'Kangaroo court' under spotlight

2nd May 1997 at 01:00
Charity commissioners attack the national PTA body for dismissing two trustees. Clare Dean reports. A Charity Commission investigation into the running of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations is understood to have described the process by which two of the organisation's trustees were removed from its national executive as a "kangaroo court".

The 40-year-old organisation, which stages its annual conference this weekend, has been under the spotlight for the past two months, with investigators interviewing staff and trustees and visiting its Gravesend headquarters.

Charity commissioners were called in after Sean Rogers, who was due to take over as chairman next month, and Sandi Marshall, a trustee, claimed the NCPTA was not fulfilling its objectives or giving value for money.

The two were removed from the national executive after a five-hour meeting in London last November.

A full report on the investigation is expected next month and the commission will not comment this week on details of the inquiry.

It is understood, however, that they felt the meeting that decided to remove Mr Rogers and Ms Marshall from the national executive resembled a "kangaroo court".

They were, allegedly, also concerned that Ian Price, the national chairman, acted as prosecutor and chairman at the hearing, and felt it was irregular to allow staff and their union representative to sit in on it.

The removal of the two trustees is likely to come up for discussion in the private annual general meeting session of the conference on Sunday. The NCPTA has 12,000 members but only 40 are expected to attend the conference.

Mr Rogers will be attending the conference in Liverpool as a delegate for a member school and will be calling for the resignation of the chairman, three officials and eight trustees.

One trustee has already resigned, allegedly because of the dispute between Mr Rogers, Ms Marshall and the national executive.

Ms Marshall has yet to decide whether to attend the conference. "I am not very keen but I don't want people to take my name in vain without being there to defend myself," he said.

The NCPTA, originally founded to promote the relationship between parents and schools, has been riven by battles between staff and trustees over who runs the organisation.

Last year, Michael Pepper, a former Benefits Agency project leader who was appointed as its chief executive, left after just three months.

Six years ago, Phil Woods, its general manager, was dismissed after a weekend meeting of the NCPTA's executive committee.

In January, auditors for the troubled organisation voiced concern at a further increase in the NCPTA's reserves which now stand at more than Pounds 1 million.

King and Taylor, chartered accountants and registered auditors, also questioned the practice of sending out blank cheques.

The chairman's report to the annual meeting describes the past 12 months as "a challenging year for the NCPTA".

Mr Price said the phrase "kangaroo court" had not been used by the national executive, but the Charity Commission said that it (the hearing) resembled a kangaroo court.

"I find it difficult to describe that meeting, which started at 10.30am and finished at 5pm, as a kangaroo court.

"A kangaroo court is one that has reached a decision in advance, doesn't give people an opportunity to defend themselves and comes to a summary decision. That's not how I recollect the hearing in November."

There is no candidate to take over as NCPTA chair. Mr Price says he will not be standing and is planning to leave the organisation after serving his term as immediate past chairman.

"I have found this year extremely depressing, and I will certainly not be maintaining my contact with the organisation for very much longer."

Margaret Morrissey, press officer and past chairman, said she was suffering from stress-related asthma and ill health and asked members to give her their support.

"There will be much to do in the coming years," she said. "I hope you will stand behind me and support me as you know I support you, your children and your school in our battle for a well-funded partnership in education."

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