When Peter Crook vanished overnight in mid-term, the Purcell School clamped a lid on its embarrassment. No reason was given for his departure.
A new head was appointed, a man of impeccable credentials. David Thomas acted quickly to restore confidence and it did look for several months as though the school was alighting onto gentler pastures.
But two clouds hung heavy over Purcell. One was a whispering discontent from the previous head’s hushed-up departure and the other was a financial crisis. The two may not be unconnected.
Word of mouth has it that Mr Crook received a £200,000 payoff.
We cannot corroborate this figure. Neither Mr Crook nor the school will open their books. The figure has come to us independently from four different sources so it may have some credence, but we put it no stronger than that. Let’s assume the departure was not cost-free. Mr Crook now teaches at a foreign outpost of a British public school. The people who hired him still sit on the Purcell board.
Apparently to cut costs, Quentin Poole’s post as head of music has been abolished. Mr Poole, who clashed with Mr Crook, is popular with staff and pupils. No other teacher has been affected by Mr Thomas’s cuts. The two episodes may, or may not, be related. Meanwhile, students are sitting their exams in an atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty.
A parent writes to Slipped Disc: This [Poole] decision has caused enormous distress at the school when many are taking public exams. It has seriously undermined the headmaster’s authority at a time when – more than anything – Purcell needs good leadership and a steady, sensible hand. Pupils had been encouraged by his positive attitude at first but now feel betrayed. Parents are horrified but we don’t know what to do. Many are saying they would never have sent their children to the school if they had known music would be downgraded in this way.
A recent ex-student writes: During my time at Purcell Mr. Poole was one of the most helpful members of staff I have ever had. If a pupil had any sort of problem whether it be academic, personal, or musical Mr. Poole was always a reliable member of staff you could see who would always make time for you without question, and do his absolute best to sort it out as well as being extremely professional. Mr. Poole is a brilliant musician who has the respect of all the pupils at the school.
Learning little from its past timidity, the Purcell School is frozen once more in the glare of headlights. At a time when elite music schools are under increased public scrutiny for various other reasons, silence may no longer be the best policy.