exam results gave clear evidence that I was far from ineffectual - even if  David Bowes, the Headteacher at the time, and David Dennis, an 'exam results specialist' (he's now the 'Executive Headteacher' at the place) found it convenient to disregard the evidence.
 
There may be much worse cases of distortion, evasion and unprincipled use of power in an education sector than this, at Tapton School, Sheffield, but I'd expect to find them in a country where blatant abuses of power are commonplace, a country without a system of  checks and balances, not in a school which values its reputation, in an authority which values its reputation, in a country which is a liberal democracy.

Genny Bradley, at the time the Head of 'Organisational Development and Change Management' in Sheffield, wrote to me:

I do not consider it appropriate for you to make comments about staff of the school or the Local Authority on a website and strongly request that this does not happen.


If she imagines that the internet can be controlled in this way, then she's obviously not the least idea about one of the internet's uses - for providing arguments and evidence, for free and open debate, debate which isn't subject to the power of a bureaucrat with limited understanding of such values as free expression. Well, here it is, comment - and criticism. More of this in Freedom to publish and other freedoms and in other places.  At the time of these events, I informed  Debby Clark, of the Human Resources Department of the Local Authority and David Bowes, the Headteacher of the school, that although I wasn't being allowed to defend myself by presenting the arguments and evidence I had available in the capability meetings, I had a Website and would be using it. I've done just that. So, Debby Clark, of the Local Authority,  has a profile here, whether she likes it or not, and so does Genny Bradley, of the Local Authority, despite her disapproval of people who put material on Websites of which they disapprove.

The profile of David Bowes, then Headteacher of Tapton school, is very short - so much of the page is about the disturbing activities of this individual during this case. The very unflattering profile of David Dennis, now 'Executive Headteacher of Tapton School, is longer. I found him blatantly unfair during the capability procedure. David Bowes and David Dennis are also discussed on another page of this site, Targets.


These are some of the matters I discuss on this page. They concern the capability proceedings I faced at Tapton School, Sheffield but they have much wider significance, I'd claim: this is an object study in the abuse of power, the failure to prevent abuses of power and the failure to remedy abuses of power. Organizations which should have shown a modicum of independence, acting as part of a healthy system of checks and balances - a human resources department and a union - failed completely in this case. If they contest this - and they haven't made the least attempt so far - then they should do something about it, by presenting a case.

Failure to take account of examination results

Failure to take account of the fact that in the long period I taught at the school, including the time of the capability procedure, my examination results were consistently outstanding, excellent, very good, but never at any time poor. I comment on this very significant fact in  detail. As well as examination results, there is a very large number of test results, the tests taken under examination conditions which were part of the 'Framework Science' scheme. These results too demonstrate a consistent pattern of impressive achievement.  If a school's examination results were consistently outstanding, excellent, very good, but never at any time poor and OFSTED inspectors claimed that the school was failing and decided to put the school in 'special measures' then the inspectors would be ridiculed, their decision treated with contempt.

My results were impressive in General Science and Biology (the subject I studied at University), as well as in Chemistry (which I studied as a subsidiary subject) and in Physics (which I didn't study at all at University.) Chris Conheeney, discussed in the 'harassment section' of the page as well as this Capability section, was the Head of Physics at the time. My profile of Chris Conheeney includes discussion of these exam results in Physics, and the deeply unimpressive role she played in these capability proceedings.

Failure to take account of other evidence

A very revealing instance. The capability documentation found fault with my appreciation of 'differentiation' but I was able to show that I'd already written a comprehensive account of the subject in my discussion of Framework Science.  I gave the Headteacher printed extracts and it should have removed any doubt from his mind that I was unaware of the issues. It did me no good at all. He failed to respond to this evidence. He simply ignored it, as with all the other evidence I presented.

Grotesquely unfair use of parental complaints

The impression was given, completely erroneously, that parents had been complaining in large numbers. The capability procedure was unable to produce a mountain of evidence or any evidence at all apart from these: the name of a parent who had allegedly complained but without giving any information at all about the nature of the complaint. To this day, I've no idea what this was about: a fundamental injustice, surely. All requests for further information, at the time and later, have gone unanswered. That leaves a solitary complaint about bad behaviour in a set, which pays not the least attention to the context: a new intake at the school which contained many pupils who presented immense problems throughout the school. The school was compelled to take unprecedented action in the face of these problems, such as allocating a senior member of staff to assist teachers who had these particularly disruptive pupils.  Minutes of Staff Meetings and other documentation at the school leave no doubt at all about the facts. This complaint was made a year before the capability proceedings were started. It was dealt with at the time, my explanation of the circumstances was accepted, and that was that - until it was used again me. This surely amounts to desperation. Fuller details in the main text. As for previous complaints, I do have to record a complaint - or rather a comment  - from a parent about 17 years before these capability proceedings: my explanation of a point in genetics was insufficiently clear.

Grotesquely unfair use of a pupil's complaint

This is 'complaint' in the singular. Again, there was no deluge of complaints. A deputy head made this blatantly unfair contribution to the capability proceedings after listening to a pupil's side of the story without bothering to inform me, so the alleged complaint was used as e
vidence, completely unscrupulously, without my having had a chance to defend myself.  It involved the kind of  matter which is absolutely commonplace in schools.

Complaints about consulting a union representative

The (entirely false') claim that I involved my union representative at the school too readily should never have appeared in the documentation given to me. It's obviously no business of a school to interfere in matters such as these. Any union which values its reputation should have vigorously contested this, but the NASUWT vigorously contested nothing and all my attempts to obtain a reply from the union have come to nothing.

A complaint about failure to complete data sheets

I was present at a union meeting where it was voted not to complete these data sheets. The decision was overturned later but I wasn't informed about this. The Headteacher took no notice of any of the circumstances, at the time or later.

I discuss other grotesquely unfair aspects of the capability procedure on this page, including criticisms in which the only information given about the nature of the criticism is the name of the critic: Chris Conheeney. All efforts to find out what the criticism was about have gone unanswered. This is irresponsible use of  smear tactics rather than responsible criticism.  I produced comprehensive documentation in printed form at the time, giving arguments and evidence against all the allegations and received no reply.  I've drawn to the attention of individuals the material on this page and received no reply. There's a complete disproportion here. I take the silence of these individuals - at Tapton School, the NASUWT union (which showed complete incompetence in representing me) and the human resources department as very significant.  They don't answer the arguments made here because they can't answer them. They don't challenge the evidence given here because they can't challenge the evidence.

Genny Bradley's attempt to suppress free expression is  disturbing, outrageous. She wrote to me, in connection with documentation and comments on this site, all added after I had left the school and left teaching, 'I do not consider it appropriate for you to make comments about staff of the school or the Local Authority on a website and strongly request that this does not happen.' This shows astonishing ignorance of the law, and astonishing ignorance of the realities of internet communications.




Introduction
A summary of some issues
The involvement of South Yorkshire Police
Freedom to publish and other freedoms
Striking facts

People
      David Bowes
      David Dennis
      Debby Clark
      Genny Bradley
      Marjorie Royles
      DS
      Sonia Sharp
      Andrew Conheeney
      Chris Conheeney
The capability document: failures and blunders
Framework Science

Good will
A Website
NASUWT - the useless union
Stacking shelves and the limits to power

The 'word-sphere'

See also, for further material on David Bowes and
David Dennis the sections 'David Bowes. A reservoir of hope?' and 'David (Master Statistician) Dennis'  on the  page

Targets


Supplementary material below is in italics

Introduction

 

At the first Capability meeting, attended by David Bowes, the Headteacher, and Debby Clark of the Human Resources Department, I said that I had a means of making public my view that the proceedings were deeply unfair, by publication in this Web site. I'd assumed that I'd be able to call witnesses in my defence, be able to put questions to anyone who had made criticisms,  have discussed all the items in the capability document. I saw every one of these items as factually incorrect or based on gross misconceptions or wilfully exaggerated or demonstrably biased. When I found that I wasn't to be allowed to defend myself - according to Ms Clark all this was 'in the past' - then I made it clear that although I was prevented from defending myself at this meeting, I certainly had other means of defending myself.

 

David Bowes and Debby Clark can have had no reason at all for surprise when I published this page. Everything they did or didn't do after this first meeting was in the full knowledge that publication was likely. I would have expected that for reasons of simple prudence, David Bowes would have avoided such an obvious mistake as asking for a class to be monitored when the monitoring period had ended: this, like other decisions of his, could be cited in this Web site, and he knew that.  Whatever his inscrutable motives, here it is, documented and published. There are some very striking things here, I think, and not just in the section 'Striking facts.'

 

This page should interest a number of different groups: obviously, employees affected by abuses of power in the education sector - primary, secondary, further and higher education, and not only in this country (this site isn't unusual in this, but it has readers not just in a large number of countries but almost all the countries of the world) and union officials and union members in all the teaching unions and not only the NASUWT.  My own remarks are about abuses of the capability procedure in secondary education, in the city of Sheffield, England,  but I think that people unjustly subjected to other forms of pressure in other organisations and other countries may well have  experiences which are broadly similar. People who take part in capability proceedings in the future, in any capacity, should find material of interest here. Writers with an interest in the pathology of power  in education may well  find material here which has a bearing on their thinking and writing. Students of human nature without any great interest in this educational sub-world should find things to interest them in my depiction of such people as David Bowes, David Dennis, Debby Clark and Andrew Conheeney.

 

The people  who administer the system of capability proceedings (in the manner of the grim partnership Bowes-Clark) and  the people who face capability proceedings are separated by a wide gulf. For the administrators, the 'capability world' is calm, ordered, scrupulously fair, rational. They have the documents to prove it, giving detailed information about each of the stages in the process which leads to  the condemnation or exoneration of the 'capability defendant.' This defendant's  experience may well be of a world which is anything but calm, ordered, fair and  rational, a world  which is closer to madness than sanity, perhaps closer to totalitarian unfairness than to the fairness which is expected in liberal democracies (but obviously without the extreme punishments used in totalitarian states), impossible to understand or to oppose effectively.

 

These are some observations - and strongly held convictions - based on my own experiences, as a former capability defendant, and the experiences of  other people.

Just as liberal democracies need written laws, schools and other organizations need detailed documents concerning capability proceedings. The laws, and the capability documents are an essential safeguard. But to suppose that the existence of the capability document guarantees that the document will be adhered to  is naive. In the educational world, as in others,  there's often a sharp distinction between what's for public consumption, what enhances image and prestige, and the reality.

 

Headteachers have enormous power, in their very restricted - parochial -  sphere of action, and one of their many powers is to decide who is to be singled out for the capability treatment. If, in a school, one person a year on average is chosen to receive the treatment, then the naive supposition is that this person is the most incompetent member of the staff, the one about whom there are the most serious concerns. There are many, many reasons why this is a grossly simplified and completely unrealistic version of events, very often.

 

When a headteacher is appointed, acceptance of bureaucratic practices and ways of thinking is far more likely to count in favour than any mature understanding of people. Not all the headteacher's knowledge of the staff can be first-hand experience. The staff of a school don't have equal access to the headteacher, of course. The headteacher generally  depends upon the opinions of a very restricted number of other people, who may be biased and ignorant, who may have their own agenda, their own grievances, their own petty enmities - but the same is true of the headteacher, whose personal limitations may be extreme.

 

The choice of the capability defendant may be part of a  power struggle, or it may be due to a simple dislike of the kind of colourful, charismatic teacher who doesn't fit in with the bureaucratic, anything but colourful and charismatic  world of education now.

 

A headteacher may have no particular reasons for choosing a particular capability defendant - another one would have served the purpose just as well. The purpose is to show the staff that this is a disciplined staff, that the headteacher is firmly in control - or has the appearance of control. In education, appearance is too often confused with reality. Capability proceedings may well be carried out not to correct one individual but to give a warning to the many,  'pour encourager les autres,' as Voltaire put it in 'Candide.' To certain headteachers, it hardly matters who is chosen to be the victim.

 

For a variety of reasons, some individuals in a school are regarded as virtually untouchable, no matter what their degree of  incompetence. A person may be a friend of the Headteacher - or, on occasion, much more than a friend - but there are many other possibilities.

 

Once a capability defendant has been chosen, the  headteacher has almost unlimited powers - despite the reassuring tones of the written capability proceedings - to determine what counts as evidence, how evidence is to be interpreted, to determine the outcome. Once a headteacher has decided, in effect, to press charges, the headteacher is free to act as both prosecutor and judge, unless restrained by someone on the capability 'board,' such as an unusually firm and independent-minded representative of a 'human resources' department rather than one who rubber-stamps whatever the Headteacher's decision or whim. By contrast, the legal system depends upon the separation of powers - the jury, not the judge, decides the innocence or guilt of the defendant.

 

Capability defendants who can stand up for themselves very effectively in most circumstances are often in no fit state to do that once they have entered, involuntarily,  this remarkable alternative reality. This usually leaves a Union Representative, who assumes the mantle of defending counsel, as the defendant's main hope - a hope which may well be unfulfilled. I didn't have any unrealistic hopes of my own Union defender, the NASUWT's David Haigh, but in the event, he failed to satisfy even the most meagre hopes. He was an abject, an abysmal, an utterly useless defender. Perhaps he makes a more impressive showing when he represents someone who has strained a shoulder after slipping in a corridor.

 

I'm reluctant to give a linkage with worlds as extreme as those of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Anyone who confuses these worlds with the capability world even at its most grotesque needs to learn much more about the history of those times. But there are often valid and illuminating linkages between things otherwise very dissimilar. In the totalitarian courts, the defending counsel were ineffective, hopeless, obviously part of the system which was determined to punish, which had often decided on the verdict even before the trial started. (But the Headteacher may well decide the outcome of capability proceedings before any monitoring and before the first hearing.)

 

If the capability defendant has a union representative attending the capability hearings who isn't ineffectual, clueless, part of the system, a union representative who is vigorous, determined to  present as effectively as possible all the evidence in favour of the defendant, then this defendant is very fortunate. In capability proceedings, as in courts of law, very good advocates can be successful even with unpromising cases. Poor advocates can fail even with cases which are very strong.

 

Decisions in capability proceedings are generally subjective in the extreme. In courts of law, the legal framework allows decisions to be made in a much less subjective way. Even so, in courts of law, a defendant should ask not just 'How strong or weak is the evidence in my favour? How strong or weak is my case?' but a question which may well be decisive, 'How strong or weak is my advocate?' This second question is just as  important in  capability proceedings. Is the union official lacklustre, mediocre, lacking independence of mind, lacking the determination to present the evidence in favour as compellingly as possible?

 

Liberal democracies allow appeals against unjust, very contentious decisions. Capability defendants who have lost their case and who can present evidence in their favour can have little confidence that anything will be done to reverse the verdict. If the bureaucrats who have the power to carry out further investigations and perhaps reverse the verdict were compelled to give their honest feelings, it might be along these lines: 'I can't be bothered.' Or, 'the headteacher has more power than you, and this is what the headteacher has decided.' Compared with the legal system of appeals, the system for examining possible mistakes in capability proceedings is virtually non-existent.

 

In all of this, I acknowledge, of course, that power can be exercised in an enlightened way as well as cynically misused, that capability proceedings are essential in the running of enlightened organizations, that capability proceedings can be - often are - conducted in a scrupulously fair way, and that there are such people as incompetents who have to be identified, warned, helped to improve but  if necessary dismissed.

 

The emotions of staff - and students and pupils - are not always to be trusted, as Dennis Hayes and Kathryn Ecclestone argue very convincingly and at length in their book 'The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education.' The book (concerned with primary, secondary and further as well as  higher education) is introduced in this page of the 'Times Higher Education site,

 

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=402376

 

It includes this:

 

'One key characteristic of "therapeutic education" is the "can't cope" lecturer who suffers from stress and perceives bullying in any work relationship he or she dislikes.

'Dennis Hayes and Kathryn Ecclestone list incidents that academics have described as bullying: not getting their way in meetings, having their lecturing schedule changed, being made redundant, being asked to do extra work, being denied a pay rise and being lobbied for a vote.'

 

If there's abundant evidence that many staff do make accusations of being bullied in such cases as these, there's abundant evidence that many staff in senior positions make use of their power to intimidate and victimize. Victims are of various kinds. There are genuine victims and self-serving exaggerators, victims whose lives are devastated and victims who are cunning manipulators.

 

I think that in general, a real attempt is made to treat pupils fairly in schools in this country. Quite often, their treatment is indulgent to a fault. Pupils who haven't reached the stage of mature consideration may be treated as if they have. Staff, on the other hand, who are, or should be, mature adults, may be treated like miscreants, or sheep in need of sheep herding. In practice, there may well be no consistent pattern. The headteacher treats some staff far more indulgently than others. 

 

Below, I describe my own experiences of the capability world. I very much hope that the account will be useful or interesting to those facing capability proceedings themselves, to people who administer proceedings, to people with an interest in the matter, and to people with an interest in human motivation and behaviour.

 

I hesitated for a long time before including the material here. In this site, I mention my own personal experiences very rarely. It will be obvious that the site isn't intended to be a 'blog' in any way. The home page gives many of the interests and concerns which are the focus of my attention. My own personal life, including its setbacks, is obviously a matter of intense interest and concern to me, but not nearly as much to a wider readership. I include this discussion of capability proceedings for various reasons. It gives practical advice to those people who are facing capability proceedings themselves, and insights into such things as the politics of capability proceedings, including the choice of people selected for capability treatment - who may be the people who most deserve it, or may not be in the least.

 

When I was selected for the capability treatment, my mind was focused grimly on the immediate realities. If only I'd had, during those months, useful advice from my union. My examination results - consistently excellent, often outstanding - were relevant to the case, but the union official didn't ask about them, let alone use them as powerful evidence in my favour. Even if my examination results had been lacklustre, a less clueless union official could have energetically got to work. Are your results the worst in the school? Who is the Headteacher selecting for capability proceedings, what seems to be guiding his choice of people selected for capability proceedings, is there basic fairness in the choice?

 

I'm aware that examination results aren't the only criterion of success in teaching - but bear in mind that when in this country OFSTED decides that a school is failing, when OFSTED takes draconian action and puts a school in 'special measures, the examination results are highly relevant to the decision. If a school's examination results were amongst the best in the local authority, there would be howls of protest if OFSTED decided that the school was failing. If a school has a middling intake and achieves middling examination results, then OFSTED needs to be very, very careful before going ahead with drastic action.

 

I also include this discussion of capability proceedings because I think they have a bearing on matters that go well beyond my own personal experience, ones which I do discuss in this site, amongst many, many other interests and concerns, such as imbalances of power and misuses of power which I think resemble totalitarian misuses of power, even though I recognize (and am grateful) for the vast differences - nobody is going to take me away, put me in a concentration camp or labour camp, torture me or shoot me.

The philosopher John Searle, arguing against Derrida, writes that 'most concepts and distinctions...do not have sharp boundaries,' and gives as one example the distinction between 'democracy and authoritarianism.' The point that John Searle makes is generally familiar to philosophers and has very wide applicability, even if it was overlooked by Derrida.

 

Here in Sheffield, an individual can be told that a parental complaint has been received, be given no further information for a long period and then given only the name of the parent alleged to have made the complaint - no information about what the alleged complaint is all about - and after asking for further information about the alleged complaint, after asking for evidence that any complaint was made at all, be given no further information. This was one of the matters which, according to the representative of Sheffield Human Resources Department, Debby Clark, was 'in the past.' There's a vast difference between this and the manufacturing and manipulation of evidence recorded unforgettably in Solzhenitsyn's 'The Gulag Archipelago' but there's a linkage too. If I'm mistaken - I don't think I am - and the evidence wasn't manufactured or manipulated in my case, then I'd expect to be given reasons and to receive an explanation of some sort. These have never been provided. Instead, the reliance upon superior power - as, despite the vast differences, in Stalinist Russia.

 

The standards which should be used as a guide in this country should be the higher, or highest, standards to be found here and in other countries, not the lower or lowest to be found in this country or some other country in the past or present. If standards of nursing care in a hospital have become very poor, the very high standard of care in other hospitals should be the guide. The abysmal standards shouldn't be excused because in present-day Russia (according to a guide to St Petersburg), 'nurses are usually indifferent to their patients unless bribed to care for them properly.' When power is misused or abused in this country, the guide should be the responsible and enlightened exercise of power, not the exercise of power during the Stalinist nightmare. (I've no sympathy with anarchism. I see the necessity of exercising power.) Practicalities have to be taken into account. The probability that a school in a very deprived area will reach the academic standards of a school in the most favourable of circumstances isn't high, but very often there's no barrier at all to attaining very high standards.

Misuses and abuses of power in a democracy are far less drastic in their effects than in a totalitarian country but are far from negligible - careers can be ruined and lives can be ruined.

 

In what follows, I've had to confine myself to accusations (described as 'concerns') and my defence against the accusations (or 'concerns') which make no reference to confidential information. There are many 'concerns' which do make reference to confidential information and which I can't record here. If I were able to quote from it, I'm certain that this information would make my own case even stronger. There are very important aspects of the case which I can't discuss for this reason. The printed documentation which I provided at the time, giving a defence against all the criticisms made of me, was much fuller than the treatment on this page.

 

This page also omits mention of a small number of critics and their criticism of me. In most cases, I was given no information about the nature of the criticism, an obvious injustice in itself. In the remaining cases the criticism conveyed was sketchy in the extreme. I've the  wish to spare these people exposure in these pages. I'm far from taking a relentless approach to these matters. I feel the need to spare the feelings of some people. For this reason,  my strong criticism of one particular individual  was later removed from this page.

 

This is a quotation from the eminent judge Lord Denning:

'Whoever it be, no matter how powerful, the law should provide a remedy for the abuse or misuse of power, else the oppressed will get to the point when they will stand it no longer. They will find their own remedy.'

 

All that I'm applying from this comment of Lord Denning's is the sentence 'they will find their own remedy.' If documents which present reasoned arguments and give evidence are ignored then I'm entitled to 'find my own remedy,' including publication on my own Web site and making the effort to publicize this material. After observing the etiquette appropriate to submissions to people far more powerful than myself, and finding them completely unreceptive, I see no reason now to avoid parody and sarcasm in some places in what follows. After all, Solzhenitsyn uses sarcasm extensively in 'The Gulag Archipelago.' The much fuller documentation I submitted, of course, made no use at all of parody and sarcasm. David Bowes made no comment on any of the documentation and didn't challenge any of it. As I note below, Genny Bradley was unwilling even to look at it.

 

Freedom to publish and other freedoms

 

Genny Bradley, the Head of 'Organisational Development and Change Management' in Sheffield, wrote to me: 'I do not consider it appropriate for you to make comments about staff of the school or the Local Authority on a website and strongly request that this does not happen.' If she imagines that the internet can be controlled in this way, then she's obviously not the least idea about one of the internet's uses - for providing arguments and evidence, for free and open debate, debate which isn't subject to the power of a bureaucrat with limited understanding.

 

Two other freedoms - the freedom to write documents and the freedom to consult a Union Representative. The Head of the school, David Bowes, began Capability Proceedings against me. He had a right, of course, to issue documents critical of me but my right to respond and give evidence on my own behalf was called into question. One of the documents issued to me by the Head as part of the Capability Procedure included these two claims -  bizarre and, I would think, illegal. They are to be found on a page headed 'Concerns:'

 

Targets were given to me for any number of things, but not, strangely, for these two misdemeanours. If they had been:

Targets

I wrote to the Head: 'I would claim - although I am, of course, only a legal layman - that since the governing body of this, a maintained school, is a public authority for the purposes of the Human Rights Act 1998 then [the first statement, 'produces extensive documentation...] is in breach of Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.' This involves the freedom 'to receive and impart ideas and information without interference by public authority.'

As for the second statement, 'Quickly involves his Union Rep.' I think that this - again, I'm only a legal layman - is illegal as well. It may well contravene Article 11 of the same Act, which includes 'the right to join trade unions for the protection of his interests' and not just that but 'no restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights' [my emphasis] other than ones needed for national security, public safety and some other serious objectives. I don't think that involving my Union Rep., at whatever speed, was a threat to national security or public safety.

Quite apart from their legal status, both statements misrepresented the facts. At the time these allegations were made, I hadn't written any documents at all in connection with the case. The Head of Department was thinking of an occasion about ten years before when I did produce documents in connection with a very minor episode. The Head of Department wearily conceded that I'd made my point. At the time the allegations were made, I'd only consulted my union representative once- and the Head himself had advised me that I could consult my Union Rep! For a very long period of time, I hadn't been a member of any union. I joined a union a few years before these events. After the case began, and after this particular 'concern' had been put on record, I saw my union representative just a few times.

 

As for my misgivings about the legal basis of the two 'misdemeanours,' he ignored them. I didn't receive any reply at all. 'Debby' Clark from the Human Resources Department was involved in all stages of my capability proceedings. I would have assumed that she'd read the document given to me. If she didn't, something was badly wrong.

 

Recently, I wrote to Ms Bradley, (who is Debby Clark's superior) giving just a few lines about my reasons for thinking that my Capability Procedure was marked by multiple examples of unfairness and stating that I would be sending her full documentation for her to consider. She didn't want to see the documentation. She wrote back 'From the information you have supplied [just those few lines] I do not consider that you have any grounds for complaint regarding this matter.' The matter was at an end, so far as she was concerned. (So far as I'm concerned, it wasn't.) This was followed by the strong request not to make comments on this Web site.

 

Striking facts

 

Only a few. There are more examples on this page.

 

1. The Head of Department compiled the main Capability Document used against me. A few months after I left, this Head of Department, one of the main architects of my misfortune, came under the withering gaze of Capability Bowes himself, I'm informed! His capability was scrutinized and, it seems, found to be defective. He quickly resigned without another job to go to. In the year after that, other teachers resigned rather than face the wrath of Bowes. And in the year after that, capability proceedings were begun for yet another individual. In the year before capability proceedings were launched against me, capability proceedings - which seemed interminable - were conducted in the case af another teacher.

 

In view of his fondness for starting capability proceedings, David Bowes is known to me now as 'Capability Bowes,' with an obvious linkage with the landscape designer 'Capability Brown,' who laid out the grounds of Chatsworth. I did get an email from someone with a garden history business who calls himself 'Capability Bowes,' requesting me, politely but firmly, to remove all mention of 'Capability Bowes' from this site. As he has no legal right to use the term exclusively, I see no reason to oblige, I'm afraid.

 

2. Whilst capability proceedings were underway, whilst I was portrayed as a deeply unpopular teacher, teaching uninteresting lessons, failing in almost every way, although not accused of failing in my exam results in any way - these were consistently good, very good, excellent or outstanding throughout my time at the school and when I asked David Bowes, 'What about my exam results?' he answered that exam results were not an issue at all - whilst David Bowes and others were directing at me the full force of their righteous indignation, whilst I was being fed to the lions, or rather the hyenas, when my blood pressure had become dangerously high, I decided to cut my losses and retire early. This decision prompted the preparation of a certificate, to be presented to me when I left. So, whilst the capability proceedings were still well under way, the school gave information to the Human Resources Department (which included Debby Clark) and the Human Resources Department prepared the document.

 

What did the Certificate have to say about me? Something like this? 'A deeply unpopular teacher, teaching uninteresting lessons, failing in almost every way. Although it has to be conceded that his examination results were consistently good, very good, excellent or outstanding, we as a school place no reliance at all on exam results as evidence of success in teaching.' What the certificate actually said was different. Excerpts:

 

 

The Capability Proceedings continued with full rigour even after I'd given in my resignation. Not only that, but David Bowes was so relentless that even after the period of intensive monitoring was supposed to have ended, he told the Head of Department to continue monitoring me! Monitoring the teaching of someone about to leave the school and to leave teaching within a short time doesn't seem the epitome of common sense, rationality or enlightened leadership You would have thought that he could have saved the time of a Head of Department and saved me from further stress. (And the stress had been much worse than I would have imagined. The proceedings went on for just over five months.) It may be that  he simply forgot when the monitoring period was due to end. In my experience, his grasp of detail wasn't always perfect.

 

He insisted that monitoring must continue, giving me a high-minded explanation of the need to monitor my work with a year group which hadn't been monitored before, even though there had been ample time to do that in the monitoring period, if he thought it was very important. In fact, the Head of Department - who seemed, to his credit, mystified by this new development and was completely apologetic - gave me complete freedom to choose the set which was monitored. No attention at all was paid to the need to monitor a particular year group, so I think that David Bowes' explanation was more than questionable.

 

People

 

David Bowes, Headteacher of Tapton School

 

He was Headteacher at the time, but no longer. David Dennis is now the 'Executive Headteacher' there. David Bowes plays a central role, as chief enforcer. He instigated the Capability Proceedings in my case. On a different matter, David Bowes the Christian believer as a moral and spiritual inspiration for his school see reservoir of hope on the page 'Targets.'

 

David Dennis

 

He was 'Head of the Specialist Science College' and became Head of Science after DS had left. He's now the 'Executive Headteacher' of Tapton School. I got to know this person better during the capability procedure and what I learned wasn't good.

 

He was the only person to give a lesson observation during the monitoring period. Although only one lesson was actually observed, I knew that any lesson could be observed and the stress was relentless throughout. When the moderating period should have ended, David Bowes decided that one lesson observation wasn't enough, so he informed me it would be extended - there had been time for many, many lesson observations during the period.

 

I was pleased about the way the lesson had gone. We'd got through a great deal of work and the pupils had worked hard. His report wasn't favourable. He said that some pupils were not 'on task.' From time to time during the lesson but not at all frequently, a pupil would momentarily lose concentration and then regain it. He was applying a completely unrealistic notion: that all the pupils could give all their attention to the task in hand all the time - and not taking into account that this was the last lesson of the day and that the lesson before this was PE (Physical education) and that it was perfectly possible that some pupils were tired out. 

 

He was nit-picking, he was flagrantly exaggerating, I'm sure. David Dennis's speciality is exam results, analysis of exam results, as I explain in the page targets. At the time, I felt, 'Take full account of my examination results for this set and all my other sets and compare them with your own and the results of other people.'

 

One of his objections was very curious. He objected to the fact that I'd used a few words of Italian in the lesson. The context was this. The set was a good one. Teachers are encouraged not to teach the subject in isolation all the time but sometimes to give a link with other subjects. I've an interest in foreign languages. I took a few moments to talk about science as a language. Biology uses a very large number of technical words - part of the 'vocabulary' of the scientific language. I was trying to encourage the pupils to go beyond a limited use of these words, not to be satisfied with a limited command of these words, to become 'fluent' in Biology, if you like. In the same way, it's better if someone can speak fluent Italian - I used a few words of fluent Italian - than have a very limited command of the language. Whether anyone thinks that all this was a good analogy or a not-so-good analogy, it took up a couple of minutes of the lesson at most. David Dennis made clear his opinion that it was a fault and evidence of shortcomings as a teacher. He completely ignored the context.

 

A Headteacher, of course, has not only the power to instigate capability proceedings but many other powers, such as the power to promote. Although there will be other people at the interview, the Head's power is often decisive. Pretence, ambition, other human attributes which are unidealistic or worse, are of course completely common in schools but managerial culture often evades the fact.

The person subject to Capability Procedure doesn't have high priority in a school. To produce a complimentary report on the person would require great strength of character in some circumstances. For all I know, David Dennis may be a good physicist or a good enough physicist, but strength of character isn't one of his outstanding or moderately good attributes.

 

 

Apart from commenting on his gross unfairness in his dealings with me in particular (he made no response) I commented on his wider personnel policies (again he made no response): 'I strongly believe that the personnel policies of the school are very faulty indeed and that Mr Bowes' management style is rigid rather than flexible, sometimes treating professional people in a way which gives rise to deep concern. The concern is not only my own. I have reason for thinking that a significant number of staff are not at all happy with the working environment.'

 

Debby Clark

 

On  one Web site on bullying a tactic is mentioned which is identical to one employed by Debby Clark: the page mentions 'the bully's ruses for abdicating responsibility and evading accountability, eg "that's all in the past, let's focus on the future," "what's in the past is no longer relevant..."

 

At the first meeting concerned with the Capability Proceedings against me, I was given a 'Plan.' I wrote to Mr Bowes, the Head, that 'this Document was a travesty, containing very many mistakes, distortions and omissions, and it was essential that I should have the chance to defend myself...the Plan was based on the false supposition ...that allegations...had already been proved. The Plan had been written in advance of the meeting and handed to me there, with no allowances made for the fact that it might need to be modified, or discarded entirely, in the light of objections I might raise at the meeting.' Debby Clark said that the Document was 'in the past' and that it was now essential to move on to 'the future.' The classic tactic of the bully, or someone attempting to be a bully. I wrote at the time, 'She made not the least attempt to display the objectivity which would be expected of a representative of the Human Resources Department. (I don't equate 'objectivity' with complete acceptance of my own interpretation of events, but I do expect a fair-mindedness which I found entirely lacking in Ms Clark's role in the meeting.)' So, I wasn't given the chance to discuss the matter of my writing documents and calling on my Union representative and a large number of other matters.

 

In their refusal to permit any questioning of allegations, in their approach as a whole, Debby Clark and David Bowes were indistinguishable. Debby Clark and David Bowes, I'm tempted to say, were 'two buttocks of one bum.' The quotation is attributed to Thomas Sturge Moore, the British poet and illustrator and refers to the friendship between the writers Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. I apply it to people or organizations which fail to preserve the necessary detachment. David Bowes made so many questionable - demonstrably mistaken and unfair - decisions in these proceedings. Debby Clark acted as a representative of a human rights department whose stance was indistinguishable from that of the Head, who gave every sign of pursuing the 'case' against me just as relentlessly - these, I felt, were abysmal standards. I discuss below another instance of failure to preserve the necessary detachment, in the case of union representation. I quote the words of Tim Field: 'Many people report that their paid trade union official appears indistinguishable from the management...'

 

I wrote to David Bowes 'I have to stress that I'm completely able to accept criticism. I recognize the overwhelming importance of criticism, provided it comes with proper evidence and that it doesn't deny the importance of dialogue, of legitimate responses to criticism. I'm very receptive to the criticism which comes from people who seem to me to be essentially fair-minded...If fair-minded people criticize my teaching, and the criticism seems to me to be justified, then I'll do all I can to implement the advice. I regard teaching as made up of a large number of different skills, and I would stress the impossibility of succeeding fully in every one of them - for myself or for anyone. I have undoubted weaknesses as well as strengths. What I do deny is that any weaknesses were grave enough to justify the excessive action against me.'

 

Debby Clark's manner I found off-putting: an uncanny resemblance in her controlled, glacial demeanour to the performance of Corinna Harfouch, who played Magda Goebbels, the wife of the Nazi Dr Goebbels, in the film 'Untergang' or 'Downfall.' I'm comparing her to a performance, not to a Nazi, of course. I loathe the misuse of 'fascist' and 'nazi,' as in 'fashion fascists.'

 

Genny Bradley: Genny 'Voltaire Updated' Bradley

 

Genny 'Voltaire Updated' Bradley is the Head of 'Organisational Development and Change Management' in Sheffield. Why 'Voltaire updated?' The reference is to the words attributed to Voltaire (by S. G. Tallentyre): 'I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.' The 'updating' doesn't give 'I disapprove of what you publish on your own Web site, but I will defend to the death your right to publish it.' It refers to 'updating' by trying to restrict a freedom. For George Orwell's comments on 'updating' as a way of restricting freedom of expression, see his essay 'The Prevention of Literature.'

 

At the time Genny Bradley was writing, she didn't know what I what I would be publishing on my Web site. She decided to disapprove of it all the same. This being so, Genny Bradley's updating of Voltaire would go something like this:

'I disapprove of what you will be saying in the future, whatever it might be, and make a strong request that you shouldn't say it.'

 

In some countries, insulting the President carries penalties. For the time being, there are no penalties in this country for criticizing a member of the city's Human Resources Department. (Subject to the usual legal qualifications.) Strong requests not to publish have no legal force.

She seems to write as if modern communications can be easily controlled to suit her own interpretations. As it is, all my criticisms of Genny Bradley are easily available throughout the world to anyone who puts "Genny Bradley" into a search engine.

 

I contacted Genny Bradley and invited her to look at this page. She didn't reply. I assume that either she didn't care to look at it, or that she did but found it irksome or difficult or impossible to answer any of the points I make. I've no way of knowing, but my opinion is that far more should be expected of the leader of a public organization. These are surely abysmal standards.

 

After I'd left the school, I wrote a letter to Ms Clark which included these arguments.

 

'I have a document, the 'model capability procedure for teachers,' published by Bristol City Council. This seems to me enlightened as well as realistic and the contrast with the procedure in Sheffield, as 'overseen' by yourself, is stark. Teachers in Bristol are assured that 'Any cause for concern about the performance of an employee should have already been the subject of informal discussions.' There were no such informal discussions in my case. I arrived at school one day and was informed that capability proceedings would begin. In Bristol 'an assessment period of a maximum of four working weeks' is part of the procedure' only 'in exceptional circumstances,' and only after consultation and agreement with senior persons. Not only was I subject to an assessment period of four weeks but Mr Bowes extended the period and gave instructions that assessment should continue - for reasons which I think have not the least plausibility. Bristol's capability procedure stresses the importance of finding out at the outset if alleged failings on the part of a teacher are due to sickness or ill-health. In Sheffield, capability proceedings lack this elementary safeguard...

 

'There were only two 'parental complaints' against me. Is it not scandalous, a denial of elementary justice, that I still to this day have not the least idea what one of these 'complaints' was about? At the time, I gave reasons, in writing, for thinking that this 'complaint' was not a complaint at all and I asked for clarification. I think that the parent in this case might well be very surprised indeed to find that it was considered that she had made a 'complaint' against me. But Mr Bowes gave me no information at all. He made no reply to this or any of the other numerous points which I made meticulously and in detail.'

 

Debby Clark made no reply to this letter. A copy was sent to Genny Bradley. She failed to reply too.

 

Marjorie (Marj) Royles

 

Ms Royles is certainly efficient. The period when she was joint Head of the School (together with Richard Storer) before the arrival of David Bowes was a notably successful one: fairly low-key but very effective leadership.

 

For all that, she has faults, although these were not in evidence when she was joint-Head. To me, she has a very high estimate of herself, although her limitations are real. I put on record one clear-cut failure on her part, as I saw it, in a document sent to David Bowes. He didn't challenge my interpretation. More of this below, in the Capability Document.

 

DS

 

DS was the Head of Biology and the Head of Science at the time of the Capability Proceedings. I have some respect for him, even though he played a prominent - and disastrous - part in the attack on me and wrote 'C. Doc.' (Here was someone whose exam results weren't as good as mine writing a document critical of me.) He also wrote the document in which it was alleged that 'I produce extensive documentation which is often difficult to challenge' and that I 'quickly involve my Union Rep.' although the document was issued to me by the Head and the Head was responsible for its contents. In the year after I was David Bowes' main target he apparently felt that he'd been placed under great pressure and resigned without another job to go to. He was, I think, flawed but despite his affinity with bureaucrats I found him human, energetic - but not always constructively - overall, well liked by me and many others, if not by David Bowes. It was 'common knowledge' in the school that David Bowes disliked him very much but I have no proof of this dislike, apart from the events after I left which led to his resignation.

 

Sonia Sharp

 

I wrote to Sonia Sharp, at the time 'Executive Director for Children and Young People's Directorate' in Sheffield. I gave  my reasons for believing that my treatment during the Capability proceedings had flouted the principles of elementary fairness. I received a reply, thanking me for my letter, 'the contents of which have been noted.' Which is much the same response as 'Not interested' or 'Can't be bothered.' When I contacted the NAS/UWT to make the same point, the response was the same: 'Not interested. Can't be bothered.'

 

Later, Sonia Sharp became the 'strategic director of children's services' at Rotherham, the time when large number of children were being abused. Later still, she emigrated to Australia. From a report in the 'Daily Telegraph,' 30 August 2014:

 

'Sonia Sharp, strategic director of children’s services from 2005 to 2008, now works in Australia as head of the Early Childhood and School Education Group for the government of Victoria. She has apologised to victims of abuse but faced calls to quit from an Australian victims’ advocate yesterday. Andrew Collins, who was abused as a boy, said: “It is not good enough to say I’m sorry. This woman should not have any involvement around children. She should either resign or be stood down from her position.” '

 

She did resign. The BBC reports:

 

'Ex-Rotherham children's boss Sonia Sharp quits Australia role

 

'The woman who was in charge of children’s services in Rotherham for three years during the grooming scandal has left her job in Australia.

 

'Sonia Sharp led Rotherham’s children’s department from 2005-2008 before running education services in Victoria.

'At least 1,400 children were sexually exploited  in the town between 1997 and 2013.

 

'Special Minister of State, Gavin Jennings said Dr Sharp was “seeking opportunities outside of government”.

 

Andrew Conheeny

 

I revise and extend material on this page often. After adding the first version of this profile to the page, I emailed Andrew Conheeney (29 November, 2015):

 

'Dear Andrew,
 
I’ve now added a short section to my ‘Capability’ page: [address of this page supplied]. This is simply a first draft. It will be revised and extended.

If you find it unfair, by all means contact me. If I think that your objections are valid, I’ll make some necessary changes or remove the section altogether.'

[Followed by the original draft.]

He hasn't contacted to me to raise any objections. A revised and extended profile:

 

Years before the capability proceedings, someone on the staff described Andrew Conheeney as a 'loose cannon.'

 

He has shown that he can completely misrepresent incidents which he didn't witness, as in 'the case of the puddle on the laboratory floor.' (He claimed that this puddle could be blamed on me,' and his ludicrous false claim had far-reaching effects.) Although imagination and inventiveness aren't notable strengths, he has shown a kind of imagination and inventiveness in attempting to do me down.  When asked to help  with some very, very difficult pupils in one class (pupils who were very, very difficult outside my lessons)  he has blamed  poor behaviour of these poorly behaving pupils on me. He's a tutor with pastoral responsibilities but he's quite capable of combining his pastoral role with information-gathering of a very dismal kind. I quickly learned, by hard experience, to be very wary of him. I realize that other people's experience may be different from mine.

 

An anonymous contributor to the site 'Rate my Teacher,' who had been taught by Andrew Conheeney, has given a critical report which has linkages with my own experience. I don't endorse this critical report - the site 'Rate my Teacher' is very flawed. It allows any idiotic view to go unchallenged. In this case, the critic does seem to have an insight into the  world of this individual. I'd say, in Andrew Conheeney's defence, that the criticism seems to be blatantly exaggerated, although I wasn't there at the time. Still, for what it's worth, this is an extract from the criticism and I do recognize some truth here - the critic seems to have insight:

 

'Friendly enough but he judges things very poorly and overreacts at every possible opportunity ... '

 

Relevant material in another place on this page:

 

'A new intake in one particular year included the most disruptive and difficult pupils ever in the school's history. They caused severe problems throughout the school for years afterwards. Assistant Heads and others were given the job of trying to improve the behaviour of these pupils and supporting the teachers who taught them. Half of these disruptive pupils were placed in my science set. I pointed out that proper teaching was impossible with such a concentration of difficult pupils. (I pointed out that 'during that year, I also taught other very difficult classes, and without problems other than the slightest.')

 

One fascinating facet of his personality: his involvement in martial arts and specifically Jujitsu.  He is, or was, a coach at a jujitsu club in Sheffield. According to the Wikipedia entry on the subject, 'Jujutsu schools (ryū) may utilize all forms of grappling techniques to some degree (i.e. throwing, trapping, joint locks, holds, gouging, biting, disengagements, striking, and kicking). In addition to jujutsu, many schools teach the use of weapons.'

 

However, Jujitsu is better known for its use of finesse rather than brute force. Andrew Conheeney's combative style in opposing me owed nothing to finesse but could be described as the blundering of a buffoon, and not a genial  buffoon either. The meaning of buffoon I have in mind is simply the one given in Collins English dictionary, meaning 2: 'a foolish person,' not at all meaning 1: 'A person who amuses others by ridiculous or odd behaviour, jokes etc.' His behaviour has never amused me, in my experience his behaviour hasn't been odd - although it has been unrestrained, excessive and blatantly unfair - and I have never heard him tell a joke.  My own interpretation, though, is far more scrupulous: a buffoon is a person who is foolish in one respect or some respects but not necessarily, or usually, in most respects or all respects. Again and again on this site, I make a plea for the recognition of complexity. There are people of great gifts with surprising limitations. There are people who are very sensible but also very foolish. There are people with huge strengths and glaring weaknesses.

 

On quite a number of occasions, I've had the opportunity to sit in on his lessons. I wasn't impressed. The lessons were pedestrian, the explanations routine, but his self-satisfaction was completely obvious: 'Look at me, this is the way it should be done!' I think that this too amounts to the action of a 'foolish person.'

 

A long time ago, he gave me details of his private life in a conversation. What he spoke about wasn't unpleasant or discreditable but he should have spoken about the matters to a close friend, not to me. I wasn't a close friend at the time, or before or since. He seemed to have no idea of what he was doing. Since then, he's disregarded every consideration of elementary caution when he's gone on the attack against me. I haven't mentioned the nature of his disclosure to anyone at any time and I don't give any details here. I consider that unrestrained action to defend my interests would be very wrong.

 

One day, as I was leaving a local library, he was leaving at the same time. I spoke to him about this period at the school, the 'capability' period - not in the least abusively, not in the least in tones of loud outrage. He was going in the same direction as me, it seems, and for a couple of minutes he had no obvious way of evading me - but he never said a single word. He's very willing, it seems, to feed information - if it can be called information - to a Headteacher but  on this occasion was incapable of a single worthwhile comment, or any comment at all. Teachers can become so used to talking to pupils, or talking down to pupils, that they lose the ability to talk to adults at an adult level. What they want is a captive audience.

 

But I'm mindful of this: 'Tout comprendre, c' est tout pardonner.' It's possible that dismal personal experience accounts for some of the flaws, as I see them. Perhaps all's not well in his world.

 

I haven't been vindictive towards Andrew Conheeney. For most of the time that this page has been in existence, there has been no profile of Andrew Conheeney here, or Chris Conheeney. I added a profile of him at one time, only to remove it. Recent developments, though, have ensured that these profiles will certainly stay. If David Bowes and Genny Bradley, of the Human Resources Department, had acted decisively at an early stage, in a fair-minded attempt to undo some of the damage caused, this page would have been removed years ago.

 

Chris Conheeney

 

Chris Conheeney is the wife of Andrew Conheeney. She was the Head of the Physics Department for a long time before and during the Capability proceedings. I don't regard the two as simply 'The Conheeneys.' They are people with very different personalities, as is common in a marriage, obviously. Her kindness has made quite a strong impression on me. Even so, she has faults. During the Capability Proceedings, I think that she failed, and failed comprehensively. The Capability Document records that Chris Conheeney made certain 'criticisms' of me. What the criticisms were I've not the least idea. The document gave no further information. My attempts to obtain further information have come to nothing.

 

I thought that my contributions to the Physics Department were real but peripheral. I didn't study Physics at University. I didn't even study Physics in the Sixth Form. Despite this disadvantage, despite the fact that I was completely open and honest about my background, or lack of background, in Physics, I was appointed to a specialist Physics post before I arrived at this school. Whenever I was asked to teach Physics at Tapton School, I was accommodating and I did so - and my results were outstanding. I remember one member of the Physics Department, a specialist Physics teacher, remarking ruefully after one set of results came in, that my results were better than his. I thought I was leading a blameless life as a peripheral and temporary member of the Physics Department, never failing to get the results, never failing to satisfy expectations, and all the time, or some of the time at least, it seems that Chris Conheeny was secretly critical. She never made any critical remarks to me at any time, but when the time came for the capability proceedings, The Purge, she made her contribution.

 

A Head of Department at the school - she left years ago - was approached by David Bowes, who intended to subject one of her staff to the  capability  treatment, 'pour encourager les autres,' perhaps. She refused to have anything to do with the plan and David Bowes backed down. I don't think that Chris Conheeney has anything like the same sturdy, independent spirit. She may have had her reasons for co-operating with the proceedings in my case, or it may be that she's easily led, or was easily led on this occasion at least, or that she was gently persuaded to co-operate. I've no information to impart at all, and she's certainly provided no information.

 

I attended a large event at the school to mark 50 years of the school's existence - this was after the capability proceedings and after I'd left the school. Three of the people with profiles on this page were present too - Marj Royles, David Bowes and Chris Conheeney. I didn't go up to any of them and have a quiet word about these matters. I didn't ask, 'What were you playing at? How can you justify your actions?' I didn't have occasion to speak to Marj Royles. David Bowes was very effusive and seized my hand as soon as he saw me, as if he were greeting a good friend he hadn't seen for so long - or as if greeting someone he was now very wary of and didn't want to antagonize any further.

 

I wasn't cold or dutiful in my approach to Chris Conheeney, but she was very chilly in her approach to me, as if talking to someone who had wronged her greatly. This profile was added only recently. It didn't exist at the time. If by chance our paths crossed now, I think her response would be not just chilly or glacial but close to Absolute Zero on the emotional temperature scale. Perhaps her sense of her own virtuousness is so absolute that she sees no need to explain or justify or defend her actions, those tiresome necessities for those people who recognize that they're fallible.

Although I've referred to Andrew Conheeney as a 'blundering buffoon,' exasperated, understandably exasperated (Boris Johnson, the Lord Mayor of London, has been described as a blundering buffoon, very unjustly, I believe.) I've never referred to Chris Conheeney as a 'blundering buffoon,' despite any claims to the contrary.

 

The  capability document: failures and blunders

 

The capability document given to me  is ultra-systematic, with columns headed 'Support,' 'Success Criteria' and 'Monitoring.'  Educational bureaucrats seem to think that using these categories almost guarantees the accuracy of the statements included in these categories. It's perfectly possible for irrational rubbish to be given the patina of truth by using these categories.

 

Failure to take account of examination and test results. Failure on the part of various people (but David Bowes above all) to take into account the very significant fact that my exam results have been consistently good, very good, excellent or sometimes outstanding. The abundant evidence of GCSE results (I didn't teach teach AS/A2 level, except for one year) as well as the very large number of End of Module Tests (which were examinations, undertaken in exam conditions.) My impression, based on close study of exam results in the Science department, that some of my critics have not had this consistent level of success at all.

In the documentation submitted to Mr Bowes and not challenged by him: 'A close study of my exam results and other exam results would be a very instructive exercise. Examination results have become an extraordinarily important way of assessing the competence of teachers and of schools. I feel very strongly that if my teaching was as imperfect as the document claims, then this would be overwhelmingly likely to have led to poor or even disastrously bad examination results.'

 

Objective and subjective evidence. Subjective evidence, such as the 'impressions' of a support teacher may not be the most reliable evidence. Sometimes it can be explained very easily. The particular support teacher who gave some evidence against me was very, very poor and provided virtually no 'support' at any time. Target. The School to take far more account of the objective evidence of examination results - consistent with its policy (along with all other schools) of giving great emphasis - but not exclusive emphasis - to these.

 

Grotesquely unfair use of parental complaints. The Capability Document given to me gave an alarming picture of parental complaints. One of the 'success criteria' of the document: 'Pupils' parental complaints cease.' The impression is given that parents had been complaining in large numbers. I was at the school for 26 years. About 17 years before I left there was a very moderate letter from a parent, more of an observation than a complaint, asserting that my explanation of genetics was insufficiently clear.

Of the two complaints which were cited in the Capability proceedings, one wasn't a complaint at all, in my opinion, and I gave detailed reasons as to why not. No attempt was made to challenge my interpretation. As for the one other complaint, I can give some of the background here but not all, since it includes confidential information. My documentation was very extensive for this important matter, and again wasn't challenged.

 

A new intake in one particular year included the most disruptive and difficult pupils ever in the school's history. They caused severe problems throughout the school for years afterwards. Assistant Heads and others were given the job of trying to improve the behaviour of these pupils and supporting the teachers who taught them. Half of these disruptive pupils were placed in my science set. I pointed out that proper teaching was impossible with such a concentration of difficult pupils. (I pointed out that 'during that year, I also taught other very difficult classes, and without problems other than the slightest.)

 

Nothing was done for a term, then, at last, some of them were moved into different sets. The two complaints were about misbehaviour in this set. The two parents were completely within their rights to make these complaints. It's natural that parents should be very concerned about disruption in the classroom. The school authorities have to establish the cause of the disruption. Not all disruption is the fault of the teacher. The fact that there weren't far more complaints is evidence of some success, I think. Despite the difficulties, test results and exam results were excellent for this set and at the end of the year, some of them were promoted to a much higher set. I saw DS to answer the complaints and he accepted completely my explanation, that misbehaviour was due to factors beyond my control. It was only after this meeting with the Head of Department that at long last something was done about the situation.

A year passed. One of these two complaints from the past was unearthed and, for lack of other parental complaints, apart from the alleged 'complaint' which I gave evidence for thinking was no complaint at all (I never did find out what it was all about) used against me. I wrote to David Bowes, 'Teachers should surely not have complaints which have been discussed fully and resolved a long time ago used against them. What is the response? Is it going to be argued that this was a completely fair thing to do? I'm not aware that this practice is prohibited in law, but I would very much hope that any school which values its reputation for fair dealing would avoid it.' Response from David Bowes? None. Again, a reliance on superior power.

 

Early in the capability period, I was told that 'two parental complaints' had been received. This was all the information I was given for almost five weeks. This is outrageous. The correct procedure is obviously to inform the teacher as soon as possible after a complaint has been received, and the teacher should be asked to provide a defence or an explanation. I was left to wonder what exactly the allegations were about and how serious the allegations were. . I ought to have been persistent in asking for an explanation, but for once I wasn't persistent. I kept waiting and wondering.

At last I was told - one of the complaints had been dealt with a year ago, my explanation of the reasons for the complaint accepted at the time completely. The other was described as a 'complaint' but all I was given was the name of the parent. I wasn't told what I was supposed to have done wrong. I think that the context was very important in this case, and I did have a very great deal of information about the context, information which can't be given here. My assertion that on the evidence I had this wasn't a complaint at all wasn't questioned or disputed. This was part of what Debby Clark dismissed as unimportant, since it was in 'the past.' And Debby Clark saw nothing wrong in a complaint which belonged in the past, since it was resolved a year before she made this fatuous and ignorant comment, being unearthed and used against me - surely, to make the weakest of cases appear stronger.

 

Now, I'm more eager than ever to find out more about this 'mysterious complaint,' if it was a complaint, and I doubt it. I'm sure I'm entitled to know. One definite complaint from the year before, which was resolved at the time, and an alleged and unexplained complaint' constituted the alleged 'problem' of parental complaints.

 

Mr Bowes' reliance upon his superior power to evade any answers whatsoever to reasoned evidence. PH produced very extensive documentation at the time of his Capability proceedings, giving reasoned arguments and evidence in connection with every one of the arguments against him. Mr Bowes made no attempt to answer any of these arguments. Target: The need to address concerns point by point, bringing forward whatever evidence is appropriate. As a general point, the powers given to a Headteacher are necessary but may easily become excessive. They are not a substitute for rational argument. Individuals have their own power, for example, the power to publicize issues by means of Web sites and by print publication.

 

The apparent ignoring of some legal rights. In the document 'Concerns about the work of PH,' which preceded 'C. Doc.,' there are these statements:
'2. [PH] produces extensive documentation, which is often difficult to challenge, justifying his position.
(3) Quickly involves his Union Rep.'

I deal with these issues in the  section Freedom to publish and other freedoms.

 

Extreme carelessness in compiling documents given to PH. A failure, seemingly, to proof-read documents. Reading through a document once after writing it would have avoided the ludicrous statement that 'PH was given every support by DS (then Head of Science), AC (a year tutor) and PH' (i.e., myself.) Target: to read through documents given to teachers subject to Capability proceedings at least once, to detect obvious inaccuracies.

 

Marjorie Royles and the pitfalls of oral testimony. Marjorie Royles is an historian. As such, she should be familiar with these pitfalls. Any alleged 'evidence' has to be carefully compared with other evidence, such as that from the person being criticized. Is the oral testimony representative or unrepresentative, reliable or unreliable? Without a scrupulous concern for these matters, it may be a matter of someone listening to gossip, finding it superficially convincing and acting on the gossip.

 

My comment in a document I wrote and gave to Mr Bowes (yet another assertion which he didn't challenge): 'She appears to have accepted criticisms made by a pupil at face value, without giving me the chance to defend myself against them. She didn't bring to my attention a note... which I claim should certainly have been brought to my attention. I consider this also to be deeply unfair. If I had been given the chance to defend myself, I had available a variety of evidence and information.' And I mention 'my view that the practice of hearing a pupil's version of events and not only failing to give the teacher an opportunity to present a defence but failing even to inform the teacher that the pupil has made these comments is indefensible.' I sent a letter to Marjorie Royles about these concerns, with these quotations, but she didn't reply.

 

Target: Headteachers and Assistant Heads at the school to bring to the attention of a teacher any criticism of any substance made by a pupil and give the teacher the right to respond to the criticism.

 

Using insufficient and inadequate evidence when deciding on the 'popularity' of a teacher. And using popularity as a significant criterion in a capability procedure at all. Often, the vast majority of clients, customers, or in this case pupils who are very satisfied will keep quiet. Attention will be concentrated upon a tiny handful who are dissatisfied but vocal. My alleged 'unpopularity' with pupils played a significant part in the capability proceedings. The strong impression was given that my unpopularity was a 'fact,' beyond dispute.

 

I had the memory, on the other hand, of many, many parents' evenings, overwhelmingly encouraging to me, when parents very often said that their son or daughter really appreciated my lessons, and the appreciative comments of pupils.  A long time before David Bowes arrived at the school, the pupils organized a poll for different categories. I was voted 'favourite male teacher.' And, also, 'second best dressed male teacher!' Although it was a long time ago, I think that the personality which was not in the least off-putting at that time was the same before the capability proceedings and even during them, taking into account the stress of that time.

 

Using the misbehaviour of pupils as evidence, allegedly, of a teacher's 'inadequacies' when there's overwhelming evidence that this misbehaviour is general and has presented immense problems in a large number of different subjects.

 

This is an area where my documentation was particularly detailed, but for obvious reasons I can't present it here. Target: to no longer ignore the wider context, which may be all-important. To consult records which may well give evidence of misbehaviour and other patterns of behaviour in other lessons, not only the lessons of the teacher under investigation.

 

Exploiting a sincere mistake concerning union action. It was alleged that I'd failed to complete 'data sheets.' The C. Doc. mentioned as one of the 'Success Criteria' for me 'Data sheets available on time.' These data sheets are part of the data collection exercise which has become so prominent in education. At a meeting of my union at the time, the NAS/UWT, it was recommended that these data sheets shouldn't be completed, as part of the action against excessive workloads. At the meeting, it was voted not to complete these sheets. I wasn't informed that the recommendation was overturned later. The school used my failure to complete data sheets as evidence against me but what I still don't know is if the school was entitled to demand that data sheets should be completed. If the school was entitled to demand this, if completing the data sheets was part of the contract of employment, why was the matter put to the vote at a union meeting at the school?

 

Area of concern: the frequency of David Bowes' use of formal measures such as capability proceedings. Quite apart from the justice or injustice of particular cases and the feasibility of alternative methods, simple figures would be useful: figures for the instigation of capability procedures - not necessarily procedures brought to a conclusion, because the tendency is for people who are subjected to them to leave the school. How many times has David Bowes instigated formal measures compared with other secondary Heads in the city? I have a good idea of the figures but definitive information is no doubt available to the Human Resources Department. The figures available would, though, underestimate his desire (on the evidence available to me, at least) to correct, chastise, coerce. He hasn't always been successful in his aims. I'm told that he tried to begin capability proceedings against one teacher but that the Head of Department robustly resisted, and was successful.

 

Framework Science

 

In the year of the Capability proceedings, the science scheme I had to use for all my classes but one was 'Framework Science.' By this time, I'd already written an extended critique of the scheme. I've included it in the Reviews section of the site, at Framework Science. This critique puts some of the accusations (or 'concerns') in a new light, for example my alleged failures in 'differentiation.' This is how 'C. Doc' puts it:

 

A target for me: 'Differentiate work in order to engage and extend the learning of all students.'
And success criteria for me: 'Differentiation is evident in planning, work set and classroom activities.'

Certainly clear-cut - but convincing? Where was the evidence that I gave insufficient attention to differentiation, that I was neglecting it, that there was any need to formally monitor my practice to ensure that I'd 'improved?' No evidence was provided. Where was the evidence that I was fully aware of differentiation? There was a great deal of evidence, for example this, from the critique of Framework Science. I'd written:

 

'First of all, to introduce the world of the authors [of Framework Science] and their complete indifference to the important concept of differentiation in education, a couple of questions (and perhaps you could commit yourself to an answer.)

 

(1) Define the term 'evaluation.'

(2) Define the term 'laterally inverted.' [in the context of light.]

'Perhaps you've been able to define these terms straight away, without any problem at all. If so, do try and enter into the mind of a 7th year pupil (age: 12 or so) who is expected by Framework Science to be able to define 'evaluation,' (together with 'input variable,' by the way.) And try and enter into the world of the 8th year pupil (age 13 or so) who is expected to give a definition of 'laterally inverted.' These are homework questions in Framework Science, and for the full ability range - for pupils whose reading age may be years below their chronological age, for pupils who find abstract words difficult, all but the simplest words difficult. The first question comes from the sheet 7I.h.6A (A is for 'all,' for the full ability range) and the second from the sheet 8K.c.3A (again, the A is for 'all.') By the way, the authors don't believe in supplying inverted commas, generally - the inverted commas for 'evaluation' are mine - but now and again, as in sheet 8K.c.3A, they do give them.

'The idea of 'differentiation' in education, which involves the notion that questions shouldn't be flung at pupils completely unready or unable to make any sense of them, never seems to enter the heads of the authors, after they've paid obligatory lip service to the theme in their introduction (an inert and deadening piece of prose whose main virtue is that it avoids the forced and completely unconvincing jollity of so much in the main teaching scheme.) It should be obvious to anybody that they have no idea how to enter into the world of a pupil for whom science is a desperately difficult area.'

This isn't the only place where I discussed Framework Science's lack of concern for differentiation. See also, for example, the section Over-complexity of language. I gave David Bowes printed extracts from this critique but it did me no good at all. As with everything else, he made no comment and gave no explanations. The criticism stayed. He was immoveable. So the allegation remained that I had no concern for a matter which I'd already addressed in detail. The idea that I should take account of differentiation in 'planning, work set and classroom activities' and that my 'success' in doing so should be monitored. doesn't take into account the fact that Framework Science, as a very comprehensive and very expensive course, comes complete with work set and classroom activities and is intended to free the teacher from most of the work of planning. For years, I'd been spending time attempting to make up for some of the deficiencies of this teaching scheme. As time went on, more and more people in the department began to criticize the scheme openly. One teacher in the department described the scheme as 'rubbish,' another as 'the triumph of appearance over substance.' Framework Science provides homework questions, allegedly differentiated. These are so poor that the department had a meeting to generate new homework questions. DS, the Head of Department who wrote the main capability document used against me, was responsible for choosing this scheme. Anyone who could overlook its gross failings as regards differentiation, amongst so many other failings, wasn't the best person to accuse me of failing to recognize the importance of differentiation.

Another Target: 'Engage all students in interesting and meaningful learning activities.'

 

Again, the critique of Framework Science is relevant. For example, I wrote:

 

'The authors often prefer paper-based activities to experiments. In the whole of section 8E, 'Atoms and elements,' a section which lends itself to a wealth of interesting experiments, there's only one class experiment, 8E.e.3, 'Investigating iron and sulphur,' apart from a dull experiment on heating copper, which takes only a few minutes. Truly, pupils in the fifties (or forties, or thirties...) of the last century were given a more interesting time than pupils who have to study this section of 'Framework Science.' The teacher can make the topic come alive, but with no thanks to 'Framework Science,' and it will need a lot of extra work.'

 

I did everything I could to make each topic 'come alive' but it was impossible to overcome all the restrictions of Framework Science. This was a scheme which had cost the department 30 000 pounds and which provided all the worksheets and prescribed all the lesson activities, in detail. It was completely impractical for me to provide my own worksheets in every case as a substitute for the worksheets of Framework Science, which are generally lack-lustre, tedious, unimaginative, except, sometimes, in the realm of factual information, when the authors exercise their imaginative gifts by creating imaginary facts. (See the section wrong information, or misleading information)

In this sense, the Capability document C. Doc is much more 'imaginative,' a classic (but deeply disturbing) collection of imaginary facts, such as the 'fact' that I had a deficient grasp of differentiation.

 

Good will

 

I don't know what I was playing at writing about such a thing to such a person, but I even included mention of the good will I'd shown. Of course, it did me no good at all. Along with everything else, it wasn't acknowledged or mentioned. I wrote that four times, over a period of four years, 'I was asked year after year, as a part-time teacher, to increase the number of hours worked by taking on voluntarily a class which I was warned was difficult and challenging. I had no wish to increase my hours, and the prospect of teaching another difficult class was not one I wanted at all. In every case, I agreed, however, as a matter of goodwill. (I demonstrated good will on another occasion, but not to take on a difficult class, when I agreed to teach AS Psychology for a year, even though I have no background in the subject. Preparation for these lessons took up an extraordinary amount of time, in view of my lack of knowledge of the subject. My results in the two sets of exams were truly excellent, with very high 'value-added ratings.' With apologies for mentioning one of those too familiar unions of education and economics.)

 

A Website

 

Bully on line is the remarkable Website of Tim Field. I recommend it. The information and insights of the Website were essential in withstanding the stresses. The site was all the more important to me because my union was so useless.I'm very grateful to Brian Lamb for bringing it to my attention.

 

At the bottom of the home page of the Website is a long list of internal links, which give access to detailed and very helpful discussions. A great deal of the factual information, such as details of cases, is out of date or of more limited value now than when it was published. (The Tim Field Foundation  is attempting to revise the site.)

 

Despite this reservation, so much of the material is very impressive, including the psychological analyses of the authority figures who are culpable. Not all of them are, of course. There are manipulative incompetents who wrongly claim that they are being bullied and enlightened people in positions of authority. This gives rise to a much stronger reservation: the site fails to address the problem of false allegations, a problem in this sphere as in others.

The Website describes as a 'serial bully' someone with 'a string of previous targets who have been dismissed, taken early or ill-health retirement, or who have left under suspicious circumstances.' There's incisive analysis of the different kinds of serial bully, including the 'attention-seeker' and the 'sociopath.' (The site fails to mention that there are malicious serial complainers about bullying too, including attention-seekers and sociopaths.)

 

The site makes a  valuable comment in connection with 'parental complaints': sometimes 'a comment has been deliberately misconstrued or distorted to form the basis of an allegation.' I think it very likely that this was the case for one of the two parental 'complaints' which were cited during the proceedings. I was given no information at all apart from the name of the parent alleged to have made the complaint, at the time or later.

 

David Bowes' treatment of me I'd describe as deeply unfair and contemptible, but I wouldn't describe it as bullying. I'd describe David Bowes as a would-be bully or a failed bully. I don't believe in allowing such people to get away with it: Nemo me impune lacessit.

 

His conduct of the capability proceedings against me was the conduct of a blunderer. The blunders were those that anyone with any sense (and anyone with any integrity) would have avoided.

 

NASUWT - the useless union

 

One of the documents given to me expressed various 'Concerns.' One of the concerns was this: 'Quickly involves his union Rep.' It was very, very unwise of David Bowes to include this, or clueless or recklessly stupid. I give some reasons in the section Freedom to publish and other freedoms but it will be obvious to anyone (with exceptions such as David Bowes) that a school has no right at all to interfere in a union matter like this, let alone to make it a concern in the capability procedure. (The fact that the claim was completely untrue isn't the main objection to it.) The union man was just as unwise or clueless or recklessly stupid in allowing this to go unchallenged.

 

I was a member of the NASUWT. For me, they're 'The Useless Union,' but I refer only to my own experience. The union representative at the school, (quite an impressive person, who has no responsibility at all for the disastrous handling of my case) called upon the Union's representative for the city, David Haigh. who attended only the first full capability meeting. I quickly realized that David Haigh was completely out of his depth and no match for someone like David Bowes, who exudes confidence and self-belief and is very fluent. (David Bowes has real strengths in presentation, serious weaknesses, I think, in some matters of substance.)

The Union Man stared at the main Capability Document, separate pieces of pseudo-information arranged systematically in columns, using the approved terms, 'success criteria' and the rest, and I think he was dazzled.

David Bowes went through the document, and as he read the sections aloud, the union man nodded sagely at frequent intervals, obviously in agreement! Any defendant with a very strong case who finds in court that counsel for the defence nods in agreement whilst the counsel for the prosecution is outlining the case against would have no confidence in the handling of the defence. David Haigh forfeited any confidence I'd had in him.

 

When it was made clear to me that I'd be given no opportunity at all to contest any of the allegations, or to find out what exactly was the nature of 'complaint number 2,' or to contest the disapproval of my writing documents or disapproval that I'd involved my union representative, or to ask why I was mistakenly listed as a critic of myself ('critics' were cited as initials and 'PH,' that is,  Paul  Hurt, was listed as one of my critics) I asked for the meeting to be adjourned so that I could talk to him. I said that it was completely unfair to move on to the next stage - intensive monitoring - whilst there were so many issues at stake. I had to have the chance to contest what was in the document. He mumbled something and that was all. When we returned to the meeting, he offered no help at all. David Haigh seemed to see his role as simply attending, perhaps offering psychological comfort by his mere presence. He offered me none. After this, I dispensed with his services. Allegedly, he was off work as a result of stress not long after.

Tim Field's Web site 'bullyonline,' on the other hand, was not just helpful but crucial in withstanding the pressures. Amongst all its other insights, it offers insights into the frequent failure of trade unions to help their members.

http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/public.htm

and has this to say:

 

'Sometimes the local (unpaid) trade union officer is helpful and supportive, but once the case moves up to a paid union official, the member finds their case frustrated. Many people report that their paid trade union official appears indistinguishable from the management and that their trade union, despite the rhetoric, appears to be more interested in maintaining its good relationship with the employer than meeting the legally-binding contractual obligations to its members. Some trade unions encourage personnel officers to join the union in the full knowledge that their members are or will be in conflict with the same personnel officers. The National Union of Teachers (NUT), for instance, openly boasts its "delight that LEA [Personnel] Officers are in membership of the Union". The notion that trade unions exist to support, protect and fight for the rights of their members seems to have fallen by the wayside - especially if bullying and stress are the core issues.

 

'There are many reasons why trade union representatives fail to support their members, including lack of resources, weak law, disinterest, fear of retaliation by employer, fear of loss of rep's own job and career, lack of training, lack of support within the union, contempt for members, complicity, fraternal obligation and more. All play their part.'

 

The NASUWT may offer a superb service to teachers who have slipped on a wet floor in a school corridor and broken a bone, but teachers who hope that the union will move heaven and earth to help if they face the might of a power-mad headteacher might well be better off praying, even if they're atheists. Teachers who regard the union as similar to an insurance company - if my house is burned down, the insurance company will see me right, if I'm in danger of being forced out of the school, forced to leave the profession, the NASUWT will see I'm alright, my case is so strong - are much too trusting.

 

Increase in abuse of capability procedures

 

'Abuse of capability procedures is creating a climate of fear in schools, driving some teachers out of the profession and affecting their health, representatives at the Annual Conference of the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union, will hear today.

 

'Representatives at the Conference, which is being held in Bournemouth, will debate a motion highlighting the psychological pressures on teachers wrought by this abuse.

...

'Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“ 'The Coalition Government has created the conditions for workplace bullying to flourish with its punitive accountability measures and constant denigration of the workforce.

“ 'There is a climate of fear in too many schools, with capability procedures being used to intimidate staff.

...

“ 'In many of the cases the Union deals with, it’s not underperformance of teachers which is the issue, but ineffective leadership, lack of support and training, inappropriate deployment and, all too often, just because a teacher’s face doesn’t fit.' '

 

This is very, very good, but effective help for an individual teacher facing capability measures demands very different skills from the ones needed to write an effective and impressive publicity release. It requires the ability to detect faulty use of evidence and irrelevant information, to assess probabilities, an attention to detail combined with insight into people, who may well include plausible, even charismatic people, who have a hidden agenda and a hidden side to them. Creating impressive publicity material is no guarantee that the representation will reach even minimal standards, let alone these higher standards.

 

An unrelated matter:


on the page http://www.sheffield.nasuwt.org.uk/ the Sheffield Association of the NASUWT refers to 'Querys.' This spelling has been there for a long time, without anyone in the NASUWT noticing or caring. The plural of 'query' is of course 'queries.' At least they haven't used an apostrophe before the 's.'

Stacking shelves and the limits to power

 

Before I resigned, I asked David Bowes how I would stand for a reference in any future employment. I said I had no intention of staying in teaching or applying for another job in teaching but it was possible that I might apply for some other job in the future. I gave as a purely hypothetical example stacking shelves at B & Q. He said that any reference would depend upon the result of the Monitoring Period which was part of the Capability Procedure. B & Q would not be interested in the monitoring period. They would be interested in matters like my punctuality and attendance record, both excellent. (An average of about two days a year of absence during my working life, mostly accounted for by stays in hospital and recovering from surgery.)

 

Although I shouldn't have been surprised by anything that he said, his answer left me quite stunned. I realized just how extensive was his view of his powers. He was determined, it seems, to prevent someone stacking shelves if he saw fit.

I resigned, without any worries about lack of a reference from David Bowes in any future applications for employment, undeterred by his power games.

 

The 'word-sphere'

 

Sheffield City Council uses an example of what I call the 'word sphere,' with its slogan:

 

WHERE EVERYONE MATTERS

 

What? Does this mean that it's impossible for an employee of the Council, such as a teacher, to be treated unfairly? Surely not. But it certainly sounds better, it gives a better self-image and a better image to the world than more modest and more realistic claims.

 

Since these events took place, Tapton School has become an academy, with a very different relationship with other organizations in Sheffield. If a Headteacher in an Academy gains even more powers, if the checks and balances which might impose {restriction} on the power of a Headteacher are weakened, I'd have to add that in my experience, nothing could exceed the unchecked exercise of power by this Headteacher in pre-Academy conditions. A system of checks and balances failed to work and the failure was total. In pre-Academy conditions, there wasn't the least attempt to scrutinize. let alone remedy, the disastrous and abysmal conduct of the capability procedure (so I argue here).

Tapton School, Sheffield (Headteacher David Bowes), now Tapton Academy, Sheffield (Member and Executive Headteacher: David Bowes) has this slogan:

 

VALUING EVERYONE,
CARING FOR EACH OTHER

 

My own experience, it will be clear, was, let's say, very different under the régime of David Bowes (as contrasted with his benevolent and genuinely caring predecessor John Bardsley.)

 

Of course, the word-sphere is the natural home of imaginative writers. This isn't a pejorative use of the phrase. 'Word-sphere' in the pejorative sense reflects a sense of reality which is surely defective. Often, reality is difficult, intractable, sometimes impossible to deal with. It's far easier to arrange words so that an aspiration is put forward as reality. 'Declaring' a thing to be so is mistakenly thought to be the same as the reality. Sometimes, words become a substitute for action - this is an instance of {substitution}. The word-sphere is the world of facile claims, ringing declarations, hollow confidence-building assertions, wildly optimistic projections for future success. For Michael Chapman (former Head of High Storrs school, Sheffield) and the word-sphere see the page Targets. For the fatuous and ludicrous scheme 'Reservoirs of Hope,' another instance of the word-sphere (reality is conspicously absent) and David Bowes' involvement, please see the same page.