Norwich Initiative Steiner School

Threatened Family Leaves School - 19th of April 2013

(email taken verbatim from Norwich Alternative Education)


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Jo Sawfoot won her tribunal case against the Norwich Initiative Steiner School. Part of the findings of the verdict was that management had lied to Social Services about a child in their care.


If the following email is anything to go by, then it certainly looks like Sandie Tolhurst and her team haven’t changed the way they deal with complaints.


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From: Jon Heeds

Subject: My Experience & Concerns

5th April 2013


On the 4th December 2012 I received an email after school closing hours which I found very disturbing. It was from the school to inform me that after a complaint from another parent regarding my daughters interactions with her child (her attempts to engage him in play) that the school had decided to implement a new policy. This policy had been developed overnight and was to put it politely deplorable, if enacted it would certainly have caused distress to my daughter and I was horrified to be reading it. This new policy, which was to be started the very next morning and without any form of discussion with Rachel or myself stated that if she were to even speak to the other child it would be viewed as an act equal to hitting him and she would be sent home. Obviously this was completely unacceptable so I wrote an in depth reply outlining most of my many objections to it and absolutely forbidding any action to be taken or any mention of it made to my daughter. I received no direct response to this and the first opportunity I had to raise this issue with anyone was the next morning as I dropped my children off at school where I initially attempted to speak to Ms Scaife and get some confirmation that no member of staff would proceed with any such silly actions as outlined in the e-mail from the school. Ms Scaife was unable to speak to me and directed me to speak to Sandie Tolhurst which I did immediately.


At this point I was hoping that the school would apologise for acting so rashly and without thought and reassure me that until we could meet for a sensible discussion no action would be taken. Sadly I was wrong as the very first thing I was told by Sandie was that she had not bothered to read my concerns as listed the email, which I sent the previous evening, because she felt it was an overreaction. This was a huge issue to me as this meant not only were they willing to act in such a thoughtless and potentially damaging manner but they were willing to completely dismiss my parental concerns. Undeterred by this I insisted I had valid points that needed addressing and went on to explain, unfortunately every point I raised was met by the same response from Sandie of denying that the email said what it very clearly did. Again and again I was confronted with blanket denials and a refusal to accept any of my concerns. In order to make any headway I had to insist that she access the email in question and I quoted it directly whilst running my finger across the words. However, Sandie still just dismissed me summarily and refused to accept that there was any issue to be dealt with at all, using phrases like “I am sorry if that is what you have read into it”. At one point she also tried to escape any responsibility by saying “I didn’t write it” and I was forced to remind her in this instance she was the school’s representative. I found this evasive and cowardly attitude extremely frustrating and upsetting to deal with and already late for work I demanded a meeting to discuss the whole debacle and had to leave without any reassurance and hope for the best.


Eventually I was able to get her to agree that to treat speaking to someone as being equal to physically assaulting them was ridiculous. I also had to point out to her that on many other occasions when concerns were raised regarding either of my children I had come in and discussed the issues with them; I had helped develop strategies to deal with those issues that had been successful, therefore she should have asked me to come in and discuss this issue as well. I should not have to be informing you of your own policies that you are seemingly unable to act upon. I demanded that we arrange a suitable time to have a meeting under conditions to be set out by [redacted child]’s mother. I expressed my disappointment and anger at the situation and left.


During the course of that same day whilst I was at work I did receive notification of a date and time to meet and resolve the issue. However at the end of the school day as I picked the children up I was handed 2 letters from the school, the first was a mere 7 lines long apologising specifically for sending me the e-mail and nothing else, it was as apologies go lacklustre. Much more effort had been put into the second letter which was 27 lines long attacking my behaviour and accusing me of conducting myself in a threatening and aggressive manner during my talk with Sandie. This letter also imposed upon me severe restrictions on communicating with staff at the school.


Now at this point I am extremely concerned, the erratic behaviour of the school has been followed by a total refusal to acknowledge this and then a personal attack on my character combined with an attempt to gag me. There was a serious issue here (it is important to note that with just a little cooperation from the school it could have easily and quickly been resolved) and the schools only reaction was to cover it up by all means necessary.


So a few days later came the aforementioned meeting and another chance to put things right. Unfortunately even after a few days to think of sensible solutions to the original issue the school had failed to come up with any sensible suggestions. I had a few suggestions which they agreed to consider and feed back to me afterwards. I expressed my displeasure at the way the school had handled both the initial problem and my complaint but for a brief minute felt we were getting somewhere. Then at the end of this meeting I was informed that the school had raised a child protection issue against me concerning improper sexual conduct with my daughter. I don’t think I either need to or even could accurately describe how I felt upon hearing this. I still now even weeks later cannot truly believe that an organisation that deems itself fit to look after children could stoop to such disgustingly low standards. I demanded all the details of this allegation be sent to me and left in a highly disturbed state.


The basis of this was that I run an online adult shop and have done for the last 5 years, the school have been aware of this for the whole time and have accepted products from my shop as prizes in fund raising events previously but now 4 days after I make a complaint seem to think it is a child protection issue.


I also work for a community mental health team and so I have lots of involvement with vulnerable adults, adolescents and occasionally their children so I had to take action on this allegation. Firstly I called Social Services and informed them of what had happened and asked them to investigate me; I also called my line manager and informed him. He met with the human resources department and made them aware of the allegation so I was still clear to work. That same day I received a letter from the school confirming there was an allegation and saying it would be reported that day but with none of the details I had asked for. Just before 5pm Social Services contacted me and informed me the school had not reported anything to them and that after looking into it upon my request they had no concerns regarding myself with either of my children.


Okay so now things have taken a very sinister turn, either the school have a valid concern that a child is being sexually abused and have chosen to do nothing about it or they have made a spurious allegation in response to my complaint. Let me assure you it is not the former. To make an erroneous allegation of sexual abuse against me is a totally unforgivable act and could only be perpetrated by somebody with no moral standards of any description. How they feel they are suited to run a school when they are willing to sink to petulant, childish and downright repulsive behaviour I cannot fathom.


At this point I wrote many e-mails to the school demanding explanations and copies of documents which should have been kept according to the schools own policies in particular an explanation of why they had not reported to Social Services. I received nothing from the school other than being directed to take all further communications to Chris Mitchell who is a member of the trustees. Since then the school management team have said and done nothing to address this scandalous behaviour.


So all my hopes of a resolution now lay with this trustee Chris Mitchell whom Rachel and I met with alongside the new teacher Jeff. He promised that there would be an investigation into all our concerns conducted by Jeff and this evidence presented to a complaints meeting. He would then inform us of what actions the school need to implement as a result. By this time [my children] had been in limbo for too long and  Rachel and I decided that the bond of trust with the school had eroded too far, nothing was in place to prevent the same things happening again, so we took the sad decision to enrol our children in an alternative school.


The report came back and it was a sorry state of affairs. It repeatedly broke down issues into such tiny chunks that they appeared negligible or evaded the real issue and addressed something else instead. It is a catalogue of evasion and misdirection that leads to the conclusion that there were no issues with the school at all, only my behaviour and that of Miss Anka (both of whom are now gone conveniently) were called into question otherwise it gave the school a big thumbs up and a nice pat on the back. 


Well turns out I am not the only person that has been treated this way upon attempting to complain about a problem at the school. I have since this become aware of several other people who have been treated in a similar manner, people who have been ignored, had their characters attacked and been reported to Social Services by the school at the slightest hint of criticising the school. Also I have become aware of the details of a previous incident at the school in 2005 which also displays a lot of the same shortcomings by the school management team which resulted in both legal action being taken against the school and a large number of parents withdrawing their children and so a large amount of important revenue being lost.


The number of issues this raises is mind boggling, if you have a problem with the school this could happen to you. It has happened before and the school and governors have continually covered it over. There is nothing to stop it happening again and if it does you have no way of appealing as you can easily be ignored and dismissed at every level. This is unacceptable and I feel a duty to tell you this as being forewarned is the best defence you will have at the moment. There needs to be a way of holding the school to account for its decisions and since 2005 the open steering group which was the only parent participation has been closed down there is now no way of parents exerting any influence over any aspect of the school. This is not healthy. Nor is the board of governors resistance to dealing with issues, my experience and that of those before me is that they wilfully ignore your concerns and minimise, deflect and scapegoat in an attempt to whitewash the whole situation.


I firmly believe that this also needs changing. Parents must have a powerful voice in the school and the management team needs good governance to keep it on track.


Sorry to contact you all with such bad news but I feel there are some very important issues here which just cannot be ignored. Thanks, Jon Heeds.






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