More than 100 people attended a public meeting on Wednesday night to discuss ongoing concerns over the running of Oldfield School.
Emotions were highly charged at times at the meeting in All Saints Centre in Weston which was organised by concerned parent James Couchman.
Taking questions from the audience was Oldfield’s new chair of governors Stuart Weatherall, who said he had been a governor for three years but was just nine days into the role of leading the board. He replaced Julie Cope who stood down as chair last month, but remains on the governing body as the vice chair.
Mr Couchman had also invited the academy’s headteacher Kim Sparling but he said she had declined.
The meeting began with a round of applause for Oldfield staff with Mr Weatherall rising to his feet to show his support. The 775-pupil academy in Kelston Road draws students from East Bristol and South Gloucestershire as well as B&NES.
Ofsted visited Oldfield last December to carry out a safeguarding inspection which was followed by a full inspection. A partial report was published, expressing concerns about the relationship between the governors and headteacher. More than 1,000 people subsequently signed a petition calling for the Department for Education to make the unpublished full report public. They have not done so but it has now been widely seen after being leaked on 7th March on charity Fair Play’s website.
Among those at the meeting were former members of staff at Oldfield who spoke out about their experiences working there. One teacher told how she had been “bullied” by Mrs Sparling and had received no support from the governing body. “That lady has to leave,” she said, to a round of applause from the audience.
Also attending were several other governors, current staff, local councillors, parents and pupils.
The first question Mr Weatherall was asked was whether Mrs Sparling’s role was untenable and how could issues be resolved with her still in place. He replied that he could not comment on “confidential, internal staff matters”.
However, he was more open when later he was asked what his response was to the damning unpublished report about the way the school was run. He replied: “I am not challenging it.”
He was asked how the same team of governors could remain in place in the wake of the report. He said: “I can genuinely say I was not aware of the issues that have been raised…You can either think I am lying or you accept my word that I am not.”
Guy Dawe, who introduced himself as a parent-governor, told the meeting that governors had been “lied to and deceived on an industrial scale”.
A member of the audience told Mr Weatherall that the teaching union the NUT “dissuades members from going to Oldfield” and has done so for years. Mr Weatherall responded: “I hope we will change the view of the NUT.”
Dave Biddlestone, of the B&NES branch of the NUT, was at the meeting and praised the openness of the governors in recent weeks. “It’s better than in six years,” he said.
Mr Weatherall urged the school and wider community to “trust us to put the school back on the straight and level”.
He said the review being carried out by the Education Funding Agency was likely to be published after Easter.
At the end of the meeting Mr Couchman told Mr Weatherall: “We wish you all the best with the changes you are going to be making,” which received a round of applause.