Thursday, 31 July 2014

How to Hijack a School…

…as taught at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School

To those of you who have not yet heard, and that assumes that you read neither the Hamodia nor the Jewish Tribune, the voluntary-aided Yesodey Hatorah Senior School (YHS) has just appointed a new head teacher. She goes by Rivky Weinberg, but don't be fooled by her surname. Her maiden name was Pinter, daughter of Avrohom/Abraham Pinter, and that is the story that concerns us here.

This appointment is rotten at so many levels, so brazenly bent, so beggaring belief, so cynically contemptuous of staff, parents, pupils and the entire community, so disregardful of any modicum of propriety that it is difficult to know even where to start. But start we must and as the mishna teaches us, it’s not your job to complete the task but that isn't an excuse not to have a go.

Head teacher age

Let us begin with what is certain about Weinberg, which is her age. Wienberg is 33 years old and this makes her one of the youngest head teachers in the UK. In fact, as the table above shows (see Table 4), she may well be the very youngest head teacher in England!

So what are those exceptional qualities that have earned her this appointment at such a young and tender age? And what is so unique about her that she had to be brought over from Israel after a search that apparently spanned more than half the globe? Well, if we know little of her supposed experience it is not for lack of opportunity. Unlike other head-teacher appointments to frum schools up and down the country, Hamodia saw fit to dedicate a third of a page to this appointment but mentioned not a single qualification. It talks about her 'wealth of relevant experience' but remains vague on the details. Likewise, a letter was posted to parents notifying them of the appointment but with a similar lack of detail.

Another certainty is that she has little recent teaching experience in this country because she has been living abroad for the last few years. As far as anyone can remember, when she was living here about 10 years ago she worked at the Hamodia where daddy of course is an 'adviser' and which explains the hyperbolic announcement of her appointment. The grapevine further suggests that until very recently she's been the co-author of the popular Hamodia household-tips column, 'That's an Idea', where she went under the name of R. Vine. Whether advice on how to get chrein stains out of your husband's shirt qualifies one as a head-teacher is anyone's guess but apparently the YHS appointment panel think it does and I am in no position to argue.

So without the years, without apparent qualifications and with some vague experience only, what else might be behind her appointment? I shan't keep you guessing and considering how the vacancy arose may give us some clue. In March of this year the former head teacher of the school, Mrs Gitty (Rachel) Pinter, passed away. She was the wife of the Principal of YHS, Avrohom Pinter, and she was head teacher since about the 1970s when YHS was still a private school. It was following her passing that it fell to the governing body to appoint a new head teacher which they have now done.

And this is the point I am getting to. Rivky Weinberg has been appointed as head teacher for one reason only: because she is lucky enough to be daddy's girl and daddy believes he can get away with it. Her qualification is being her mother's and father's daughter and her experience consists of having them as parents for some 30 odd years. I haven't made this up and the governors have themselves said so. "As a daughter of Mrs Pinter she has a deep understanding of" yada yada yada.

Let me say that I'm prepared to believe that Weinberg's appointment is perfectly within the law. This school that denies its pupils anything from qualified and experienced teachers, a comprehensive curriculum, a broad range of school trips and even school meals, will gladly splash out generously on legal advice whenever its carefully constructed façade of lies and misinformation is under threat. You can therefore rest assured that they've covered themselves from every angle with the best advice that money can buy. But what neither lawyers nor ingeniuous household tips can do is remove the stench and boy does this stink.

YHS head ad, relocation

In the four-and-a-half months of the vacancy there were perhaps only 6 adverts with relatively few details of the job description, they contained no requirements for qualifications and in some of the adverts there was not even mention of experience. The ads repeatedly stated the availability of relocation costs as if it was a foregone conclusion that the candidate will have to be headhunted from abroad, though pinpointed is probably more apt. But if you had any doubt what it was that really mattered, every single advert mentioned the fact that Mrs Pinter had passed away. And if you still were not sure where they expected the candidate to come from, they mentioned a salary of about £90,000 per annum and salaries of that size go to one family only.

What an insult to our entire community. London is simply too intellectually and spiritually impoverished to provide a head-teacher to this academic powerhouse of barely 300 girls which spends almost as much time censoring their books as teaching them. Tens of schools up and down the country, some of them as frum as YHS and frummer, manage with mature local talent who have deservedly earned their positions, but this particular school that denies its pupils anything it does not have to provide will splash out on an unqualified 30-something for this senior post simply because she is a Pinter specimen. What contempt for their long-standing and qualified senior staff that a young nipper of a Pinter with little experience will be lording over them. What callous disregard for the welfare and education of hundreds of girls by appointing a head-teacher with so little to show for. And what rank hypocrisy of its Principal, Pinter himself, who has the effrontery to hold himself out as an authority on education.

This is the Yesodey Hatorah that boasts how it has been educating local children for some 70 years yet only one single family must provide almost all its senior staff. This is a school that spends only 75% of its overall budget, and of that less than half is spent directly on its pupils, yet pays its Pinter staff in the upper level of the bands even while it reduces pupil numbers. This is the school that despite its low numbers requires a full time Principal and Head Teacher and who if they are not husband and wife must be father and daughter.

YHS head ad, 90kAnd they may have a point. Considering that the majority of the teaching staff are gaggling unqualified teenagers who themselves left the school barely a couple of years ago, an unqualified head teacher just slightly older may be a perfect fit. The only difference, however, is that while the unqualified 18-year old GCSE teachers are dumped in front of a class of 16 year olds and paid next to the minimum wage for the honour, the unqualified head has been imported despite having little to declare but yet she will be paid, if the advert is anything to go by, around £90,000 p.a. without ever having to give a class in her lifetime. Because at YHS Principals and Head Teachers are for welcoming VIPs and solemnly roaming the corridors but that little pesky thing known as teaching is way below them.

Mins, Effect of Principal on app of HT

Hiring teenage teachers and discarding of them a couple of years later carries with it other perks too. It assures that there are few staff to aspire to or challenge the ruling family for any of the top jobs. And anyway who would even want to apply with that lot breathing down your neck. At the meeting when Pinter was considered as Principal, and at which a representative of Hackney Learning Trust was present, the problem with a future head-teacher appointment was discussed. And now it has come to pass.

This is how Pinter was eased in as Principal while his late wife was crowned Head, this is how another daughter was parachuted in as Senco and a panoply of daughters, daughters in law and nieces as teachers and now this latest arrival is to be anointed head teacher. That cynicism can stoop to this level requires a fair bit of experience and this she has seen at close quarters in abundance.

Let's not trouble the Chair of Governors in whose name this fiasco is being carried out, a certain Mr Theo Bibelman. As one of the chief communal undertakers he is the perfect candidate for covering up the rotting carcass he presides over. But let's spare the poor man for the moment as he recuperates from a search for a head teacher that 'stretched across three continents'. No doubt that was Africa, South America and Oceania and even there he must have lost his spectacles if all he could find for the job is a former authority on how to remove chometz crumbs from fridge shelves.

A week before the announcement of Weinberg's appointment, at the school's graduation ceremony and speech day, a letter from Bibelman was read out on his behalf. He couldn't deign show up in person for some silly 16 year old girlies just like not a single governor showed their shameful faces either. Not even the Principal, Pinter, on his fat wage, who otherwise pops up for the opening of a lemonade bottle,  graced the event with his appearance. Yet Weinberg was in the audience. Nevertheless, Bibelman's letter informed mothers that the governors were still in the process of appointing a head-teacher. Still in the process, yeah, of course they were. And how many of the other candidates were in attendance?

But still you think I'm biased and Pinter, aided and abetted by his cronies and stooges, hasn't quite hijacked the school, Weinberg's appointment is down to her incredible precociousness, the many family members in senior positions pure coincidence and otherwise everything is run strictly on merit. So perhaps explain why Pinter has a job at all. He does not spend too much time at the school, he never addresses pupils and appears neither at the start nor at the end of year ceremonies. The only time he is guaranteed to show up is on one of his VIP invitee visits when naturally there are cameras in tow. Yet he draws a full time wage despite the fact that he is both principal of his private schools and dean of his private seminary. A man of many talents, no doubt, and generously funded by the taxpayer.

And he isn't just any principal. With a bunch of do-nothing governors, he is the one who fulfils their duties too. He sees to admissions, to employment, to maintenance, to cheque signing, to external relations and to wherever he can stick a finger in so long that it consolidates his control. But as a governor he wouldn't earn a salary and so Principal suits him just fine especially when he has all the governors and trustees in his pocket.

Sem proposals

But still it's my bias. So consider how Pinter and his Head-teacher wife have been allocated space in the school to set up their own private, fee-paying seminary (6th form), Be'er Miriam, and for which they pay no rent. To make this space available the school reduced the available numbers of pupils thus reducing the ‘problem’ of overcapacity (see excerpt from the minutes above). And yet despite the reduced numbers the Head Teacher's salary kept on rising until it now stands at about £90,000 p.a. And now it is YHS girls who've been thrown to the wolves by being rejected from this very same seminary by a faceless, nameless panel who won't even give you a reason other than 'you don't fit in'.

Mins, hall hire, principal

But that is also not enough. It is Pinter who was responsible for negotiating the wedding hall contract (see above) by which hard-pressed parents and communal organisations are ripped off to the tune of about £2,500+ per event. The contract is between YHS and Simchas Nisuin which is an arm of the UOHC. Pinter is a trustee of UOHC, Lobenstein was chair of governors of YHS at the time and deputy president of UOHC and there was other crossover between members of both organisations but no one declared any interest. Which is how these two communal organisations have effectively conspired to rob us, the community, blind. And all within the law, no doubt.

YHS Trust, contact

Let us make no pretences. This entire process is rigged. The trust which controls the school has a minimal number of 3 trustees, each a long-established Pinter stooge, with the contact none other than Pinter himself at his home address. They in turn appoint a governing body of yet more stooges and cronies who rarely speak up at meetings, on those rare occasions that they bother turning up, who are happy to delegate anything and everything to the Principal, who in his benevolence is happy to take almost everything on. The governing body in its turn elects a chair, previously Joe Lobenstein and now Bibelman, both undertakers of impeccable credentials and each happier than the other to rubber-stamp all that suits the Dear Principal & Co's agenda.

And now for his troubles they have presented Pinter with the ultimate prize by crowning his daughter head teacher and with a masterstroke guaranteeing the succession for the next generation. As a member of one of the school bodies said to a complaining parent: "I know terrible things have been done under this phrase but I am really only following orders." Says it all, really.

But it is not just the governors and trustees who are to blame. The blame must be shared with the Hackney Learning Trust who know exactly what is going on but are too frightened to take Pinter on. With the JC and other newspapers who will quote Pinter incessantly on almost anything but will never try to pierce the veil that shrouds his organisations. With the Jonathan Freedlands and the Lord Glasmans and the bobbies and the machers and the shvitzers who will all come dancing to the Pinter soirees, sip his chareidi kool-aid to show the world how wonderfully inclusive they are but will not raise as much as an eyebrow at his shenanigans. How come he and his family occupy so many positions and how come he has a full time role as principal and yet can be all over town as soon as a lens pops up?

Then there are the organisations like NAJOS, Agudas Yisroel Housing, the London Jewish Forum, adoption agencies, health forums and a multitude of others who will give Pinter seats on their boards and consult with him despite the fact that he will allow no one of any independence anywhere close to his. On top of that there is our fawning media, renowned for its openness and fidelity to truth, who can always be relied on to do his bidding. Instead of thundering headlines at YHS's undisguised contempt these papers will display his picture almost weekly and report extensively on the crowning of his daughter without even a murmur of disgust.

And last but not least is us. Whether we are frightened, suffering from a severe bout of Stockholm Syndrome, or worst of all, apathetic, this could not happen if at some level we did not will it. Like some kind of Candide we have been led to believe that however bad things are it's still the best possible outcome and if not for the blue blood of that family we'd be even worse off.

The plain truth is that we are sheep and for that we deserve nothing better than the wolves we have snarling over us. Bibelman was quoted as saying what a proud appointment this is for YHS. It is not. It is a shameful appointment by a shameless governing body for a shamed community.

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