Head's tragic tale rebounds on council

16th June 1995 at 01:00
A London borough's education department is being investigated over accusations that it leaked stories concerning the Romeo and Juliet primary school and is also under fire over its decision to close a failing secondary.

Hackney is currently studying a report from the governors of Kingsmead primary school exonerating headteacher Jane Brown over her refusal of subsidised tickets for the ballet of Romeo and Juliet. It also dismissed the council's allegations of irregularity over Ms Brown's original appointment, after which she moved in with the chair of governors.

The education department itself is being investigated after allegations by the Hackney Teachers' Association that newspaper reports on events at Kingsmead could only have come from council leaks.

And the council's decision to close failing Hackney Downs School has also been challenged in a vote by the newly-constituted education committee, although legally the closure appears to stand.

Hackney first made the headlines 18 months ago when Jane Brown turned down cheap tickets for her pupils to see Romeo and Juliet - allegedly on the grounds that it was an "entirely heterosexual" love story. She apologised rapidly for her decision, saying that even the subsidised seats were out of the school's financial reach.

The council, apparently anxious not to be seen as "loony Left", took immediate action, with education director Gus John demanding that the governors of Kingsmead suspend Ms Brown while inquiries were made, saying there was "prima-facie evidence of gross misconduct". This related both to the tickets incident and allegations of irregularities surrounding her appointment as head in 1992.

Mr John wanted to know whether there was a conflict of interest after claims of a relationship between Ms Brown and the then chair of governors, Ms Nicki Thorogood, at the time when the appointment was made.

The governors refused to suspend their headteacher and the inquiry dragged on for 18 months.

Meanwhile, a new education chair for the borough was appointed, the school - once "at risk" - got a glowing Office for Standards in Education report this spring, and its barrister and a QC advised this month that the inquiry should be concluded since it could go no further.

In an attempt to keep the matter low-key, only the overall conclusions have been made public, namely that the allegations against Ms Brown were not substantiated. The panel is understood to have found that her action on the tickets was in line with the council's equal opportunities policy and could not substantiate claims of a relationship with Ms Thorogood before her appointment. The council is not commenting on the report until it has had time to consider it.

An education committee meeting last week has also appeared to confuse events over the proposed closure of Hackney Downs School. Councillors voted for closure on March 21, and the final decision is awaited from Education Secretary Gillian Shephard. However, last week councillors voted not to reaffirm their decision or to send relevant paperwork to the Department for Education.

Council leader Nick Tallentire says the original decision still stands, because councillors did not vote to change it. This view is challenged by the Hackney Teachers' Association, which is seeking legal advice.

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