Mystery surrounds headteacher's absence in row over management of Sheffield school

Wendy Wheldon, pictured here with Dr David Owen, was last year named best primary headteacher at The Star's Best in Education Awards
Wendy Wheldon, pictured here with Dr David Owen, was last year named best primary headteacher at The Star's Best in Education Awards
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The entire governing body has been replaced and mystery surrounds the headteacher's absence amid a row over the management of a thriving Sheffield school.

Greengate Lane Academy, in High Green, last August joined Astrea Academy Trust (then known as Reach4), in a move approved by the primary school's governing body.

Greengate Lane Academy is rated 'good' by Ofsted

Greengate Lane Academy is rated 'good' by Ofsted

But governors subsequently raised concerns about the trust 'taking' money from the school's surplus, and Astrea has now disbanded the local governing body and replaced it with a 'transition management board' led by the trust's 'director of inclusion'.

Executive headteacher Wendy Wheldon, who is widely credited with transforming the school's fortunes, went off sick earlier this year and has yet to return.

The trust has said her continuing absence is down to 'personal and professional reasons' and she will not return in the 'near future'.

Greengate Lane was rated 'good' by Ofsted in 2014 and was last year among Sheffield's best-performing schools in the SAT exams, despite being in one of the city's most deprived neighbourhoods.

One of the parent governors to be dismissed said: "We've been a jewel in Sheffield's crown but the school's already imploding within six months (of joining Astrea). Staff have left and the headteacher, who's never had a sick day before, is off sick."

The former governor, who asked not to be named, added that she and fellow governors had inquired - before being 'sacked' - about the possibility of the school leaving the trust due to their concerns. She said they were told this was not possible.

Astrea, which runs 15 other schools across Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham, has assured parents their children remain in safe hands and the changes it has implemented are not unusual. It says a recent internal inspection showed the school was 'good' with outstanding features'.

Regarding Greengate Lane's surplus, the educational charity said it has one budget for all its schools and it would be 'unfair and wrong' to make an exception.

A spokesperson for the trust said: "The decision to introduce a Transition Management Board was done to foster greater collaboration and partnership between Astrea and Greengate Lane.

"The new Chair - Nicola Crossley - who is an experienced former headteacher and Ofsted inspector, has written to parents and staff to invite them to join the new Board and we hope that parents step forward to take up these roles."

The spokesperson continued: "More generally, it is surprising that the Local Governing Body was even discussing leaving the trust – firstly, it is not in the remit of an LGB (local governing body) to make that decision; their formal role is to 'champion the Astrea vision and values in the academy'.

"Secondly, having already left their previous trust, attempting such discussions after just one term of being part of Astrea seems somewhat premature. For our part, we will continue to put the interests of the children at Greengate Lane first in all that we do."

The trust held meetings last Wednesday and Friday to address parents' concerns.

At Wednesday's meeting, representatives from Astrea were bombarded with questions from angry parents, one of whom asked: "My school is down £250,000 according to the headteacher. You tell me where it's gone."

Another parent piped up: "That governing board has just helped this school achieve the best results it's ever achieved. Why did you sack them?"

Greengate Lane was part of Infinity Academies Trust, along with another school in Lincolnshire, before joining Astrea.

The governing body chose to leave that trust as it said the distance between the schools was too great to form a good working partnership.

Announcing the change in a letter to parents at the time, then chair of governors John Brennan wrote: "On a day to day level it will mean little if any change to our ways of working but will provide the school with an influential and exciting future."

Astrea is the trust behind a new school in Burngreave, Astrea Academy Sheffield, which is due to open next year and will have 1,200 pupils aged two to 18.

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