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Want to download the BBC H&W on the JKHS waste of £187,000 (20th Nov 2020)? - download here
Ross Gazette: School defends £187k legal bill as union labels it "appalling” (25th Nov 2020)
Hereford Times: "Herefordshire school's £187,000 bill for battle with rival" (19th Nov 2020)
Nigel Griffiths has written to parents on 7th October about Covid-19 and dropped into his letter seemingly randomly that they spent £187,000 in legal costs trying to stop Dene Magna, a school in Gloucestershire, a different county, from opening a new 6th Form.
BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester Reported on this on 20th Nov 2020, links can be found on this page.
John Kyrle as part of this had to pay £55,000 in legal costs to Dene Magna, see this link from Dene Magna's lawyers.
A High Court Judge had said "an all out attack on the process Dene Magna had followed".
Highly unusual to go to court over something like this, and another local head has said about this waste that if you do want to object to this sort of thing, you don't have to spend £187,000.
Questions arise whether this £187,000 all the costs of research, consultancy and preparation for the legal actions. Whether there are more true costs to the attempts to stop Dene Magna is unclear.
Nigel wrote that the school were "financially prepared", and yet many comment how soon after this incredible spend that up to 14 Teaching Assistants sadly lost their jobs, and all adult education at the school was cut.
Teaching Assistants positions provide support to pupils that require it, and funding for their roles is in great part received from what is called Pupil Premium, funding directly relating to the needs of specific pupils. Questions arise over how many Teaching Assistants are left at JKHS now, and if the Pupil Premium is still being received, what is this pupil premium money being spent on?
School funds are provided by the ESFA (dept of the DfE) for the purpose of furthering the education prospects of the pupils in the school and the spending is expected to show value for money in this regard. This, and yet this incredible amount of money is now lost, and with many Teaching Assistants now gone, pupils' education could be damaged, not to mention the devastating effect on those Teaching Assistants and their families.
Many people have been asking how much money was spent and it has not been disclosed or revealed for some time, so why is it only recently that JKHS revealed it, why now has Nigel Griffiths revealed this figure with what appears to be quite strange timing?
It could be that it is as a result of the following Freedom of Information Request that was put in to the school on 19th August 2020, which the school responded to saying they would not disclose it, that letter follows on after below.
How much did JKHS spend in total in legal fees and services in litigation with Dene Magna School to oppose them opening a Sixth Form College?
I expect nothing but a simple number of pounds spent please. Quite simple. Just a figure.
(Note, I do not expect the number to include the £55,000 awarded awarded to Dene Magna to cover its legal costs, paid as a result of JKHS' failure in these actions)
John Kyrle's DPO's response to this Freedom of Information Request gave two reasons why John Kyrle considered it was exempt from disclosure and would not provide it.
The completely illogical reasons from the school for not providing the information were:
(1) That the number of £s would allow the hourly rate of the lawyer to be worked out and could affect the lawyer's pricing ability or justification to its other clients
(2) That it would mean in future other lawyers might see what John Kyrle is willing to pay for services, potentially affecting the school's competitive advantage
This strange response from John Kyrle's Data Protection Officer did not make sense to the FOI request asked (the DPO is the point of contact for FOI requests and Data Law queries, their details were previously held back by David Boyd the JKHS Operational Headteacher when they were requested and only seemingly reluctantly provided after communications with the ICO who oversee Data Law in the UK).
So, John Kyrle was written back to immediately, excerpts of this letter are below...
You say that disclosure of this information is exempt under the Act, because it “would be likely to prejudice the school’s commercial interests and that of a third party”...
I do hope as an outsourced DPO that other schools you represent aren’t so uncooperative, seemingly completely unwilling to provide transparency through Freedom of Information Requests… It worries me that the school could be leading you here as their outsourced DPO and not the other way around, with an agenda of not wanting to provide this simple figure.
Firstly, JKHS are saying the hourly rate could be worked out? That, is a bogus argument and utterly impossible. An hourly rate would require the ‘amount of hours worked’ to be known, to divide the total by, but even that would be a massive oversimplification. The total legal costs would of course be comprised of all sorts of set costs and multiple differing variable rates charged for different elements. It is a bogus and diversionary to over-simplify in this way, the only reason to do so seems to me to be to find a reason not to provide the simple figure asked for.
Secondly, JKHS says it could prejudice its commercial interests by indicating what it is willing to pay for legal services. This again is nothing but a deflection and bogus argument, as a total number would give no idea at all of what those actual services were. If someone doesn’t know what the services were and how they split down, then the total charged shows only what has been spent at the highest 40,000ft view, nothing more...
As John Kyrle’s outsourced Data Protection Officer, I ask that you now investigate with an internal review, a process I unfortunately have very little faith in as the school is clearly trying to avoid providing one simple and single number of £s.
When John Kyrle's DPO sent no response, another letter was written to try get an answer:
What are the results of the internal review I requested in writing on 17th September 2020 which you signed for on the 18th, I have heard nothing since.
I trust that you have read the clear illustration I provided that the school’s stated reasons for not supplying the simple total figure in £s don’t stand up to simple, basic logic.I have not received the results of the internal review and look forward to receiving the number requested, plus an acknowledgement that the logic presented by the school that working out the ‘hourly rate’ from one total number is laughable when the billing structure would be hugely complex and made up of an wide array of fixed costs and differing variable costs.
Note that I guess the number to be in the £100,000s so we are not talking about a bill from a handyman of £120 where he worked 8 hours, and hence is £15/hr. Plus even that would be guesswork if it was not known how many hours he’d worked. The logic JKHS has presented about an hourly rate being able to be worked out for on a bill that likely runs to £100,000s is laughable and ridiculous.
Further you will be able to write to acknowledge that one number will not reveal any detail at all of what these services JKHS paid for were, just a total spend, so please confirm that too. Spending of available budgets and school funds is the reason for the FOI.
I hope the school does not double down on its clearly bogus presented reasonings for not providing this simple number that is clearly in the public interest to be provided. I don’t know why you haven’t responded, but could you do so please.
With the above letter received by the school on 6th October 2020, it is noted beyond coincidence that the following day, Nigel Griffiths strangely and suddenly slipped into a letter to parents on 7th October that the spend was £187,000 !!
It wasn't then until another two days later, in a letter dated 9th October 2020 that a reply was received from the School on the FOI request stating the same. The letter also accepted the two arguments had been looked at and indeed it "would not be possible to reverse engineer the data". Quite worrying was this was their whole argument for not revealing the number and they chose to use that argument in the first place and must have known it simply would not hold up to very simple logic and scrutiny.
...more on this waste of public funds...
Could their be alternative motivation to try so hard to stop Dene Magna from opening a 6th Form?
What stark and clear is Nigel Griffiths' reasoning fell flat in legal actions and certainly did not hold up in court.
Were there other reasons for these actions that Nigel Griffiths' didn't state? Let's explore...
Whilst it is well-known that Nigel Griffiths mentions the "outstanding" Sixth Form rating by Ofsted (even in adverts trying to recruit 11 year olds into year 7), and wants people to focus on this, the truth is the massive bulk of JKHS students are GCSE, in years 7 to 11. These GCSE years feed into the John Kyrle Sixth Form as do students from other schools such as Dene Magna.
What is unquestionably clear is that Ofsted rate Dene Magna better than John Kyrle for GCSE years. John Kyrle is only rated "good" by Ofsted whereas Dene Magna is rated as "outstanding".
John Kyrle at GCSE in the county league tables is also not special, it is average, sitting only in the middle of the pack of secondary schools across the county for GCSE results. So, no exceptional accolades by Ofsted or performance in GCSEs.
Dene Magna pupils who go to attend JKHS Sixth Form simply come from what Ofsted rate as a better school, probably making them highly desirable to Nigel Griffiths as they have undeniable ability to contribute to raising the average grades in his own sixth form. Nigel Griffiths' advertising and press releases constantly cite the "top 2% outstanding ofsted rated 6th form" but choose not to publicise the average performance of his school at GCSE and it's unremarkable "good" Osted rating.
Pupils and parents in touch about mental health concerns at JKHS have talked about being persuaded not to continue with A-Levels in the Sixth Form that they are not doing so well in, sad at how they feel let down by John Kyrle High School and its management. The school of course can't explicitly tell sixth-formers to drop subjects, it has to be their own decision. In recent years, national press has exposed how headteacher's "game" the league table results.
One thing is clear. Nigel Griffiths does tend to boast about his 6th Form's performance, but parents with experience of the school question whether it is actually fully inclusive like he says it is, many saying their experiences have been the opposite.
Dene Magna, after JKHS did everything to stop them, opened their impressive new 6th Form and are welcoming pupils into a hugely inviting environment to further their education. Dene Magna is in a different county. The educational prospects of its pupils who come from across the Forest of Dean are hugely improved.
Dene Magna are approachable, engaging and welcoming about Mental Health, happy to talk and explore any aspects of it in depth (as have other secondaries and Headteachers). However, Nigel Griffiths and his Senior Staff have flatly refused a meeting about Mental Health, and refuse to meet one-on-one talk about mental health and John Kyrle High School.
In a year where this £187,000 was spent, and for the employment of Nigel Griffiths and David Boyd alone broke half a million pounds in total, it is being questioned why the school seems to burn through so much money.
This is in a single secondary academy with approximately 1,400 pupils. Headteacher Nigel Griffiths is on approximately £145,000 with another person, David Boyd, running the school day-to-day for him on a further £100,000 - £110,000. Not only that, the Senior Leadership Team has many others receiving alarmingly unusual figures, plus this Team being unusually large in size.