Staff left in limbo neither redundant or transferred as Free School opens

Free school teacher protest image 2 957330183
Protestors outside Liverpool Anglican Cathedral
Thought you had heard it all with free schools this year? From the “Beccles 37” through to the abandoned Chuckle Brothers free school, Bedford school which is to open in defiance of planning permission and the One in a Million Free school cancelled at the last minute and the Cornish school that will accept gays but doesn’t want to encourage them. Step forward the Hawthornes Free School in Bootle with what looks to be the most bizarre free school story of all.

Like many free schools the Hawthornes school is full of promises. Its website boasts:
a welcoming school where everyone can enjoy success in a positive, well-ordered environment where learning is valued and teaching seeks to engage and challenge. It will be a school where all are treated with dignity and shown mutual respect, where we build self esteem through praise and reward for good work and behaviour. Our vision for The Hawthorne’s is a school with a harmonious community where everyone feels safe, valued and secure
The problem with this is the staff of the predecessor school on the same site - St Georges - feel anything but secure. It isn’t simply that they have effectively all been fired, no because that would be better than what has actually happened.

The issue is effectively a dispute between the local authority, Sefton Council, and the proposers of the school who include the Archdeacon of Liverpool Ricky Panter who is the new schools Chair of Governors.

Sefton Council have written to staff from the two predecessor schools telling them they should be transferred over to the new school under the TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) rules. Only the new Governors - apparently with the DfE’s support allege TUPE doesn’t apply as “it is a completely new school”. They have told staff from the predecessor schools that don't have a job not to turn up at the Hawthornes at the start of term.

So the staff are in a limbo, not paid redundancy by Sefton and not actually transferred over into a new job in the “completely new” school that, er, will be teaching many of the same children next term.

Ven Ricky Panter, Archdeacon of Liverpool
Chair of Governors
Incredibly the Archdeacon of Liverpool could not be less interested in the welfare of these staff and until they literally turned up with placards at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral had not even spoken to any of them.

He reportedly refused to give them any re-assurance and appears unconcerned at their plight, despite being the Chair of Governors of the predecessor school, St Georges. Staff complained that he did not even know who they were.

Indeed Panter is sent legal advice through the DfE about how to “deal with” the staff in case they turn up at the school at the start of term. The advice concludes:
There is therefore no need for any individual who has not received an express offer of employment from The Hawthorne’s to attend for work on 4 September 2012 or on any subsequent day. Should any such individual seek to attend then unfortunately we would have to treat them as a trespasser and have them removed from the premises as we would not have in place the necessary security clearances for them to remain on site
Yes that is right this is suggesting staff are treated as trespassers in their own school. The same school that remember was claiming to be a welcoming school where everyone can enjoy success in a positive, well-ordered environment. Some welcome this seems!

Staff in an identical situation in Suffolk at Clare Middle School and this year at Beccles and Saxmundham Middles were offered redundancy and whilst there is some suggestion of a legal challenge that they ought to have been TUPEd over at least they have not been left in this outrageous situation.

It is difficult so see how anyone could have such a lack of concern for the well being of staff but the fact that a senior Church of England cleric is heading this up adds insult to injury. Have the Church in Liverpool really lost all sight of their mission?

I have attached the complete draft letter from lawyers Pinsent Masons to show just how nasty this is. Meanwhile staff acting in the advice of their unions intend to turn up for work on 3 September complete with their P45s for their new employers! 

It remains to be seen what action Panter and his friends in the DfE take but they ought to hang their heads in shame at the way these staff have been treated.

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