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Council doesnt deny Head’s appointment was rigged

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headteacher1THE APPOINTMENT of a head teacher to a Pembrokeshire school was ‘rigged’ to favour one candidate. That is the allegation that has been made to The Pembrokeshire Herald by a member of the panel for the selection of a head teacher for Ysgol Gelli Aur/ Golden Grove School in Pembroke. Pembroke Town Councillor, Mel Phillips told The Herald: “After the former head teacher of Gelli Aur, Les Johnson announced his intention to retire, the Council provided a shortlist of two candidates – Andrew Williams, who formerly taught at Broad aven School and a teacher from Brynconin School. Curiously, I had been told by a friend that Mr Williams would be the new head teacher, even before the job had been advertised as vacant.”

Mel explained that she was puzzled as to shortlist’s brevity and challenged the ‘adviser’ appointed by the Council to assist the Governors in selecting a head teacher as to why that was the case. The adviser, Sue Painter, told selection panel members that the post had been advertised in the Times Education Supplement (TES). Melanie Phillips expressed dissatisfaction at the shortlist’s length and checked with the TES whether an advertisement had been placed. Her enquiries revealed that was not the case and the selection panel demanded it was done properly and in accordance with the regulations governing the appointment of head teachers. After the post had been advertised, a further shortlist was produced. The second shortlist contained only three names: the original two candidates and a Mr Condon from Angle School.

The panel interviewed all of the candidates and at a meeting held at the County Archives, Haverfordwest, were unanimous in considering that the teacher from Brynconin School had performed the best in interview and was the best candidate for the job. Mel Phillips told The Herald: “Sue Painter then intervened and told the selection panel that there were ‘issues’ about the panel’s choice. “When we asked why his name had been put forward, we were told – ‘We didn’t expect him to get this far’.” However, Mel told us, when panel members asked what the issues were Sue Painter refused to say and told panel members it was a confidential matter. “Well, as you can guess, that left us hanging. We asked whether allegations had been made against him, but she would only answer it was ‘confidential’. That left us all hanging, inviting us to draw the worst of adverse conclusions.

“It stank then and it stinks now, Jon. I quickly concluded that the whole process was a stitch up from start to end and that whatever the allegations were they could not be that serious as the candidate was still teaching at another school. However, such was the doubt that Sue Painter had sown that panel members decided to reconsider their decision. “Two of us on the panel, me and Hywel Edwards, walked out in protest. In our absence, Mr Williams was appointed.” Mel explained how distressed she was by the events: “I tell you, I could not sleep. That poor man had been so badly served and so let down. He was clearly the best candidate for the job and I believe he would have been a terrific head teacher at our school. After a couple of days fretting, I had to phone him him and put him in the picture as to what had happened.

I assured him that we had all concluded he was the best candidate for the head teacher’s post and it was only the intervention of Sue Painter right at the end of the process that prevented his appointment. “In fact that there was NO issue regarding the panel’s choice. He has since been appointed to the head teacher’s post at another school.” The events have left Mel with a sour conclusion: “This whole thing was a stitch up from start to end. The best candidate was not appointed, the Council had clearly decided who was going to get the job and the so-called ‘adviser’ was simply there to make sure it got its way.”

The Herald put Mel’s detailed account to the Council as a series of bullet points and asked for a response from the Head of Education, Kate Evans-Hughes. The Herald made it clear that the inference to be drawn from Mel Phillips’s account was that the process had been rigged to favour one candidate over others. The Council DID NOT deny Mel Phillips’s account was truthful or accurate. Instead a spokesperson told The Herald: “The Staffing of Maintained Schools Regulations (Wales) clearly defines the recruitment process to be followed in the case of Head Teachers, with the governing body having responsibility for selection decisions and the Local Authority acting as an ‘adviser’. “This is the role the Authority played in this particular case.” No allegation of wrongdoing is made against the successful candidate and current head teacher at Golden Grove in relation to the selection process. However, the incident highlights concerns about further appointments to head teacher positions made by the local authority since 2012.

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Primary school teacher would ‘moan’ as he touched female pupils, court hears

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A HAVERFORDWEST primary school teacher would “moan” while he touched his female pupils in a sexual way, a witness said in Swansea Crown Court.

In total, 11 former pupils, who were all under 13, have come forward and accused James Oulton, 34, of sexually assaulting them.

Oulton denies all the charges – saying the case was a “witch-hunt” and that he had behaved appropriately all times.

One of the pupils, who was in year four at the time, opened day four of the trial by giving evidence via a video link.

The girl told the court: “He would put his arm around by back and backside.”

Under cross examination Chris Clee QC, for the defence, asked the witness: “Did you tell the police that you were touched in an inappropriate way?”

The witness answered: “Yes, teachers should not be touching in that way.”

James Oulton

Asked if what he was doing wrong, the witness replied:

“Yes, very wrong”

In cross examination letters and cards were produced, made the witness whilst in school, where she had said Mr. James Oulton was “the best teacher in the whole world.”

One of the cards said: “You’ve made my life complete”.

Another card said: “Thank you for being so nice, and thanks for everything that you’ve done for me.”

The witness added: “Despite what he did do, he was a good teacher.  

“He used to buy us treats.

“He was nice caring and a sweet and fun teacher – but not what he was doing.

Referring to the cards, she said: “I would definitely not be saying that stuff now.”

Explaining how she told her parents the witness said: “Once I realised that [x] was in his class, I asked her ‘did he do this stuff to you?’

“She said yes.

“I realised more and more it was wrong and it was time to grow up now, and to speak.

“As soon as I found out that this was happening to [x] I stood up and told my parents.

Asked if she had seen inappropriate behaviour happening to anybody else the witness answered: “He did it to most of the girls in the class, but he had his favourites.

Asked if she had spoken to other girls about the touching, the witness said: “Yes, I was just curious was it just me, or was it normal?”

“Teachers should most definitely not be doing that to students.

“Doing what?”, the witness was asked, “You said in your police interview that he would pull you off your chair and make you sit on his lap, is that true?”

“Yes,” was the reply.

“Did you try and stop him?” she was asked.

“Yes, I tried to push him off sometimes and said, ‘get off its weird’, but I didn’t want to make a scene.

“He would make me sit on his lap whilst he was marking my work.”

When asked by the defence barrister how she was sat on her teacher’s lap, and if it was under a desk, the witness answered: “No, not under the desk, as both of our legs wouldn’t fit under.”

The witness also said that when she was sat on the defendant’s knee he would make “a low grunting noise.”

Asked if she had spoken others about this case, the girl said: “Police told my mum and dad that there were very many people involved in the case.

“I thought it was just me and [x] that was going to be at court, I only recently discovered that others had come out.”

A second female pupil was also giving evidence via video link. She was 9-years-old at the time of the alleged offending.

Firstly, a pre-recorded interview was played in court in which the witness said: “My teacher, Mr. Oulton always put his hand up my leg like that and up my t-shirt.”

She added: “If he calls you over and he pulls you onto his lap, if you don’t, he pulls your chair over and makes you.”

“How would he make you?” the QC asked.

“He would grab your arm, push you, and then pull you in”, she replied.

When asked if this was a one off, the witness said that the defendant “did it every day.”

“How would you be sat on his lap?”, she was asked.

“He would have one arm on my stomach, then the other arm would be rubbing my leg.”

“He would swap arms and then put one arm up my t-shirt.”

When asked to clarify if it was under her t-shirt the girl explained: “Yes it was under my t-shirt rubbing his hands up and down.”

The witness added: “If I tried to get up for work, he would just grab my arm.”

“He would make a funny sound like a hissing airplane.”

“We had a helper in the class, and when he came in, he would stop, and then I could go and sit down.”

The trial continues.

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New trees planted to help town

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SEVERAL new trees have been planted on Riverside Avenue in Neyland.

They were planted by Grandiflora, courtesy of the Town Council which recently pledged to plant more trees in the town in an attempt to help the environment.

As well as helping the environment, the trees will prevent vehicles from being parked on the grass verges on Riverside Avenue, which had been severely churned up over the winter and looked unsightly.

The Town Council will be working with Pembrokeshire County Council regarding parking issues in Neyland.

The trees will be tended and watered over the summer period to ensure they reach their maximum potential and enhance the area for residents and visitors alike.

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Golden goodbye report likely to be critical

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A REPORT by Audit Wales into the departure of former CEO Ian Westley is very likely to contain criticism of senior council officers.

In November 2020, Mr Westley left Pembrokeshire County Council with a £95,000 pay-out, something which has been criticised by a number of councillors.

In a document before the Audit and Governance Committee on Tuesday (April 13), it says that termination payments to Chief Officers are routinely examined by Audit Wales but in the case of Mr Westley, the audit team was unable to locate a recorded decision to enter into the settlement agreement which led to a termination payment being made to the Chief Executive.

An Audit Office spokesperson said: “This appeared unusual and therefore the audit team decided to undertake an early examination of the process that resulted in the payment being made.”

No complaints were raised, by councillors or any other body, with Audit Wales but the number of concerns and questions being raised at following council meetings prompted them to commence an audit.

Audit Wales state: “Our audit fieldwork is substantially complete. However due to the complex nature of some of the issues involved we considered it necessary to take some external legal
advice. We are currently considering that advice. 

“In the near future we will draft a document setting out our provisional findings and conclusions. 

“Once this document is ready we will commence a clearance process to confirm factual accuracy. 

“If the document contains criticism of identifiable individuals, in the first instance we will provide those individuals with any extracts of the document that pertain to them. Once
we have confirmed the factual accuracy with individuals, we will send the full draft document to the Council’s Chief Executive to identify any remaining factual inaccuracies. 

“We will only issue the finalised document once the clearance process has been completed. #

“We are unable to provide a definitive timetable for reporting because it will depend on the responses we receive within the clearance process.”

Only a handful of senior officers were involved in the procedure surrounding Ian Westley’s departure.

The inference which can be safely drawn from Audit Wales’ report to the Audit Committee is that some of its content will be critical either of councillors, senior officers, or both.

The process of asking those named to respond is known as Maxwellisation, a legal practice that allows persons who are to be criticised in an official report to respond prior to publication.

The report highlights the exceptional nature of the case at Pembrokeshire County Council and demonstrates the sensitivity of the issues raised.

If senior officers are sharply criticised or found to have failed in their duty to their employer, they will almost certainly have to go.

The council’s interim Chief Executive will read the document after maxwellisation.

It is also likely that the council’s newly appointed Chief Executive, Will Bramble, will have a chance to see it.

The Audit Wales spokesperson added: “We are unable to provide a definitive timetable for reporting because it will depend on the responses we receive within the clearance process. We are unable to respond to queries about our emerging findings whilst the audit is progressing, and until we have finalised our conclusions.”

In January, Cllr Jamie Adams had called for the council to commence an internal investigation into Mr Westley’s departure but that was deferred to allow for the Audit Wales review to be completed.

Cllr Adams said that the decision of payment should have been a ‘democratic decision’ and has asked why that wasn’t the case.

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