News

Purcell School ‘deletes’ head of music role ‒ the background

- 16 October 2013

Inspirational teaching and musical leadership – Quentin Poole

Inspirational teaching and musical leadership ‒ Quentin Poole

The posts of head of music and deputy head of music at the Purcell School have been abolished in a restructuring of staff announced by the headmaster, David Thomas, and chair of governors, Sir Roger Jackling, just before the start of the autumn term. Oboist and conductor Quentin Poole, who had been on the staff of the school for 25 years, 12 of them as director of music, had been on sick leave since April and has now left the school.

In a letter to parents and staff Sir Roger said that the restructuring had come about as a result of the need to reduce spending significantly in the light of ‘the frozen grant from the [government-funded] Music and Dance Scheme, lower pupil numbers and rising costs’. The senior management team would be reduced from seven to four and the number of managers in the music department would be reduced, with the responsibilities of the head and deputy head of music being shared between the heads of keyboard, strings and brass/wind/percussion, with assistance from other staff. The letter stated that the headmaster’s former experience as a school head of music was also a factor and that it was felt losing administrative posts would be less detrimental to the specialist music education of the school’s pupils than reducing the amount of instrumental tuition provided to them.

The move follows several turbulent years in which the previous headmaster, Peter Crook, left the school suddenly amid accusations regarding his behaviour which were, however, never substantiated. This saga was extensively reported by arts journalist Norman Lebrecht on his Slipped Disc blog (www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc). Deputy head Paul Elliott took over as acting head on the departure of Peter Crook two years ago and David Thomas, who has a music degree from Oxford University and was previously headmaster of Reigate Grammar School, was appointed in the summer of 2012.

Quentin Poole’s departure and the decision to run a specialist music school without a head of music have rekindled impassioned discussion of the regime at the Purcell School between parents, staff, current pupils and alumni on Slipped Disc and elsewhere. Mr Poole was unable to speak to CM and the terms of his presumed redundancy are not known, but the vast majority of blog posts express shock and dismay at his unexpected departure. Many of his former pupils describe him as offering sympathy and integrity when the school was at its lowest ebb under the previous headmaster, and pay tribute to his inspirational teaching and musical leadership. Current pupils wore green ribbons as a gesture of solidarity and Mr Poole’s fellow-oboist Nicholas Daniel, himself a Purcell School alumnus was among many well-known professional musicians who publicly supported him, posting on Facebook: ‘A good school, ESPECIALLY a music school should have a Head of Music. Please support Quentin Poole at Purcell School. Abolishing his position is madness.’

The other four UK specialist music schools ‒ the Yehudi Menuhin School Surrey, Wells Cathedral School, Somerset, Chetham’s School, Manchester and St Mary’s Music School Edinburgh ‒ do all still continue to employ heads of music in addition to their specialist heads of instrumental departments, academic music teachers and visiting instrumental and vocal tutors.

David Thomas had not yet made any statements regarding his strategy for the future development of the Purcell School. However in his letter to parents and staff, which CM has seen, he said that the new management structure is designed to give each head of department more autonomy, and that the changes have been made following a year of consultations with staff, parents and pupils.

Press statement by the Purcell School

Earlier this year, the Governors met to consider the future funding of the school. In the light of the frozen grant from the Music and Dance Scheme, lower pupil numbers and rising costs, they decided that the school must reduce spending significantly by September 2014, to ensure the future of the school. This was explained to all staff at a meeting in February, and to parents by letter.

As a first step, a Voluntary Severance Scheme was made available to all staff, and some savings were achieved. However, this did not reduce costs sufficiently, and as a result the Governors decided that further steps would be necessary. The majority (some 80%) of the school’s costs are in staff, with most of the remainder in fixed costs. The number of options available to the governors was therefore limited. After careful consideration, the following was decided:

1.  That the size of the Senior Management Team would be reduced from seven to four.
2.  That the posts of Director of Music and Assistant Director of Music would no longer exist.

The rationale for these decisions was as follows:
-  In a school of 170 pupils, a senior management team of seven was felt to be excessive and hard to justify. The total cost of the staff involved is over £500,000 – more than 16% of the school’s salary costs.
-  The Music Department contains nine managers, seven of them full-time. Although this has been beneficial to the music life of the school, it was felt that this was luxury that we could no longer afford, again bearing in mind the number of pupils. The experience of the Heads of Keyboard, Strings, and Wind (and of other staff) is such that governors believe them to be capable of directing the musical life of the school without any additional management. The arrival of a new Headmaster who is a former Director of Music was also a factor.

These decisions were made reluctantly, but were felt to be essential to safeguard the future of the school. The governors did consider other cost-saving measures, such as reducing the amount of instrumental tuition provided to students, but felt that these would have a more detrimental impact on the core business of the school, as well as potentially putting our government funding at risk.

This reorganisation of the senior management of the school coincided with some other changes. The following changes will therefore take place from September 2013:
-  Mr Paul Elliott stands down after 25 years as Deputy Head, and becomes Head of German and Drama.
- Mr Quentin Poole will leave the school after 25 years at The Purcell School, 12 of them as Director of Music, following the deletion of the post of Director of Music
- Miss Elizabeth Willan remains Head of Sixth Form and Head of French and Modern Languages, but will no longer be a member of the senior management team.
- Mrs Mary Pitkin moves from being Deputy Head (Pastoral) to a new post as Director of Pupil Welfare, and to be Houseparent of Gardner House, in succession to Mr Andrew Hutchings.
- Mr Edward Longstaff will step down as Assistant Director of Music, but will remain on the staff as a teacher and conductor.

The school has recently appointed two new Deputy Heads, who with the Bursar and the Headmaster will make up the new Leadership Team. They are: Mr James Harding, currently a Housemaster at Bradfield College, and Mrs Christine Rayfield, a music teacher, Housemistress and Head of Year at Trent College.

William Fong (Head of Keyboard), Charles Sewart (Head of Strings) and Kevin Hathway (Head of Wind, Brass, Percussion, Voice and Harp) will together lead and direct the music life of the school, assisted by Mary-Kate Gill (Head of Academic Music), Alison Cox (Head of Composition), Aidan Goetzee (Head of Music Technology), Simon Colam (Head of Jazz), and the staff of the Music Office.

The governors are confident that this new team will be extremely well-equipped to preserve the essence of The Purcell School and to take it forward in the next stage of its development.

The governors would like to express their gratitude to those senior staff who are either leaving or stepping down for their enormous contribution to The Purcell School over many years.

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