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It’s D-Day at the Purcell School

The Governors are scheduled to meet today to discuss an appeal from Quentin Poole against his dismissal as Head of Music. The reasons privately given for his disappearance are financial – unsurprising, given the apparent £200,000 payoff to the last headmaster, not to mention legal costs.

Pupils at the school have taken to wearing green ribbons in support of Mr Poole. Some have been told off by teachers, who confiscated their ribbons.

Support for Mr Poole has spread widely around the British music community, as the Governors will discover if they go on Facebook or read the comments on Slipped Disc.

The outcome of today’s decision will be far-reaching. If there is any commonsense at the table, several Governors should do the honourable thing and fall on their silver teaspoons.


green ribbon

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  1. John Millner says:

    How sad that another specialist music school finds itself in trouble. I hope the Purcell governors and the new Head are able to find a way through that is acceptable to the community of the school.

    Quite a few of the issues Purcell parents have described are familiar to parents here at Chet’s.

    Specialist music schools are inherently odd; they are not conventional state schools, despite receiving a great deal of public money, but neither are they bog-standard independent schools precisely because they do receive so much public money. Their independent school status releases them from the maintained sector’s statutory requirements of representative governance and safeguarding. Our governing bodies are stuffed with Bufton-Tuftons, businessmen, lawyers, and select others who pitch up two or three times a year, eat the unusually nice food, listen to some music, then congratulate each other on what a splendid job they’ve all been doing.

    Music provision is deployed as a trump card to wave away concerns: poor exam results, lousy pastoral care, and the extraordinary behaviour of a small number of teachers. Far too much power is concentrated in the hands of a few teachers and managers. Parents, who just want their music-adoring children to flourish, bury problems for fear that their children will be disadvantaged or worse. When parents do complain they are often labelled as overly pushy, or it is suggested that perhaps their child might be happier in a different kind of school.

    Really, we can do much better than this. Some suggestions:

    1. Reform the structure of governance to include parents, academic teachers, music teachers, local social services, students, and ancillary staff. If the governing body does not reflect the community of the school, it MUST change. In particular, it is ESSENTIAL that both parents and students are represented in appropriate numbers on a school’s governing body and that they are directly elected by the constituencies they represent.

    2. The Great-and-Good are part of the problem. Kick them off governing bodies. Make them School Fellows or Patrons. Invite them to concerts. Don’t make them governors.

    3. Establish an independent, student-run, directly-elected students’ council to represent the interests of students directly to the governing body.

    4. Facilitate, or just allow, an independent, parent-run parents’ group.

    5. Establish a parent-teacher association which meets regularly throughout the year.

    6. Adopt a safeguarding policy which requires any member of staff who suspects abuse to report it without delay to the Local Authority Designated Officer. No staff member should face the potential conflict of interest involved in deciding whether or not to report suspicions. If everything must be reported, the school, the staff member, and the child are protected.

    7. Subscribe to an independent child-listening service.

    Perhaps we can as parents of children at specialist music schools work together to bring about improvement? My email address is

    • Purcell parent says:

      John Millner, so much of what you say rings true for Purcell too. Although the two schools face very different immediate issues, the underlying problems sound so familiar. As SMS parents, we definitely need to do something urgently, and your list of ideas seems an excellent starting point. I have been wanting to speak directly with Chets parents for some time now but have had no idea how to do this, given that I know nobody and felt I would inevitably fall into a political quagmire by approaching someone at random. Thank you for including your email address – I have a very busy weekend ahead but I’ll be in touch in the next few days.

  2. an observer says:

    What similarities in bad governance there seems to be at Chethams and Purcell music schools!

    Its long overdue that the Governors of both these troubled schools should accept liability for the way their lies, deceit and cover ups have brought both schools into disrepute in the musical education and public arena of late.

    Until the governors of both of these international schools are prevented from governing, making wrongful choices in their headship appointments, and are allowed to think themselves exempt from the way all other schools are governed nationally, their arrogant and misguided mistakes will continue.

    Look at what both schools have been reported as doing on this blog alone.

    Chets governors behaviour and cover up is disgraceful beyond any further words.

    Purcell governors too, by appointing two incompetant heads in succession, and now sacking their highly regarded head of music seems nothing more than self destructive?

    When are these ‘private’ music schools going to ‘wise up’ to the real world, stop thinking they are ‘special’ and above the laws of the rest of us?

  3. Quite. There also seems to be a climate of fear, which is not surprising if one small elect group wields such power. The music school I teach in (not in the UK) is government-funded and must answer to the same requirements and scrutiny as any other educational institution, and face the same consequences for misconduct.

    Well said, both Observer and Mr Millner. Hear, hear. It’s when you don’t have proper controls and checks over leadership that these abuses of power – because that’s what this is – happen. Has Mr Poole no other right of appeal beyond the Governors’ board? I noticed a student complaining in one of the other threads that their grievances, when submitted to this body, were ignored too. Is there no outside authority or ombudsman for situations like this? Self-policing rarely works, human nature being what it is.

  4. music teacher at Purcell says:

    The rotten bunch of Governors who claim to act responsibly and honestly in running this school are too arrogant and consider themselves above the normal acceptable rules and regulations that prioritise the care and welfare of pupils in all the other thousands of state schools nationwide.

    Maybe being a limited company could encourage an investigation by some fair and responsible outside body, who would look into governance, who exactly these pompous do-gooders are, and what experience and expertise they bring to an international music school to qualify them to sit on a governing board?

    Can anyone suggest one?

    • Purcell parent says:

      Possibly. However, I’m not sure any of us parents are ready for another round of horrible revelations. We need progress for our children and for these really important schools, and we need it NOW. Even structuring a properly elected governing body with which reflects the school community (as John Millner suggests) will ensure that these things can’t happen again. School governors within the state system are often required to go on training courses helping them to understand their very considerable responsibilities – I think for Chairmen this is compulsory. Therein lies a start.

      I’m excited by the possibility of making positive change and I hope that other Purcell and Chets parents will be willing to put some personal energy into it. Maybe we can encourage the other SMS parents to join with us as well.

    • David Sheath says:

      Have you considered approaching ACAS or The Charities Commissioners?

  5. Norman wrote above: “Support for Mr Poole has spread widely around the British music community, as the Governors will discover if they go on Facebook or read the comments on Slipped Disc.”

    I couldn’t find anything on Facebook that seemed relevant to this matter – do you just mean general conversations between private individuals, or is there a dedicated page? If the latter, could you please give us a link?

    And if there isn’t, what about someone involved starting one? Especially if there are no democratic outlets of protest beyond the board of Governors.

    • Purcell parent says:

      Kevin, as far as I know there is no dedicated page on Facebook – for the simple reason that it provides no anonymity. However, I myself am aware of multiple personal postings from parents about the issue, and sharing of photographs by parents or pupils. How sad it is that none of the Purcell pupils dare show their faces on these photos, and most people specifically ask for the photos not to be shared elsewhere (such as on Slipped Disc).

      I have certainly considered taking up the idea of a dedicated Facebook page but know that, even if it were set as a closed group, people would not feel safe. Even closed groups are easily observed by others, given a small amount of ingenuity. However, I do think it is possibly workable, given some thought and help with moderation / admin. I think that Chets parents have a forum, which is one of the reasons that I have been wanting some contact with Chets myself – to find out how they did this and how it is going.

  6. Concerned Parent says:

    @John Millner I hope the governors of Chetham’s read your recommendations. It really was embarrassing when at last Sunday’s Parents’ Meeting at Chets they had to admit that they had NEVER had an event specifically for parents to meet governors.
    Instead parents were told they could always talk to governors at concerts. When parents pointed out they didn’t know what governors looked like so it would be difficult to button-hole them, the PR lady said there would be photos with little biogs going up on the website. The Chair seemed surprised to hear that many parents of boarding pupils who live far away cannot go to these concerts, let alone hang around afterwards.
    They seemed unaware of the irony when they argued that one reason governors couldn’t be required to meet parents was that they were busy people who often lived outside Manchester!
    To add insult to injury the meeting, which was billed as an opportunity for parents to meet governors only featured two – Dame Sandra Burslem and Andrew Simpkin. The others were presumably too busy …

    • Purcell Parent says:

      Yes, it’s exactly the same at my son’s school, and has been since the previous chairman Graham Smallbone blocked parental and teacher representation on the governing board, not wanting to have have to deal with the very real issues that crop up, but which rightly, should have parental and pupil imput.

      In my other son’s school, they even have a PUPIL Governor (heaven forbid!) representing the pupils interests.

      It is clear from what is going on at both these schools, that a RADICAL overhaul of the closed shop that the network of the old school tie brigade is destroyed once and for all, and both schools get real and come into the 21st century of how schools work and must be seen to run.

      A long standing member of staff of The Purcell School, told me the whole Governing body was once ALL dismissed and restructured because the then Chairman was dissatisfied with their feeble contribution and lack of commitment to the school.

      Now there’s a very good suggestion at the current crisis time at both Chets and Purcell, and sack the incompetent Headteachers too!

    • Brave Purcell school teacher says:

      Actually, most of the staff here at Purcell don’t also have a clue as to what the governors look like either, except for the distant glimpse of pensioners getting out of their flurry of expensive cars and the zimmer frames that clog the school car park up when they attend the school.

      They have never held a Meet and Greet, except for an annual dreary poshed up school lunch, attended by only those who want to get in with them to further their careers, and a self congratulating Governors Concert, when a ridiculous amount of money is lavished on expensive food and wine afterwards.(Very few staff invited to this event too)

      The Purcell Governors have also never held a Parent Meet and Greet either, and pupils certainly have no wish to speak with these badly dressed and poorly groomed old people too.

      Instead, our Governors prefer to make every decision about the school, without consulting teachers, parents and certainly not our intelligent pupils.

      Welcome to the dictatorial, undemocratic world of the Purcell music school.

  7. Former Purcell parent says:

    Have learned a lot from reading this and other posts about Purcell. We withdrew our child because it was not right for them and we were concerned about lack of discipline and goal setting in the school so it did not surprise us when we read about current crisis regarding director of music. However, we agree completely with all the above posts spearheaded by Millner about the Governors and how wrong it is for one small elect group of people to wield such power. The governors of specialists school should answer to the same scrutiny and requirements of other schools and face consequences for misconduct.

  8. John Millner says:

    We need urgently to sort out how these schools are run and how they can most effectively manage the formation of young musicians. That’s why Ian Pace’s call for an inquiry is so important.

    I think the governance question is relatively easy to answer: the governing body of a school should reflect the community of the school. For an SMS, that means academic teachers, music teachers, parents, ancillary staff, the local community, and, most importantly, students. (I’m not arguing for Summerhill, but why fear the involvement of bright, committed, talented young people?) Heads and DoMs should of course manage the day-to-day life of the school, but there must be effective oversight from those who are affected.

    @Concerned Parent
    Yes, it would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic. The first parent-governor meeting in the 360 year history of the school. So can we expect the next one in 2373? I’ll put it in my iPad. Perhaps they should give the governors notice *now*, so they actually bother to turn up, at least in spirit, next time.

  9. Sally Pryce says:

    It is a few years since I was a pupil at the Purcell school so can’t comment about the current issues with any relevant knowledge. But the school did have parent governors and members from the musical establishment, somehow I don’t see why this should have changed and academic standards were very high too amongst the majority of pupils. Hopefully the appeal will be in Quentin’s favour as he has always been a huge asset to the school – many of my contemporaries saw him as an extremely positive influence, caring and supportive.

  10. I opened my copy of Music Teacher magazine yesterday to find this topic, and indeed Norman’s coverage discussed in a whole page article.

    The manner that Norman has kept the topic of abuse and mismanagement at England’s specialist music schools received a sympathetic press, as did the actions of both Ian Pace and Martin Roscoe. Quentin Poole was mentioned in warm and supportive tones. The governing board of the school and current head were not mentioned.

    When the reports were published about Chets, I stated then that I believed the answer then was greater transparency. I note that in the state sector there are parent governors on the governing bodies on most if not all maintained schools. Chosen well this allows the parents to have a say of what is going on in the lives of their children. In a school like Chethams or the Purcell school, surely the caliber of parents is likely to be rather high. Those who would like to take an interest would have the necessary skills to make informed choices (given access to the relevant documents) to assist in the running of the school based on educational needs and would be deemed approachable by other parents.

    The accountability of governors at these schools comes at the same time that the Steele Bill is also being discussed. Coincidence? Without making a Party-political point, it appears that the ‘great and the good’ are not quite so great, and not quite so good. I do not want to condemn the innocent, however there does appear to be a serious case of mismanagement at the Purcell School, and Ian Pace’s and Martin Roscoe’s request for a Public Inquiry into events at Chethams would do well to be extended to all the schools implicated, with the recommendations to be applied throughout.

    One caveat. I teach singing and beginner’s piano (I occasionally get an oboe or recorder student, but these are my main instruments) and value one-to-one tuition. This is because during this time the pupil has my undivided attention to concentrate on how to improve both as a musician and technically either as a singer or pianist. Nothing happens in my lessons that should not, indeed I take child protection extremely seriously. I want to see one-to-one teaching continue. There are times when touch cannot be avoided, but there needs to be very clear guidance to teachers when they learn to teach about what is appropriate and what is not. How to record lessons (and I do not mean by video device, these can be by jottings in a notebook) how to protect themselves from situations where false allegations may occur, and what material is suitable for various ages.

    Quentin has been put in a terrible position. However he is as much a victim of the ability of governors to do things behind closed doors, a system that has seen all kinds of wrongs exposed at Chethams. It is time this system is changed for the sake of all the teachers, senior teachers, pupils and parents connected with these schools.

    • Ian Pace says:

      Just to point out that the text of the petition does call ideally for the inquiry to be extended to other music schools as well. At the time it was written (in February), less information was in the public domain about other schools, and as it was to be printed in the Guardian, that paper’s lawyers did insist that it must be worded in a particular way. However, during meetings at Parliament that myself and another involved party had the week before last, we presented full detailed briefings on matters pertaining to all the five specialist music schools and ten conservatoires in the UK.

    • Ian Pace says:

      Incidentally, I personally couldn’t agree more with the sentiments on the ‘great and the good’ and their role in the governance of these schools (and most of the rest of John Millner’s proposals). These schools need proper hands-on governance with the requisite degree of input from those representing the interests of parents and pupils. And proper independent oversight on a continual basis.

  11. Concerned Parent says:

    @Joanna Nice of you to say that “In a school like Chethams or the Purcell school, surely the caliber of parents is likely to be rather high. Those who would like to take an interest would have the necessary skills to make informed choices (given access to the relevant documents) to assist in the running of the school based on educational needs and would be deemed approachable by other parents.”
    There are extremely few, if any, children who reach the required standard for entry to SMSs without enormous input from parents – all that ferrying to and fro between lessons, rehearsals and courses, the chivvying to practice and endless encouragement, the massive self-education that often has to take place to make decisions about teachers, courses, specialist schooling for gifted children. Yet SMSs treat parents as ignorant and give them next to no role, despite the hands-on knowledge they have about their children’s musical education and the extraordinary commitment they have shown. If parents get involved when problems arise with their children’s musical education (as they almost always do), then the school is liable to treat the parents as the “problem”.
    Most schools – in both the private and maintained sectors – would love to have such committed and skilled parents.
    What are the managements of SMSs so frightened of?
    On the subject of one-to-one teaching, I think that’s a red herring. No parents I know think it’s a big issue or that the solution to the scope for abuse in SMSs is to abolish it. The issue is management, accountability and an SMS culture where governors, managers and teachers believe that the norms which govern ordinary schools don’t apply to them.

    • My experience as an instrumental teacher has taught me that parents support the children who succeed tremendously. Not only do they provide a supportive environment in which to practise, but they are experience child taxi drivers.

      My two sons both play in orchestras and have sung in choirs. Consequently I teach and ferry them about too. I purchase music, accompany them on the piano even teach them singing.

      I know what it is like to be thought of as a problem parent. There are teachers who do not like it when a parent gets involved in the education of their child especially if they are not a formally “Qualified Teacher”.

      QTS means that these teachers have satisfied the requirements for a PGCE or similar educational qualification. There are many excellent instrumental teachers who do not have QTS, and other teachers working in the independent sector who do not have QTS. These teachers keep abreast of current educational trends and go on training courses, they simply have not trained through the “conventional route”.
      Parents can learn quite a bit about how children learn without formally training to be teachers. Teachers need to be mindful of this. Surely it is in the interests of children for teachers and school managers for teachers and parents to work together rather than pull in different directions.

  12. Purcell parent says:

    @Joanna Debenham, @Purcell parent and others – it really is good to see people speak out for parents on here. I’d like to highlight two areas that show how little I feel regarded by the school as a parent.

    The first is the clear lack of communication with parents. We have a weekly newsletter, which is quite astonishing in what it fails to say. I’m not sure if there’s a parent governor on the governing body but, if there is, they certainly haven’t made themselves known to me. There is no parent body, no year group representation by parents, not even an opt-in list of other parents’ contact details. Just because many of us live far away, it doesn’t mean we can’t all be in touch, given that this is the 21st century. This attitude is directly reflected in the communication with pupils also.

    The second has been steadily revealed to me over the course of this furore over the elimination of the Director of Music post. I’ve been quite taken aback by some of the responses to parents on these threads, some of which have struck me as knee-jerk paranoia. These comments appear to come from people very close to the inner workings of the school, and I can only assume that they are staff members or perhaps governors. I have the strongest sense that these commenters conclude that, if parents have an opinion, we somehow have some inside knowledge or are part of some subversive campaign. It is a curious response and seems to reflect a distinct ‘them and us’ mentality and it is not at all helpful for the school and its image.

    Let me try to explain, for the benefit of those in power at Purcell, how people develop their opinions about what is going on at the school. A fundamental rule for communication is ‘beware of what you DON’T say’. For my own part, the school tells me a great deal by NOT telling me anything, which is a ‘PR 101′ mistake. If you don’t tell people, they will ask people and discuss issues in order to find out. I’m not alone in asking around, filling in gaps and coming to my own conclusions, given the situation. The school seems to be making a huge mistake in thinking that parents, alumni, current students, musicians & educators all over the world are not talking to each other about this and – in the absence of proper information – drawing their own conclusions. There is an enormous network of people out there – hundreds and hundreds of people in a small, small musical world – taking their own bits of jigsaw and putting them together with others. Although nobody seems to have any real knowledge of what is actually happening, given the completely vast personal and professional experience of all these people, it would be completely astonishing if these estimates and variously-assembled jigsaw didn’t make sense. This isn’t rocket science, it is human nature. Parents (and indeed pupils) look at these jigsaws and think ‘why am I not being told the truth?’ It is a good question. Experience suggests the most generous explanation for this could be that the situation is controlled by gagging clauses on all sides.

    So, please give parents credit for being intelligent, aware, experienced and very well-connected people who have seen a good deal of life and are not easily fooled. There is no need to imagine that we are somehow undesirable or have hidden agendas. We are, after all, the school’s main source of income, the principal decision-makers. We have a great deal to contribute which might actually help the school run quite beautifully.

    (Just a suggestion – there are a few ‘Purcell parent’ commenters on these threads. Maybe we can call ourselves by different names?)

  13. @Joanna Debenham, @Purcell parent and others – it is such a shame and injustice to these fantastic young musicians! They are world class young musicians by every means, when they join schools like Purcell, but the School, System and the Method watered them down and levelled just to attain the standards to enter in a British Conservatory. I could be wrong, but this is my observation – considering the talent and the funds available.

    When I present my child to a concert organiser / agent and says he is a student in Purcell, there will be no more questions and this is the only reason I send my child to Purcell. Otherwise getting hold of concert opportunities without right connections is impossible!

    Individually many of the staff and teachers are very good, but in collective there is no sense of directions, target, discipline or responsibilities. Many instrumental teachers has private students, who also attends the school and some of these teachers are jury to big competitions etc.

    Instrumental lessons are just like master classes, who sit over and talk about music and give performance directions (again, there are exceptions). There is no attention to precision, technical aspects or accuracy. This may be good for older students, but only harm younger ones. Again, this is my honest opinion.

    Pastoral care is non-existant, all they are interested is protecting themselves and school and not the pupils! They are more keen to know whether the pupils has any pressure from parents. If I try to complain anything, they simply deny everything and stress the point that it is my child fault that he don’t fit in! Pupil turn over is so high in Purcell, which cause big impact on pupil’s future and waste of public fund and resources.

    There is no *real* supervised practice sessions at all, other than 1 or 2 supervisors looking after the discipline.

  14. Observer says:

    Does anyone know what the outcome was of D Day at the school??

    Hasn’t it been over a week now since there was the appeal for the Director of Music’s job?

  15. Purcell parent says:

    I suspect that Mr Poole is subject to a gagging clause. We may never know. It is possible the head / governors are hoping school will close for the summer and we will all forget. However, we won’t. The lengthening silence is increasing people’s anger and frustration. Current and prospective parents and pupils – and the musical community – will be expecting a positive outcome LONG before the first week in July.

    I understand that yesterday some governors descended on Purcell yesterday and actually visited teachers in classrooms. They may even have spoken to pupils. Apparently they were asking very general questions about life at the school. Naturally, this caused a certain level of confusion and surprise but apparently everyone coped well with this historic visit. It’s encouraging to see the Purcell governing body making a very small start by responding in this way. Let’s hope it begins to lead them to a greater understanding of the very special nature and character of Purcell.

  16. Kerry Morgan-Johnson says:

    After having a really helpful conversation with John Millner (see his excellent post above), I’m writing as one of the Purcell parents in contact with the Chets parents’ group. Chethams has been going through quite terrible times as we all know and, although our current issues are rather different, the underlying problems seem remarkably similar. There is much we can share with each other as parent groups to help ensure our specialist music schools are happy, safe, well run and accountable.

    I’m sure that our children, and the school itself, would benefit from Purcell parents following up some of the well-known problems that Slipped Disc is highlighting, rather than passively allowing them to continue and enduring the painful consequences. We are all very different people and some of us will want to be less involved or less informed than others, but – respecting all these differences – for many of us it is important to be in touch independently of the school. Purcell has very actively discouraged this in the past and, as a result, left parents feeling afraid to contact one another. Really, there is no need to fear anything. Quite the opposite – realising you are not alone can be quite a relief and working towards improving the situation is a lot easier in a group. Hopefully we will be able to share information and support with the established parents group at Chets. You can contact me at

    “Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes” ~ Maggie Kuhn

    • John Millner says:

      It was extremely valuable to talk to Kerry and to hear directly about events at the Purcell. As Kerry says, it is clear that there are fundamental similarities in the causes of the difficulties at both schools; in particular, governing bodies that do not reflect their school communities. If parents, students, academic and music teachers had been represented on the governing body of the Purcell, would the post of Director of Music have been abolished? Would a popular and effective leader of the school’s music have been made redundant?

      These are disturbing times for specialist music schools. Unless they start to manage these problems more effectively, I cannot imagine the Music and Dance Scheme will be allowed to continue in its present form. Reform is absolutely essential. Governance must now be opened up so as to allow those who are affected by decisions a voice in taking them.

      I hope that all Purcell parents who have contacted me will now contact Kerry. (Obviously, I am happy to pass on your emails, but I need your permission!)

      I strongly agree with Kerry: there is no reason to be frightened of getting involved. By acting together, we can support our schools in making the reforms necessary to get through the current trauma. We have the same goal: schools that are warm, intense, safe, effective, idiosyncratic, tolerant places for our music-adoring children to grow into adulthood.

  17. a sixth former says:

    Yes the Governors were in school yesterday pretending all was business as usual over their expensive lunch when the school claims to have no money.

    They should eat the same food as we do and sit with us to listen to our complaints rather than pretending we don’t exist and ignoring our unhappiness that they have sacked Mr Poole.

    We still wore our green ribbons of support for Mr Poole, and yet not one Governor even bothered to ask what they were for.

    They don’t really care about us, the terrible atmosphere here, and that we want Mr Poole back before the end of term when thankfully most of us in the upper sixth leave this dreadful place, and all the badness it has brought.

    A teacher told us Mr Pooles appeal was stopped because the stupid Governers didn’t get their act together in time and make proper arrangements. If this is true it might explain why we have heard nothing after so long.

    All Mr Thomas can do is to dismiss boys who have composed funny songs about the school, and generally be very nasty to everyone.

    Who are these awful adults who claim to govern our school, yet still make it such a terrible place to be at the moment?

    • Purcell parent says:

      @a sixth former
      I was so saddened to read of how unhappy and ignored you feel. The more I read, the more I think we parents OWE it to our children to get together and act, rather than letting you go through this misery. How can we turn away and claim we’re too wary of the consequences / too busy / we don’t know enough about it / we don’t want to get involved? By not acting, we are ENABLING the governors and school management to behave like this.

      Well done for wearing your green ribbons.

  18. What? Quentin’s appeal was stopped because the Governors did not get their act together! This is scandalous!

    If a busy journalist can publish the date on his blog and members of the public know about it, surely the governing body of the school can get their data together.

    I cannot say anything for definite, but this smacks of a delaying strategy as they lack evidence against him or they do not like the evidence they have found. Either way this is reprehensible behaviour.

    I trust that they will get their evidence together as soon as is humanly possible so that this matter is closed as soon as possible. What they are doing is detrimental to Quentin Poole’s health, and is bringing undue pain and distress to the pupils at the school that they claim to have at the heart of their interest. It is shoddy behaviour at the very least.

    The actions of governing bodies at both Chethams School of Music and the Purcell School highlights the need for such bodies to be transparent. The appointment of members, their contact details to be made public, and much more accountability, as is the case in the state education sector to be the case. Where there is no place to hide, it is far less likely to be corrupt practice. I’m not stating that everything is squeaky clean in every state school as I’m certain that in some state schools things are far from hunky dory, but this kind of abuse of process is far harder to hide.

    • member of staff says:

      Well said Joanna.

      We think the delay is deliberate, and probably in the run up to the end of term, so everyone will be on the the long summer break when the outcome is known and the Governors think they won’t have to face the national outcry if Quentin Poole isn’t rightly re-instated in his post.

      Th school claim the redundancy is financial, but we all know this is a smokescreen for the real reason for this extraordinary attempt to make the post redundant……………

  19. Purcell parent says:

    @ Joanna, yes, this delay is just horrible for the pupils and I can’t begin to imagine what it is like for Mr Poole. You would think, wouldn’t you, with this SO much in the public eye, that the governors would have been performing impeccably. How can they fail to count the ways in which they are shaming the school and exposing themselves as incompetent, short-sighted and underhand? How can the Head stand by and watch the whole school unravel in this way, the result of one badly misjudged decision? The Head and governors must surely know by now that things are beyond the point of no return, that their time in power is now limited unless they very rapidly rectify matters. There are a lot of very angry people wanting justice and transparency, people who are getting angrier as time goes by. Sooner or later – they will HAVE to face them.

    The head and the governors are providing a truly dismal role model for our children at the moment – one that parents have every right to complain about. If my child behaved in this way – performing badly, dodging their responsibilities, failing to think through the consequences of their decisions – they would be helped to improve. Perhaps those in power at Purcell need exactly that – to be removed from their roles for a long period of re-training whilst more able and far-sighted people take over.

  20. I was listening to the Westminster Hour yesterday, and there was a speaker that said that the key to avoiding corruption was transparency.

    What the cases both here and at Chethams have proven is that where it comes to the issue of the Governing bodies, transparency is lacking. I’m not saying either body is corrupt, but there is greater scope for corrupt practices and maladministration to take place where there is this lack of transparency. The Governing body at Chethams has already had a rap on the knuckles. Should the school management, including the governing body, continue to drag its feet as far as Quentin Poole is concerned, it may get a rap on the knuckles too.

  21. @Purcell parent on 11th June about parent governors. There is a list of governors here:

    It includes one governor who is a parent, Peter van de Geest, although he may not be a “parent governor”. You can find some details about his business interests here:,%20Inc.

    @Joanna Debenham, June 17th. Transparency might not be the forte of governors. To take one example, if you google a bit about the Chairman of the Governors, Sir Roger Jackling, KBE, CBE, (who’s been one of Britain’s most senior civil servants at the Ministry of Defence). Here’s a few snippets:

    - Served as MOD’s Finance Director from 1991 to 2002 and subsequently the 2nd Permanent Secretary of State at MOD during a period of huge strategic adjustment and organizational change. First Director of the Defence Academy (2002-5).
    - He led the implementation of a number of significant and successful PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deals for the MOD, including Serco’s £400m contract for the Defence Academy. One of its satellite colleges is another example, Welbeck 6th form military college uses PFI in a new way for first time in UK – the £250m contract with Interserve-led consortium is for the delivery of education services as well as building and maintenance.
    - Advisory Board Member of OmniPerception Ltd – face recognition and biometrics company.
    - For five years chaired the Supervisory Boards of the Met Office and two other defence agencies.
    - Chairman of International Military Services Ltd (2005-present), civil service role in a government owned company and historically one of the largest arms dealers selling tanks, weapons and military support services to Saudia Arabia, Iran, Iraq and India. Stopped trading in 1991.
    - Currently a member of the Advisory Board of Durham Business School, where he is a Visiting Professor, and Kent Business School. Visiting Professor in the Department of War Studies at Kings College London and Cranfield University at the Defence Academy.

  22. Purcell parent says:

    Thank you, @Googler – most enlightening. Good grief, with I can see why transparency may not be a strong point in the governing body.

    I do recall Peter van der Geest having some sort of drinks do at school after he was appointed. However, as most parents live far away, many in another country, I imagine this wasn’t that well attended. I hope the low turnout wasn’t interpreted as disinterest. What a pity Mr van de Geest hasn’t pursued and actively represented the interests of parents during his time as a governor. Where are parents to turn?

    I notice that musical excellence is at the forefront of the school’s objectives in the Charity Commissioner’s Accounts. It talks about Purcell’s ‘Principal Aims’ :

    ‘The School provides musical training for the soloists, musicians, composers and teachers of the
    future and also provides a first class general education.

    It exists to provide young musicians of exceptional promise and talent with the best possible teaching
    and environment in which to fulfil their potential regardless of their background’

    Throughout the accounts, music has first priority / mention. Right at the top of the review for the year ending August 2012, the school claims to have a ‘strategy of becoming, for an ever growing number of young musicians and their parents, the specialist music school of first choice’.

    So, what happened? I’m wondering if the Head and Governing Body have lost sight of their objectives, or failed to be reminded of them somehow. Purcell cannot even remotely hope to be the first-choice specialist music school without an experienced, highly respected Director of Music in post. Parents of musical children just won’t take the school seriously – how can they?

    With a possible inquiry into specialist music schools on the near horizon, it seems a really good moment for Purcell to be getting its act together to avoid a painful, public and potentially catastrophic shaming. At this very sensitive time, I’m at a loss to understand why the people running this school have – either by their actions or inactions – taken a decision to make themselves and the school so vulnerable to extremely unfavourable scrutiny.

  23. member of staff says:

    We understand our colleague’s appeal was aborted two weeks ago because Governors made a serious error of judgement regarding the appeal process.

    They were told weeks in advance of the hearing, that they could not have on the panel any Governor who was present at the meeting in March, when it is understood the Head discussed the demise of the Director of Music post then as a cost cutting exercise.
    It is even mentioned in the School Staff Handbook they created regarding a redundancy issue at the school, that an appeal panel should be impartial.

    Despite this,we understand the panel they presented had all been present at the March meeting.

    The unreasonable delay of the proposed appeal is now well over two weeks, presumably as the Governors try to put together a different panel to hear the Appeal in order to decide the fate of Poole returning to us, or the demise of music in a well known music school, if he doesn’t.

    The stress and anxiety felt here by staff, pupils and parents,can be nothing compared to that of what Poole and his partner must be going through at this time of such an unreasonable delay.

    It wouldn’t surprise any of us if this is deliberate on the part of the school management, in order to play for time and the appeal be heard after the school breaks for summer on July 5, when a desperately unhappy school community won’t be around to express their suppressed feelings of either joy or anger.

  24. member of staff says:

    and we also know, Poole’s partner, the conductor Ian Macmillan, has his long awaited Appeal next Tuesday at the London Employment Tribunal Appeal Court, to move forward towards taking the school to an Employment Tribunal for Macmillan’s unfair dismissal from his part time music teaching at The Purcell, School, by former Head Peter Crook in September 2011.

  25. Does anyone knows whether William Fong has taken the charge of Head of Music, temporarily?

    Thanks for many comments, ideas and tips in this article and elsewhere. It is really useful anytime soon as I’m running on my last bit of patience.

    • Purcell parent says:

      If he has, there has been no announcement to parents. It wouldn’t really make sense as the post has been eliminated?

      I too am on my last shred of patience with the school and I know, speaking with other people, that other parents have absolutely had enough.

    • member of staff says:

      God forbid William Fong even taking charge temporarily!

      He can barely cope with running his own piano empire, let alone take on the massive responsibility of all the other music making.

      However, we think, he thinks, he could do it. He certainly gives that impression since Poole left on sick leave three months ago.

      No, we understand the plan is for the current three Heads of Instrumental music (Keyboard, wind/brass/ percussion, and strings) to work as a trio, and report to the Headman, who will try to take the choir and orchestra himself.

      Leaving these four egos in charge and thinking they can replace the DoM, is a disaster waiting to happen if Poole isn’t re-instated.

      • Purcell parent says:

        From the debacle at last week’s Wigmore Hall chamber music concert, it looks like nobody is in charge, at least nobody with any sense.

        For people who missed the shambles, allow me to explain JUST how much musical sense and compassion the Headmaster has:

        The Head has [redacted: Please substantiate this statement privately]. He made the terrible decision to forbid one of them to go ahead and play in an ensemble at the upcoming Wigmore chamber music concert. Had this been a solo instrumental concert, this could potentially be seen to be reasonable – though Quentin Poole would NEVER have compromised a pupil’s performance career in this way. He understands teenagers and works well with them.

        Unfortunately, being a chamber music concert, this expulsion deeply affected other performers in the expelled pupil’s ensemble – none of them had their chance to perform at Wigmore, after months of work.

        To add insult to injury, a pupil who has already performed at Wigmore several times as a solo musician and in ensemble – and was already playing in another chamber group on the night – went on to perform solo as a substitute. The pupil even performed unaccompanied, so by no stretch of the imagination was this ‘chamber music’. There is a clear school rule that people do not play solo at Wigmore more than once. The other pupils are horrified at the injustice and clear lack of sense shown.

        How can the Head have such a gross disregard for the needs of these lovely musical young people? How can he afford to be seen to be denying completely guilt-free pupils their chance to perfom at Wigmore? And, what were the HoDS thinking when they agreed to this? They certainly weren’t thinking about the other pupils whose chances were shattered by the Headmaster.

        This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of the Purcell School without the gentle understanding and fabulous support of a genuinely good Director of Music, Quentin Poole.

  26. Purcell parent says:

    So, the governors went against their own rules for an appeal panel?

    You really couldn’t make this up.

    This is either gross incompetence or filibustering* – or, most likely, a combination of both. However, if the ruling party at the school thinks it will get away with a (beyond?) end-of-term rescheduling of the appeal they have another think coming. Staff won’t forget. Pupils won’t forget. Parents certainly wont forget.

    If they don’t have the appeal soon, it WILL get worse for the Head, the governors and the school, not better. How can they not see this? Do they really think we’re THIS stupid, that we can’t work this out? The silence is allowing everyone to come to their own conclusions and they’re not pretty. The longer this goes on, the more angry and distrustful people are.

    The Head has now lost the confidence of most of his staff and the vast majority of parents (remember, some will not understand quite what is going on because English is not their first language). He has also entirely lost the confidence of the pupils. This is absolutely catastrophic for a new head and is surely serious grounds for resignation.

    If this continues there is no doubt that someone will go to the media, the Charity Commission, AGBIS (the Association of Governing Bodies of Independent Schools), the Department for Education, the Patrons…any number of interested parties. I don’t know the right bodies to contact but I’m sure Google will help people out who to get in touch with.

    What is really worrying is the fear that parents feel. I wish someone could help parents with this miserable sense that, if they speak out, the ruling party will find a way for their child to ‘lose’ their place at the school. I’m sure the Head would deny this but there are definite cases of favouritism during repeated disciplinary actions against particularly gifted / highly academic pupils or pupils with very rich parents – so it wouldn’t surprise me if the reverse were true.

    Is there anybody out there who has a suggestion for frightened parents?

    There is safety in numbers, but people need to come forward and BE those numbers. Good to see that there is a Parents Group being set up (her contact is We parents all the help we can get. If anybody else feels they’d like to help out, or have specialist expertise, I’m sure you’d be really, really welcome.

    In the meantime, it is Friday. There will be another Purcell Bulletin which says nothing at all, lying by omission. Any parent daring to challenge the Head as they pick their child up for the weekend exeat will be ‘reassured’ that everything is fine and music is in good hands without a Director of Music. Anyone pushing the point, well, I guess the Head will throw up his hands and say it isn’t up to him. Well, it WAS up to him – he made the decision in the first place. And I’m positive the governing body would be willing to support his U turn, when he chooses to make it. It is the only graceful way out of a dire situation.

    According to the school’s web site, “The Purcell School exists to provide young musicians of exceptional promise and talent with the BEST POSSIBLE teaching and environment in which to fulfil their potential, irrespective of their background” (see link below). Having NO Director of Music and allowing a schoolmaster with a music degree to take over the role is NOT the best possible teaching by any stretch of the imagination. There are other elements of the mission statement on this page that will raise eyebrows (integrity, for example) and leave people wondering if the Head has actually read the school’s own Mission Statement.–ethos.html

    *Filibustering is a form of procedure where debate is deliberately extended, allowing the delay or prevention of a vote – it is a well-known form of obstruction in a decision-making body. The word comes from the Spanish filibustero, (originally from Dutch: vrijbuiter) , meaning a pirate, robber or privateer.

  27. Purcell parent says:

    Just got the weekly bulletin, unusually early. It took a while to download so I had a moment of thinking it might be something honest and truthful about the REAL news in the school.

    No. Another week goes by, pretending it’s all hunkydory.

  28. [I wrote this post before getting a chance to fully absorb the most recent two above - doing that now]

    > “It wouldn’t surprise any of us if this is deliberate on the part of the school management, in order to play for time and the appeal be heard after the school breaks for summer on July 5, when a desperately unhappy school community won’t be around to express their suppressed feelings…”

    Is is possible to make that little delaying ploy backfire on them? Does the school community have to be physically present to express their (unsuppressed) feelings? This issue can certainly be kept on the boil via public communication, particularly in asking hard questions, Paxman-style. With extra energy and diligence BECAUSE of the long vac – which might just induce everybody discuss it all the more.

    Might even go viral, who knows? Could get very embarrassing.

    Is it possible to find out the appeal date – is that sort of thing a matter of public record in situations like this? (And if not, why not?????) I really do think you need some sort of united front.

    “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

    • Purcell parent says:

      Whilst you ‘absorb’, can you expand on what you mean by the above, especially about asking hard questions in public communication? Do you have any ideas? I do wish people like you and I were in more direct communication…

      The appeal date. I imagine, subject to confidentiality / gagging type clauses which , if broken, might prejudice Quentin’s appeal? Dirty tactics but quite possibly enforceable by people with a vested interest.

      (That Edmund Burke quote has been going round in my head for weeks. A sixth former writing very early on one of these threads paraphrased it him/herself with ‘Bad things happen when good people do nothing’).

      • I didn’t have anything specific in mind – I was just thinking in general terms of trying to get wider media exposure (would Radio 4′s You & Yours deal with something like this? Panorama/Newsnight?). But that would mean an end to anonymity, which I fully appreciate is deeply problematic. That was why the quote above: even named, surely they can’t penalise ALL of you en masse…? Parents are, after all, the paying customers and students are The Product.

        Hard facts are called for, and I think it really is a question for lawyers. But as you rightly point out, no one wants to jeopardise Mr Poole’s appeal so professional advice should be sought before any actions are undertaken.

        Anyway, there’s always the internet. Maybe Purcell Parents could start a Twitter feed, and link to this blog. You’d be astonished at the power of the tweet, its silly name notwithstanding.

        Unfortunately as an outsider (instrumental teacher in a good music school, not in the UK) I don’t have any of the relevant information and am not sure how the structure underpinning (or undermining) Purcell even works. So I can’t offer useful details, I’m afraid – just huge heartfelt moral support. That situation is worthy of a Dickens novel. Such practices should be as out of date as workhouses and chimney-sweeps, but I guess not.

        My (non-boarding) school is government-funded and the shenanigans the Purcell rulers and their cronies are getting up to could not happen there. We’re subject to regular public scrutiny & accountability, and our parents have no hesitation in making their views known, and organising when need be. (That last was over an external issue, and we staff/administrators were shoulder-to-shoulder with them. Guess what? It worked.) But their children are in a far less vulnerable position, which makes protest much easier. The whole system is also more fair, so some of these egregious injustices don’t arise in the first place. There may be gripes & grumbles, but no climate of fear.

        I so wish I had a better answer. But I can’t really do anything from this distance. Except sympathise.

        • Purcell parent says:

          @Kevin – thank you. It’s good to have your support and sympathy, even from a distance.

          Hmmm. Twitter. Interesting thought. I don’t use it much myself so wouldn’t know how to work it to best effect. But maybe there’s a parent (or pupil) out there who could help us on this…?

          • Just get one of the kids to show you – they’re usually my first port of call when I have net woes, LOL!

            But it’s really not hard to administer a Twitter account, and it can be done by any number of people as long as they all have the password and access to the same valid email account. If it were me, I’d set up Purcell Parents (or whatever name) @ gmail or hotmail or one of those, and go from there. You will need an email address for Twitter, and my suggestion would be to have one that’s exclusively devoted to this issue.

            I’d keep all actual discussion going HERE (trying to express yourself in 140 characters is a non-starter, but it’s good as an arresting “headline”) and use Twitter to link to it or extract the odd pithy quote.

  29. member of staff says:

    Word around the staff room is that the Governors have finally got their act together after such a unreasonable delay, and are holding the appeal for our hugely missed Director of Music on JULY 4, and as expected, the day before the end of term to avoid any celebration or angry revolution, as the outcome will not be known until the school are on the long vacation.

    What was D Day, has now become INDEPENDENCE DAY for this travesty to come to a conclusion.

  30. Former pupil says:

    As a former pupil of the school and of one of its founders,I am disgusted by what I am reading today.To let the school descend to this farce shows a lack of leadership and respect.
    Quintin Poole was and will be again one of the schools best assets and I am saddened that he has been treated in this way.Rosemary will be turning in her grave !

  31. member of staff says:

    The school is in sad meltdown as we anxiously await the fate of our unfairly redundant colleague next Thursday.

    Head David Thomas has not held a full staff meeting since the beginning of term since it was announced that the essential post of Director of Music in a prestigious music school was to be abolished, and he rarely found around the school.

    No-one knows what is happening when the school resumes in September, except for the total restructuring of the management and timetable without a Director of Music.

    If Poole isn’t re-instated, the new regime will be facing the dumbing down of all music matters in priority of all academia instead, and the school will simply become a school with average music.

    Pupils and staff are at their lowest morale, and despite the school planning bouncy castles and freedom of the city of Watford up to 12.30am on the last day of term, when the school gates will be locked and no admittance allowed after this curfew, the school will approach the summer holidays at a low ebb.

  32. member of staff says:

    So school ended yesterday with a dismal assembly for the self congratulatory head and the even more self indulgent Ed Longstaff who conducted an under rehearsed performance of Carmina Burana to try to jolly the depressed school up with the demise of our greatly missed Quentin Poole.

    The pupils were having none of it though as shown in a dull performance for the handful of parents who turned up to collect their offspring.

    Sadly, no acknowledgement or mention of Quentin Poole despite his appeal on Thursday.

    Why has everything gone silent over this…………..

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