Primary school's entire governing body forced to resign after spending 6,000 of public funds on headteacher's farewell BBQ
Governing body resigned over 'financial irregularity' relating to the partyVicar Rev Brian Stephen Senior among ten governors who stepped downSurprise party marked end of Keith Marden's 25-year tenure as head



18:21 GMT, 14 December 2012


Keith Marden

Farewell: Headteacher Keith Marden said he had nothing to do with the organising of his farewell party that cost 6,000

The entire governing body of a poorly performing school that blew 6,000 of its budget on a headteacher's leaving party has resigned over 'financial irregularity'.

Parents and politicians condemned the decision to use money from the ailing budget at Sherwood Park Community Primary School in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, on the summer send-off for Keith Marden.

The school had been given a highly critical Ofsted report and placed in special measures just a month before Mr Marden retired in July.

The secret of the party payout only emerged earlier this week when Kent County Council, the local education authority, said the entire governing body, made up of ten members of the community, had resigned over what it called 'financial irregularity' relating to the party.

Reverend Brian Stephen Senior, vicar of St Philip's Church, Tunbridge, was among the ten governors who stepped down. He was unavailable for comment.

This year he had served as chairman of the board of governors and was involved in putting together a bid for academy status and holding informal talks with potential sponsors.

The surprise celebration, held to mark the end of Mr Marden's 25-year tenure as head, took place at the school and is thought to have included a barbecue and a band, as well as, according to one senior councillor, 'quite a lot of drink'.

Sherwood Park is now run by a head teacher with experience of leading schools in deprived areas of London and is set to be turned into an academy next month.

The revelation of the party prompted blistering criticism from the county councillor for Sherwood, James Tansley, who said a meeting was held on December 9th to encourage the resignation of the governors.

He said: 'This was a very ill-judged decision by the governors of the school for this amount of expenditure and I think the steps which are being taken to redress the position are right.

'I think, particularly in these times, a misuse of public funds for the benefit of public servants is unjustifiable.

'It's a lesson for all schools and public bodies that money should be spent on front line services rather than celebrations.'

Mr Tansley, a former Foreign Office worker, compared the party to the 2007 Lord Levy scandal, which saw a 6,000 retirement party thrown to mark his nine years of service as Tony Blair's personal envoy in the Middle East.

He added: 'Having been a public servant for 25 years it strikes me as very high. Lord Levy is the only instance I can think of which compares to this, and I think the concern was of similar size.

'Given the budgetary problems at the school, I don't think it was justifiable, so I fully understand the decision for the governors to step down.

'I don't object to people paying for it privately or even a small amount of public funds, but I think 6,000 does show a significant misjudgement.

'Keith Marden had been the head teacher there for many years and it was right to mark his departure but I think you have to look at what's proportionate.

Sherwood Park

Poorly performing: The school had been given a highly critical Ofsted report and placed in special measures just a month before Mr Marden retired in July

'I think a band was hired, there was quite a lot of drink, and the budget was quite high.'

The council said the entire governing body had stepped down but Mr Tansley said he understood one governor had remained.

Reverend Brian Senior, the chair of governors, said he was 'unsure' whether he was still in his role.

Parents were stunned to hear news of the party's cost.

Felicity Woodcraft, 24, said: 'I think it's atrocious – that's money taken away from children which should've been used for books. It's excessive.'

Laura Lucas, who has two children at the school and one in the nursery, said: 'It should not be spent like that, I don't agree with that.

'The school needs a lot of money spent on it. It could do with a makeover and some refurbishment rather than spending money on a party.'

Mr Marden distanced himself from the issue, saying: 'It was a surprise party and it was wonderful, and I'm no longer at Sherwood Park.

'I had nothing to do with it. Governors arranged the surprise party for me.”

Patrick Leeson, corporate director for education, learning and skills at Kent County Council, said: 'The county council has a responsibility to make sure that local authority schools, such as Sherwood Park, are well-governed.

'This includes accountability for the public funds which are delegated to them.

'The governing body has decided to resign as a result of financial irregularity.

'The matter has been resolved. The council is now working quickly to appoint a re-constituted governing body, which is expected to have oversight of the school for the remainder of the academic year.'