Claims of financial foulplay and counter claims of a council witch-hunt threaten to divide residents on the Isles of Scilly. The islands, home to 2,000 people, are seething with allegations, claims and rumours over alleged financial irregularities at Scilly’s single school and pornographic images alleged to have been found on a computer used by the headteacher. This is from the Guardian…
With lovely sandy beaches, turquoise water and an easy pace of life, the Isles of Scilly may seem like the perfect place to live and work. But all is not well in this slice of paradise 30 miles off the south-west of mainland Britain.
Stroll around the islands and you hear furious rows about whether the school should become an academy and hushed conversations about the suspension and subsequent resignation of the headteacher, Bryce Wilby. Digging a little deeper unearths widespread concerns that he may have been unfairly driven away by the all-powerful council of the Isles of Scilly.
It is a complicated story. Wilby began work at the 250-pupil Five Islands school in 2008. The job is a unique challenge. Though the main school building is on the biggest island, St Mary’s, there are also bases on the “off islands” of Tresco, St Agnes and St Martins.
Wilby oversaw construction of a new building on St Mary’s, which opened last year and has been judged a huge success, but also set about reforming how the other bases worked. That was not popular with all staff. He also began investigating if the school ought to apply for academy status, believing money could be saved if funds went straight to the school rather than being channelled through the council as happens now.
In early summer, just after returning to the islands from a meeting about academy status, Wilby was suspended from his post. The council announced a routine audit had found “apparent financial irregularities”.
Not all accepted the council’s handling of the matter, believing it – rather than the school’s governing body – was behind Wilby’s suspension.
Public meetings were called and a group called Heart (Honesty, Ethics, Accountability, Respect and Transparency) was set up to challenge the council. Separately, a petition was started expressing no confidence in Philip Hygate, the council’s long-serving chief executive.
Both Tim Thornton, the Bishop of Truro, and Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat MP whose constituency includes Scilly, have asked the Department for Education (DfE) to investigate the toxic saga. George has spoken to the education secretary, Michael Gove, about the crisis while Thornton says there is so much “distrust” on the islands that an independent investigation is needed.
Mike Hicks, chairman of the council, admitted Scilly was in a “dark place” and enduring a “torrid” period in their proud history. “The islands have divided over what’s happened,” he said. “We’re having a tough time.”
Hicks accepted that many islanders believe the headteacher was the victim of a witch-hunt because of changes he wanted to bring in that would have given the school more independence from the council. “There’s a lot of blame being placed on the council. It is a mess, no doubt about it,” said Hicks.
Louise Graham of Heart believes Wilby was treated very unfairly. “What we’ve discovered is a lot of fear on the islands about how things operate here. There’s a feeling that if you keep your head down you’ll be all right. If you stand up against the council you can get into trouble.”
Concern grew when a leaked email suggested the council had taken outside advice on how to suspend a head before the governors knew of the allegations.