an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Why Purcell is back in the headlights

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.

purcell school


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.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Stephen Swanson says:

    The Purcell School has no shortage of fine, impeccably caring teachers. My time as a student at the school in the late 1990s was so special because of the extraordinary work of people like Quentin Poole, Edward Longstaff, Alison Cox and then-Headmaster John Bain. As one of the very few Americans at Purcell I was made to feel perfectly welcome by the warmth of the staff, and my two years in England still rank among the happiest of my life.

    The school has made so many staffing decisions that have been so right over the years (Mr. Crook notwithstanding) that I fail to comprehend how it can make such a baffling decision as to remove the position of Head of Music. Quentin Poole is a musician of exceptional intelligence and empathy who was always there for help and to answer questions. He was a first-rate conducting teacher, and approached every subject he taught with joy and passion. The presence of a strong Head of Music gave Purcell a great deal of validity as one of the world’s great music schools. In the absence of this position I wonder if that status can be maintained.

    So much about the school is so right, but then if the people responsible for hiring Mr. Crook are still on the scene maybe no one should be surprised if reprehensible decisions such as this one become commonplace.

  2. Current Purcell academic teacher says:

    Mr Lebrecht,

    May I please correct and enlarge on some of your statement above?

    Mr Thomas does not have impeccable credentials.

    He is a school master, who has amateur, but ambitious plans to take over directing the music in the school, like he did in his previous post as Head, when he took over the choir at Reigate Grammar school against the wishes of his then Director of Music, because he considered himself a better choirtrainer.


    The former Head Peter Crook, also tried this musical takeover, having been sacked as Director of Music at Rugby School, and clashed on numerous occasions with Quentin Poole, who rightly asserted his professional musical direction when a meddling amateur musician tried to interfere with the professional music direction at Purcell.

    I understand it is no secret the school spent so much money paying off this eventually dismissed Head.
    As a limited company, it is easy to read annual accounts submitted by the school on line to Companies House, and draw conclusions as to the overspending and speculate why and how this money was spent.

    The perpetrators who made these overspending decisions still work as Bursar, and Governors responsible for bad financial planning and ineffectual fundraising are still, amazingly, on the Governing body.

    Quentin Poole is one of a handful of brave staff who has challenged these matters, and as a result is the only casualty to be made redundant for doing so.

    As a result of his honesty, challenging a culture of management bullying and supporting his unfairly dismissed partner who challenged the status quo under the sacked Headmaster, Poole has become a victim and is being punished by a sham redundancy of the post he has held with distinction for 12 years.

    • Past Teacher says:

      Lets just remind ourselves about David Thomas’s credentials:

      From Rheingold: Purcell School appoints new headmaster

      6 August 2012

      David Thomas, the former head of Reigate Grammar School, has been appointed headmaster at the Purcell School, a specialist music school in Hertfordshire.

      The school’s governors say they are confident he has ‘the necessary experience, vision and total commitment that will be required to move the school forward’. Thomas read music at Oxford and is on the Academic Policy Committee of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference. He is a former Chair of HMC South East Division, a former A-level examiner, and an ISI Inspector.

      This doesn’t smack of a desired career in conducting.

      Let us also remember that Quentin’s main training and professional work was as an oboist. He has worked as a fixer and music director on commercial sessions including his orchestra The London Pops Orchestra.

      It is always appropriate at specialist schools to use a professional conductor, as part timers just don’t make the grade, and oh boy, do the students know it.

  3. Corrina Connor says:

    It is a shame that a picture of such a talented pupil had to be used in connection with this story.

  4. Adam Dalgliesh says:


    Unsurprisingly the Purcell School stays silent. But if you look through all the contributions to this blog it is possible to put together a coherent history. Let’s consider two questions. What happened to Peter Crook? And what happened to Ian MacMillan?

    Your first Purcell story reported on an article in the Watford Observer and was about the Social Services and Police investigations into alleged abuse. Nothing came of those investigations so why did they end up in the public sphere? In any school – SMS, independent, comprehensive, whatever – these investigations are done discreetly to protect the child involved and the teacher (in case the allegation is false). Neither police nor Social Services followed these investigations up. We can only conclude that they were satisfied that Peter Crook was not a risk.

    What have we learned in recent months about sexual predators? They are often admired and looked up to, they enjoy their victims’ confidence, they hide in broad daylight, and are popular. It seems that Peter Crook was none of these things. [redacted: legal] These allegations clearly do not hold water. So why were they leaked?

    The other thing we learn from this blog is that Peter Crook sacked Ian MacMillan, Quentin Poole’s (civil?) partner. We know that Mr Poole has been at the Purcell School for thirty years[redacted].

    As any employer or employee knows, you can’t be sacked on a whim. So why was Mr MacMillan sacked? He must have received written warnings for his sacking to be legal. What was he warned about? If his dismissal was unfair he could appeal. Has he appealed and what has the result of the appeal been? Clearly he does not teach at the school now so we must conclude that his dismissal was fair.

    But we can only speculate what the relationship between the popular Mr Poole and the unpopular Mr Crook can have been like when this was going on. [redacted]

    • a current music teacher says:

      Dear Mr Dalgliesh,

      I understand Watford Police & Herts Social Services who investigated the alleged verbal abuse of pupils by Mr Crook, TWICE, was not with the knowledge of parents. The Governors only broke their silence about the investigations when the local Watford Observer reported on them – then they had to come clean.
      As you say, The Purcell Governors remained silent……….

      [redacted: legal]

      Rather than admit their mistake and to save ‘face’, Mr Smallbone foolishly decided to let Mr Crook return to work with children, and he and other senior Governors, bullied and berated numerous outspoken staff who dared to criticise their decision, forcing them to support and work with Mr Crook, even though most thought his verbal abuse [redacted] unacceptable and unprofessional.

      Harrassed staff (29 of us) complained to an Independant Panel of former Headmasters arranged and known by Mr Smallbone to air our grievances.

      The report of this two day Review has never been allowed to be read by anyone – not even new Governors.

      As you say, The Purcell Governors remain silent………….

      As to Mr Macmillan, Mr Poole’s openly gay partner – a popular & lively professional musician, all I know is from staff room colleagues, he was sacked for challenging Mr Crook over the bullying House Master [redacted]

      I understand that he did appeal to the Governors once Mr Crook was eventually sacked, but incredibly, they brought the dismissed Mr Crook back, to chair the appeal, which was against procedure, and Mr Macmillan and his witnesses quite rightly refused to attend the appeal.

      Like the demand for Chets Governors & Head to resign in shame, The Purcell Governors & Head need to be named, shamed and resign for the damage they have done/are doing to this musical school for mismanagement and poor governance.

  5. very concerned observer says:

    Mr Thomas is not the saviour the Governors expected.

    His heavy handling of the recent staff reshuffle, resulting in the potential redundancy of popular musical figurehead and ambassador to the purcell school , the Director of Music, Mr Quentin Poole, will be his downfall.

    Pupils about to sit major public exams are so distressed that their beloved Mr Poole has been so shoddily treated, that they have signed a petition with parental support demanding the return of their Music Director.

    Mr Thomas meanwhile, makes threats to boarders, refusing to let them out of the school after 6pm, and a combination of both these issues means the school is heading for a revolutionary meltdown.

    Very alarming for another Head of Purcell to lose his school after a mere 8 months, due to the misjudgement AGAIN by out of touch Governors who have got it all wrong – AGAIN!

  6. Squirrel says:

    Can someone please tell me, once and for all, if it’s “purCELL or PURcuhl”?

  7. I have always been told that the correct pronunciation is PUR-cell but people tend to say PurCELL.

    When establishing an earlier pronunciation, as seen in earlier posts in this blog on the Shakespearean sound system, there are several kinds of evidence to look for – rhymes, puns, metre, spelling, and explicit comments by contemporaries. In the case of Purcell, we find clear evidence of the stress falling on the first syllable from contemporary spellings. Before spelling standardized, the vowel in an unstressed syllable would be spelled in different ways. So when we find such spellings as Pursal, Purcel, Persill, and Pursall in the 17th century, an initial syllable stress is clearly suggested. It is reinforced by the ode John Dryden wrote on the death of his friend, in which the metre requires the stress to be on the first syllable:

    Now live secure and linger out your days,
    The Gods are pleas’d alone with Purcell’s Lays,

    The same stress pattern is found in a rhyme in a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, who rhymes Purcell and reversal. That was 1918. So there doesn’t seem to have been any historical change.

  8. Adam Dalgliesh says:


    I am one of Martin Roscoe’s Facebook friends and have followed his courageous posts about abuse at Chets and the RNCM. Many of his links have directed me to Slipped Disc. Your blog has provided a valuable forum for people affected by the many serious issues raised to discuss their experiences and suggestions.

    In amongst the heartfelt and impassioned debate one voice seemed out of place. ‘angry parent’ seemed determined to drag the Purcell School into the debate. Intrigued, I looked at the many Purcell threads. The comments on the Purcell students’ Harlem Shake video included a comment from ‘annoyed mother’ which was very similar in tone to ‘angry parent’. An earlier thread had comments from ‘Henry Purcell’ who said much the same as ‘angry parent’ and ‘annoyed mother’.
    Here’s the thing. I came to the conclusion that a lot of the posts on the Purcell School have come from two writers who are hiding behind several pseudonyms. The first I think of as ‘Incandescent’. He is ‘angry parent’, ‘annoyed mother’, ‘Henry Purcell’ etc. His posts are characterised by their heat, often contain misspellings, are fond of the words ‘berate’, ‘shame’ and ‘horrific’, and are obsessed with Peter Crook.
    The second is harder to spot because he is a better writer. I think of him as ‘Literary’. His posts are characterised by a sense of intellectual superiority and claim knowledge that does not match the pseudonym. His posts as ‘current purcell parent’ include a comment about how the Head does not greet people as he walks down the corridor. How does he know?

    But who is the victim here? Quentin Poole. If he really is about to lose his job that is terrible for him and he has my deepest sympathy. But wouldn’t he have been better advised to be in school and arguing the case with David Thomas rather than letting his friends go public like this? It is surely they who have put the lid on his Purcell career more firmly than David Thomas ever could have. It is hard to imagine a way back from this.

    As for David Thomas’s idea of a music school without a Director of Music – it may be madness, it may be genius. After all, there are many very successful orchestras that perform without a conductor. It is for him and his staff to show us whether they can make it work. Doubtless he will announce his plans after 3rd June.
    Why June 3rd? Because that is the date of Mr Poole’s appeal and he is bound to say nothing before that. How do we know that 3rd June is Mr Poole’s appeal? ‘Incandescent’ told us so. How does he know?

    • former parent (not a pseudonym) says:

      Dear Mr Dalgliesh, (your pseudonym I pressume?),

      You clearly have too much time on your hands sir, to have the time and energy trying to analyse concealed indentities and their unfortunate typos/spelling by some of the contributors on this posting.

      You criticise and accuse those wishing to ‘speak their mind’ under a pseudonym, but you do so yourself.

      How do you know these contributors are not who/what they say they are?
      How can ‘angry Mother’ for example, be a HE as you suggest?
      Do you know who ‘he/she’ is?
      If so, why not say so, rather than make peurile assumptions to make mischief?

      In any case, why are you so obsessed (your word), with identifying those who wish to leave a comment?

      Have you thought why people using pseudonyms to make a point, may have a good reason for keeping their indentity disclosed? I understand they are not obliged to leave their ‘actual names’ if they so choose.

      Maybe they don’t want to be ‘berated’ or bullied, as has been the norm at the school for many years towards those who may have been critical of the governors or Headteacher.

      I hope in taking the time to study the postings so academically, (maybe you’re planning a Doctorate?),
      you can’t have failed to notice another ‘thread’, in that there seems to many other angry and annoyed contributors if you read their comments, who also express strong feelings about bad governance.

      This point has also repeatedly been made on this site by Norman Lebrecht on several occasions.

      It is now, understandably, a common debate nationally as there is a long overdue demand for independant school governors to be brought in line with state school governors in the way they run a school, and to be accountable for their mistakes.

      I note sir, that your comments imply that you seem to know an awful lot of the cast involved in this scenario to be bold enough to use their Christian names, especially when no other contributor seems to be so personal and party to such confidential information.?

      Can you really criticise others for being so indiscreet, whilst names dropping and hinting at private school business that only those directly involved in them could possibly know about?

      If, as you claim, to be a supporter and friend of Martin Roscoe who exposed and challenged all the unacceptable cover up at Chets and the RNCM, then maybe you should just pause a moment, and consider Mr Roscoe’s stance, and maybe refrain from trying to discredit and slur the names of those who are trying to do the same regarding the Purcell school.


      • Adam Dalgliesh says:

        ‘Incandescent’ once again proves my suspicions. If there’s anyone left out there who’s interested in this bickering, please look at the ‘angry mother’/’angry parent’ and now ‘former parent’ (how on earth is that not a pseudonym?) comments. You don’t need to be a fictional DCI to see that it’s the same person venting his spleen. Maybe he should have a sports massage to calm down. That’s it from me. Evening all, and don’t have nightmares.

        • Why do you feel the need to identify the people commenting on this thread? This blog is for people to share their views on what’s going on at Purcell. Your back-handed approach is not clever and by scrutinising others comments you have made your identity quite clear to all connected to Purcell. I for one am extremely disappointed. I respect you massively and always have done. You’ve helped me through the good and bad times and supported me with everything no matter what I may have done. Even if you do not want Mr Poole to remain at Purcell your approach is sly and frankly quite immature. You know who I am and I just want you to know I’m very disappointed you would air your views like this and analyse others comments in such a ridiculous manner.

    • Anonymous for a reason says:

      Adam Dalgliesh,

      Whilst you sit and analyse other writers’ comments on Slipped Disc, you decide to construct posts of your own. Why? What’s your motivation?

      You clearly have a vested interest in these issues. Why? Who are you?

      Perhaps, instead of generating a guise ‘characterised by a sense of intellectual superiority’ of your own, you would do better to remain silent. After all, you are also (perhaps without realising it) strongly hinting at your own identity. Thank you.

  9. Adam’s sophistry continues. Children’s future at stake. Could work? Could be madness? There’s a very good school with a thriving music department, 30 per cent scholarships for music, with (of course) a no doubt nurturing, caring, wonderful Director of Music. It’s name? RGS. A fine example to follow, and no experimentation there!

    • Purcell is extremely different to other schools. I thought you might know this by now. Maybe you have been informed of this but do not believe this is the case, or do not want to be. Purcell is not a normal school. Their are students from many parts of the world who all bring different cultures with them. They all need to be nurtured and cared for which would create a school with a wide range of views and opinions. At the same time everyone should be treated equally. I don’t think you quite understand that Purcell is not like RGS and decisions made their cannot just be repeated here and expected to work. Please think about this and act accordingly.

an ArtsJournal blog