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Letter reveals legal threat in Scilly Isles school row

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: July 31, 2012

Five Islands School

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Governors at the only secondary school on the Isles of Scilly threatened legal action against their local council in an angry war of words.

According to a confidential document leaked to the Western Morning News, governors fired a volley of accusations at the authority over the treatment of the school's head teacher, Bryce Wilby, who was suspended and then quit.

The unprecedented action, which has now been withdrawn, accuses the Council of the Isles of Scilly of massively overstepping its powers.

The authority has responded saying the letter was a "premature and unhelpful act" but stressed it was now water under the bridge as relations have been repaired under a new leadership of the governors. However, the very fact that solicitors were involved at all will raise uncomfortable questions.

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A number of serious concerns are aired in the leaked seven-page letter dated June 22 and addressed to the Council of the Isles of Scilly's legal representative.

It says that the governing body attended an emergency meeting with a council director on May 18, where they were told 49 staff of the Five Islands School had signed a vote of no confidence in their head teacher. Governors were also informed that a "routine audit" had taken place.

The letter says the head teacher's suspension was "demanded" and the governors believed failing to comply would result in the school being taken over.

It says: "The governing body was effectively ambushed at this meeting and felt threatened with incorrect and misleading information" with regards to procedures.

It goes on to say: "The governing body feel that the council and Cornwall Council [whose audit team were instructed to investigate] have throughout this period sought to undermine the authority of the governing body and to wrongfully usurp their role."

More than a dozen points are listed were governors felt the Council of the Isles of Scilly "acted wrongfully".

The letter concludes with the threat that failure to provide the specified remedy "may result in our client taking formal action".

Peter Lawrence Roberts, director of finance and resources at the island council, said the authority had "serious concerns" and therefore "little choice but to respond in the way it did". He said the council's view had not been sought beforehand, adding: "The letter was therefore seen by the council as a premature and unhelpful act on the part of some members of the governing body and we are delighted that the new chair and vice-chair of governors have confirmed to us in writing that we are not expected to respond to it, thereby effectively setting the letter aside."

Mr Lawrence Roberts rejected the allegation that relations had been hostile, adding that, while the current situation was "difficult", they continued to work well "with the majority of governors".

He added that the council had always acted properly, saying: "The council does not accept that it has acted beyond its powers. It always acted following appropriate legal and professional advice."

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