Academies, George Tomlinson Primary, and LBWF Interim Director of School Standards Rosalind Turner UPDATED

Earlier this week, a reliable contact in the Town Hall rang me to say that some Labour councillors seemed spooked by the stance being taken by LBWF’s Interim Director of School Standards, Rosalind Turner, and more generally were nervous about what they perceived as the ‘academisation’ of Waltham Forest schools. Indeed, my contact told me, the rumour circulating was that Cabinet member Cllr. Mark Rusling had actually resigned over the issue, before temporarily rescinding his decision because of the scandal enveloping Cllr. Khan (for which see previous posts).

A couple of days later, the following rather dramatic statement appeared on the George Tomlinson Primary School website:

‘A note to parents from the GTPS Governing Body

In recent weeks the governing body has had some serious concerns about school leadership arrangements. We met on Monday with the local authority and had a full and frank discussion. 

In January 2016 Governors advertised the post of Headteacher and were not able to appoint. After some discussion, on 17th March 2016 Governors approached the local authority to ask them to identify a full-time Interim Headteacher. The local authority suggested Lynne Harrowell, and went to great lengths to assure us that while Lynne was with the Lime Academy Trust this in no way meant that George Tom would be affected or be in the frame for conversion to academy status.

On 23rd March 2016, two days before the Easter break, Lynne Harrowell took up post as interim Headteacher, appointed by the local authority. Three weeks later the local authority representative (Rosalind Turner, Interim Director of School Standards) told governors that the local authority had serious concerns about the management and leadership of the school, and asked governors to resign. 

Governors do not agree with the assessment of the school made by the local authority, and we have made our views clear to officers. We are being told by the local authority that we either have to resign or that they will issue the school with a formal warning notice. We do not believe that this would be in the best interests of the school, and have reluctantly decided to stand down. We will inform the local authority of this decision later today, but wanted to let you know first….

We cannot say how long this message will remain, as we are handing control of this page to the school and will not amend it, or any other part of the site going forward’.

Whether this is the episode which is troubling councillors is hard to know. But what intrigues is that Rosalind Turner’s name pops up again, and at the centre of events.

Who is she, and where has she come from? As it turns out, her story is more thought provoking – and perhaps controversial – than at first sight might be expected.

Ms. Turner started her working life in 1974, as a reporter on the Wolverhampton Evening Star, and then became a teacher, before turning to local authority management, and climbing quite rapidly through the ranks. In May 2005, she was appointed Director of Children’s Services at Suffolk County Council, and exactly fours years later moved to Kent County Council (KCC) in a similar role. It was here that things began to get interesting.

In February 2010, nine months after Ms. Turner had been in post, KCC announced that it was cutting 260 children’s service jobs, with 160 staff made redundant and 100 unfilled posts axed. Ms. Turner commented: ‘“The overriding purpose of the restructure is to organise the team in a way that can best meet our priorities and respond to the needs of children and young people in Kent. I firmly believe it will leave us best placed to manage the challenges we face”’.

Next up, Ms. Turner faced criticism because of her expenses. In October 2010, the Kent and Sussex Courier revealed that, in the previous financial year, on top of ‘a staggering’ £180,000 per year salary, Ms. Turner had racked up  ‘a whopping £8,727’ on ‘everything from taxis to accommodation’, more than any other of the nine ‘senior department bosses’.   A week later, the paper returned to the chase, reporting that Ms. Turner had been part of a six strong KCC deputation to Solna, in order ‘to look at the Swedish education system’, which cost the taxpayer £5,700, adding the piquant detail that in the midst of their fact finding the visitors had found time ‘to enjoy a lavish dinner party hosted by Solna’s mayor at a French restaurant’.

But worse was to follow. For in November 2010, KCC received an Ofsted inspection report on safeguarding and looked after children services which was almost as bad as it could be. Both ‘the overall effectiveness of services…to ensure that children and young people are safeguarded and protected’, and the ‘leadership and management’ of those services, were rated as ‘inadequate’. And what made these failings even more regrettable was the fact that KCC had been given plenty of warnings. As the report pointedly observed: ‘The council and its partners have had access to a large amount of information that, over the last two years, has strongly and consistently indicated significant weaknesses and workload pressures in child protection and safeguarding services. Despite this information there is little evidence of sustainable change in practice’.

The subsequent chain of events was predictable. In December 2010, Ofsted’s annual assessment of KCC’s children’s services as a whole concluded that the minimum requirements were not being met. A few weeks later, KCC announced that it was reviewing all the 7,000 active child safeguarding cases on its books. And as for Ms. Turner, according to the press, her offer to take voluntary redundancy was accepted, and she walked away with a payment of £96,657.

Thereafter, little more was heard of Ms. Turner until she joined LBWF in May 2015.

What does all of this add up to? It is right to acknowledge that Ms. Turner worked in a context at KCC that was sometimes unpropitious, hindered by budget cuts and political interference. Additionally, Kent is a very large county, and hard to keep tabs on. Moreover, the Baby P effect meant that, year by year, potential safeguarding cases kept increasing, thereby imposing heavier and heavier workloads. On the other hand, Ms. Turner was very well paid (she allegedly earned more than any other director of children’s services in the UK); signed up to the economy measures of 2010; and if Ofsted is to be believed had plenty of warning that her department was headed in the wrong direction. The bottom line is that during her tenure, to quote Ofsted again, ‘too many children’ were ‘left without sufficient safeguards or adequate protection arrangements’ – an unhappy epitaph.

Against this background, it is not difficult to see why Labour councillors are said to be nervous. In a 2005 profile, Ms. Turner admitted that patience was not her strongest attribute, and reflected that the most painful lesson she had learnt at work was ‘“Culture eats process for breakfast”’. The pressure to create academies is the order of the day, both nationally and in Waltham Forest. Let us hope that she keeps a level head, evaluates issues on their merits, and does not get swept along by the tide of political exigency.


The Waltham Forest Guardian is now covering the story:

Some of the comments indicate that events similar to the George Tomlinson governors’ experience recently have occurred in other local schools.


I hear that a meeting for parents this week at George Tomlinson to explain recent events was decidedly bumpy.

Cllr. Rusling took a rather combatative stance, which grated with many of those present.

And there was confusion about whether local MP John Cryer had been kept fully informed.

In an interview a few days previously, Mr. Cryer told the Waltham Forest Guardian that he was ‘surprised’ by the governors’ ‘resignation’.

However, when questioned closely, Cllr. Rusling insisted that he had e-mailed or rung Mr. Cryer about George Tomlinson on numerous occasions, as a search though his mobile records would confirm.

Is someone, somewhere, being economical with the truth?


  1. David Pyall - April 26, 2016, 12:09 pm

    The same happened to at Downsell Primary in March. All of us were told to resign or get a formal warning letter so we did. Then the school had an ofsted which was good, details on the school website

  2. Nick Tiratsoo - April 26, 2016, 8:49 pm

    It would be useful if you could elucidate, please.

  3. Mary Gibbs - May 9, 2016, 7:07 pm

    Hi David

    I’m so sorry to hear what happened in your school. It’s just so sad. Is there anyway you could email me I’m a parent at George Tomlinson and we have a public meeting tomorrow. It would be really useful to know what they might have in store for us next. I have read some parts of your ofsted and it just makes my heart sink. What rating did your school have before?

    thanks Mary

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