Bournemouth and Poole College: why do the concerns I raise matter?

(Post made at 1046 UK time on 27 Jan 2018 in a personal capacity.  Please see here for important background and disclosure of interests).

This is a follow up to a previous post, Why is this public?

Great music education is a partnership between classroom teachers, specialist teachers, professional performers and a host of other organisations, including those from the arts, charity and voluntary sectors.

The quote above is from page 3 of the government’s “The Importance of Music“, a National Plan for Music Education.

Reactions from some CWYM parents to the concerns I have raised have been along the lines of “fake news!”, or “what does it matter if the rehearsals are secret?” “this is just admin, life’s too short for that” or “stop criticising the Centre!”.

My answers are:

  1. To the best of my knowledge, nothing in this blog is “fake news”, and I have written evidence to back up everything I have said.  With regard to whether cooperation between CWYM and other musical organisations has been good, I have written statements from several witnesses (which I supplied to the College) that in their view cooperation had been unsatisfactory over a long period of time.  The email from CWYM to a school head of music refusing an advance request for help when one of six (!) extra rehearsals clashed with a weekday school concert  provides clear supporting evidence to back up what those witnesses told me.  Note that there has been no denial from the College that that email is genuine. Notice also that, even today, the CWYM website still instructs parents and children that the rehearsal schedules are secret ( still says “Members will be informed of a following season’s concert dates by email each summer, and then regularly throughout a season on the WYO schedules (for WYO members and families only) and by email”).  This is 13 months after a senior member of staff at the College told me in writing that he/she expected the schedules to be published. 
  2. To the follow up questions, “so what if they are secret?” “so what if cooperation is poor?” my reply is: isn’t that a rather selfish attitude? At a minimum, the likely absence of key players at key times seems to have caused significant stress to some other teachers/ensemble leaders, who have a difficult enough job as it is. Overall the impact on those other musical organisations seems to have been harmful, as indeed one might logically expect it to be.  In any case, the College claims to want to work harmoniously with other community organisations. Indeed as a publicly funded body and a charity doesn’t it have a duty to do so? How does secrecy and a lack of cooperation comply with the importance of working in partnership referred to in the quote at the start of this post? In the absence of any valid counter to arguments such as these, if someone were still to say “so what?” then I think their views of right and wrong and mine differ enormously.  I believe most CWYM parents would agree that music teaching plays an important part in schools (see here for my thoughts on this).
  3. The concern about cooperation was just one of several that I raised.
  4. The Bournemouth and Poole College is an educational establishment, and as such it should in my view take great care that any significant statements it makes are true. Yet in several instances statements were made that have been subsequently demonstrated to have been materially untrue, yet the College has to the best of my knowledge neither apologised for this nor has it issued any corrections. (Here are just two examples: the claim in a Freedom of Information Request response that no Summer 2017 rehearsal schedule existed, when it did exist. And the claim that there would only ever be one red [compulsory] rehearsal per concert programme: for the concerts for which I have access to rehearsal schedules there had been 2 (Nov 2016), 3 (Dec 2016), 4 (March 2017) and 3 (July 2017) red rehearsals. (For completeness: not all of these were 3 hour rehearsals, a few were shorter at 1, 1.5 or 2 hours and two were longer: 3.75 and 4.25 hours according to the schedules. But it is clear that the claim of only one red rehearsal did not accord with actual practice).   
  5. I mentioned above that the professional lives of some musicians responsible for other ensembles had been in their view made unnecessarily more difficult by some of the Centre’s practices. 
  6. I received evidence (again confirmed in writing) that other individuals but this time within the Centre felt that their enjoyment of music had been significantly adversely affected by their experiences at CWYM.  I passed this evidence to the College, but the independent investigator concluded the investigation early, with no notice, without interviewing the witnesses whose evidence I had supplied, and dismissed email evidence I had provided as unreliable on the grounds that the witnesses’ body language could not be seen! I would have had a clear professional duty to report the investigator to the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority but he/she was no longer a lawyer at the time of the investigation.
  7. A member of staff (see note * below) had some concerns which she raised informally at a meeting with a senior staff member at the College.  She came out of the meeting feeling positive and feeling that her concerns had been listened to. The very next day, early within the term, she was told that her services were no longer required. With no thanks, and with no explanation.  This is after 13 years of what  – as for probably all staff at CWYM – is a labour of love, because the pay is significantly below market levels. When she requested an explanation, one was subsequently provided which made no sense (because inconsistent with accepted College practices by others). We understand the College subsequently changed this to a different explanation which was eventually mentioned to other parents, but not to her or me. (Significant thanks are due to the very many parents who wrote to her expressing their gratitude and sadness/concern at her departure. What must it have felt like for the 60+ plus children in Starter and Middle Strings for their teacher to suddenly disappear, 3 weeks into a term, with no explanation possible, and no opportunity for the teacher – some of whom the children will have known for more than 5 years – to say goodbye to them?). 
  8. What kind of an organisation is it where an informal raising of concerns about management practice leads to an apparently satisfactory meeting with senior staff appearing to be sympathetic to concerns, but then which leads to a dismissal without notice or thanks the very next day? This seems to be considered acceptable behaviour at the Bournemouth and Poole College. What kind of an organisation is it which relies on an investigation in which key witnesses from one side are not interviewed, where email evidence is disregarded, and which refuses to investigate some parts of a complaint?  Again, the Bournemouth and Poole College seems content to do this.
  9. For anyone still saying “so what?”, is it that you don’t believe that the witnesses whose evidence I put forward to the College were telling the truth? Do you believe that I am not telling the truth, or am mistaken as to facts, in this blog? (If so, why not put credible counter-evidence in the comments for all to see? If I am wrong I will promptly apologise and issue a correction to the relevant post). Given 4 above, do you have a good reason to find any evidence that the College may have put to you more credible than that from me or that I have described from the witnesses whose evidence I supplied in writing to the College? 
  10. If on the other hand you think the witnesses and I are telling the truth, but still think “So what?” then I am at a loss.  I have related how several human beings, both adults and children felt that they have been significantly adversely affected by their interactions with the College and Centre. If your reaction to this is “so what? ” then again you have a different idea of wrong and right from me.  It is not “just admin”. The impact on people’s lives has been far from trivial. If anyone thinks that is a necessary price to pay for the production of beautiful music then I think that is profoundly wrong. With greater accountability and improvements in culture (which is all I have been asking for) such things can be avoided in future.  Other students, parents and staff at the College will benefit from an improved culture. And the music will still be beautiful.
I wrote last week (on 17 January) to the College Board asking (for the second time – see note ** below) for their formal response to my concerns about the recent operation of the College’s Complaints policy, which under the policy the Board have a duty to oversee.  I have not yet received an acknowledgement.
Note *: disclosure: my wife.
Note **: I had contacted a member of the Board last September to ask her to pass on my request for a formal response from the Board. Again I received no acknowledgement, but it seems that this Board member may have been away on maternity leave at the time.

PS I accept that many WYO members (perhaps even the majority) look back on their time with fondness.  But that does not mean that improvements can’t be made, and the cases of the individuals whose parents spoke to me of their concerns merit proper consideration, rather than an investigator ignoring their written evidence and failing to interview them and other witnesses critical of the College’s current culture. 

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