Head of music school resigns. No comment.

Head of music school resigns. No comment.


norman lebrecht

October 27, 2011

The head teacher at the Purcell School in Bushey has resigned.

No reason was given. His deputy replaces him. Parents have been informed and a short notice was placed in the local newspaper:

Peter Crook stood down on Tuesday and Paul Elliott was installed by governors as acting headmaster at the Aldenham Road school.

What on earth is going on? No-one’s saying.

It is highly unusual for a head to resign in the middle of term and rumours have begun to circulate. A fuller statement is required from the governors if they don’t want the tabloids to come sniffing the Bushey air.



  • Corrina Connor says:

    As a former employee of the school, I was not surprised by the resignation. However, the problems run far far deeper than the headmaster – about whom malicious and not entirely substantiated rumours have been circulating throughout his tenure. I was employed at the school between 2008-2010 as a practise supervisor, and boarding house assistant. I am not afraid to say that with the exception of a handful of excellent full-time employees (and of course a large number of outstanding visiting instrumental teachers), overall standards at the school are execrable – academically and to an extent musically. This is particularly sad. The deeper problems are covered up by the success of high-profile events, such as the regular performances at Wigmore Hall, and the performances of Purcell School pupils in Young Musician of the Year etc, etc.

    A group of extremely disruptive and unpleasant staff have engaged in a campaign of anonymous letters against Mr Crook, and this same group also behaved abominably and maliciously against any other member of staff whom they deemed to be a ‘crony’ of the headmaster. At one point – within a few months of my arrival at the school when I was far from being a ‘crony’ with anybody – I was the victim of this behaviour and it was extremely distressing. Owing to the constant rumour-milling and intrigue and gossip within the school, there was nobody to whom younger members of staff could turn for help and support.

    The atmosphere during my time at the school was oppressive and negative. The lack of professionalism on the parts of a number of staff members meant that the pupils were told about matters which (although of concern to them) were not appropriate for them to discuss. This seriously undermined standards of behaviour.

    Throughout my time at the school I was gravely concerned by standards of pastoral care, and the complete refusal by senior staff to take notice of the concerns raised junior staff (such as myself) who were at the ‘front line’. These concerns were often related directly to matters of pupil well being. I raised several serious matters with the headmaster and the chairman of the board of governors in early 2010 which were not acted upon. I was astounded by the laissez-faire attitude of the governors and senior staff.

    I believe that with the departure last year of the Head of Boarding/Boys’ Housemaster, Mr Tom Smith and the completion of a new boarding house, many pastoral standards have improved immeasurably, but this is not enough. The School is – and has been – in complete disarray now for several years and the problem goes far deeper than the recently departed headmaster. I have grave concerns about the new regime under Mr Elliott, and little confidence in his ability to make the required changes. The new Headmaster/Headmistress will need to be an extremely strong, dynamic person, not afraid to make difficult decisions. I hope that she/he will, for the sake of the pupils at the school. I firmly believe that nothing will be improved in the short-term without a radical change in procedure and the departure of a number of extremely malignant and unprofessional staff members.

    Unlike many of these people, I am not afraid or ashamed to attach my name to my comments about the school.

    • hector moss says:

      i think you should do a little research into Mr Elliott, his time at the school has been substantially more than yours, he has worked there and devoted his life to that place for as long as you’ve been alive so i should think twice before you slating such a valuable and precious member of the Purcell community.

    • Current Student says:

      Mr Elliott has been an astounding stand in headmaster and all the students have absolute faith in what he is doing. He seems dedicated to returning the school to its glory days of creative and academic high-standards, when students and teachers enjoyed a healthy relationship. It is unfair of you to impose your unfounded ‘grave concerns’ on his headmaster abilities, especially as he is a ‘strong, dynamic person, not afraid to make difficult decisions’. He has been a member of staff at the Purcell School for 30 years, but has maintained his position as an inspiring teacher, who has continued to gain high exam-results from his students each year, whilst dedicating a lot of his time to extra-curricular activities for the students: the school-play, frequent opera visits, theatre trips etc.
      There is no doubt that he will improve the school, and so far the atmosphere has blossomed into what it should be. People are working hard, academically and musically, because they now understand the value of their place at the school, because now they have a headmaster who appreciates the school and wants to make decisions in its own interests.

      If there is anyone who understands how to run the school then it is him, and he deserves as much support from past and present students and teachers alike.

    • Current year 10 pupil says:

      dum dum dumaaaa

  • Corrina Connor says:

    PS: If, of course, there should emerge proven evidence of the Headmaster’s misconduct, I will accept this, but I stand by all my other comments, particularly with regard to the behaviour of many other staff members which I also consider to be in breach of normal standards of professional conduct.

    • One thing is certain, with Purcell’s yearly tuition of 29,577 Pounds ($47,698) the parents might expect to not have such confusion arising at all.

    • Hector Moss says:

      As a former student of the purcell school i have experienced first hand this ‘misconduct’ you speak of. I studied there for 7 years and the majority of the teachers were fantastic. Low exam results where due to the stagnant and terminal atmosphere the school had when i left. My brother is currently studying there and he along with many other people, staff and students alike say that it is like a breath of fresh air with the departure of peter crook. The breach of normal standards of professional conduct u speak off, if such standards were breached then you must look at the situation; it was not a normal situation. I think the school has had enough damage done to it in recent years it does not need further slating of its staff and management anymore.

  • Bella Bellini says:

    Dearie me! If as a parent I’d forked out nearly £30K p.a., & – after seven years’ tuition – my son wrote so atrociously, I’d know it was wasted money. I sugggest an immediate ‘new broom’ for the English Department: the employment of someone who understands grammar & who can impart this to the pupils.

    • Current Student says:

      Bella Bellini, I think it’s very prejudgmental of you to make such a sweeping statement when you have no former knowledge of the pupil. Hector is dyslexic, amongst many other students. Speaking as one myself, the school provides a far better education for us than any other school I’ve come across. Think before you type.

    • anonymous Parent says:

      Yes but do you have a talented musical child? maybe not great English…..but hes a great Violinst! Well said Hector……

  • Hector Moss says:

    Excuse me, who are you Bella Bellini?

  • Liam Heath says:

    As anotha ex-pupil of the Skool, I had 2 rite in support of Hek2or, and say u can stuff it up ur ass ‘bella bellini’. We had tha best englesh teacher in da hole country in andrew leverton, and hector can play a mean violin. And mr eliot iz da best.

    Plus, if you don’t even have the courage to display your real name, naff off.

  • Liam Heath says:

    As anotha ex-pupil of the Skool, I had 2 rite in support of Hek2or, and say u can stuff it ‘bella bellini’. We had tha best englesh teacher in da hole country in andrew leverton, and hector can play a mean violin. And mr eliot iz da best.

    Plus, if you don’t even have the courage to display your real name and you’re only here to insult a student, naff off.

  • Past Student says:

    Mr Elliott is a highly intelligent, wonderfully kind and fair man, who deserves your respect Corrina Connor. Tell us, what did you ever bring to the Purcell School of Music? From my memory you were a bully who threw out her own insecurities onto young children. Please explain how you find it acceptable for you to pass such cruel, not to mention incorrect judgement upon such a man when you are arguably no better than Peter Crook himself?

    • anonymous Parent says:

      Totally correct…….!!

    • Selina Stagg says:

      For any parent considering sending their child to the Purcell School, my answer would be – YES! Please do. There are so many reasons why this is a very sensible idea indeed.

      In the next year or so, I can guarantee that you will see this wonderful, unique school going from strength to strength, with Mr Elliott at the helm, and Mr Poole nurturing and developing the different strands of the Music Department. It’s going to be a very exciting time indeed, and your children can be a part of it.

      All the wonderful things which happen every day at the Purcell School – the fine teaching, the academic staff who are so caring and hardworking, the instrumental teachers who bring out the very best in their students, the pupils themselves who are amazingly talented, who look after each other so carefully and sensitively, who support their communities, who throw themselves into outreach work and community events with such enthusiasm – all these lovely things which happen regularly at the Purcell School are seldom reported in the national press. I should, however, like to congratulate the excellent Watford Observer, which always makes an effort to celebrate the achievements of young people, and has often covered events at The Purcell School.

      We have heard a huge amount about unfortunate incidents and allegations, many of which are deeply upsetting to the people who are trying to teach and study at the school, but which are not unusual in the wolrd of education. I should like to challenge any school with a long distinguished tradition, such as the Purcell School to claim that it has never at any time in its history suffered from weak decision-making or leadership. These issues have recently been a problem at Purcell – and steps have been taken to put them right. The school is not out of the woods yet, but things feel a LOT better already!

      Thank you to everyone who cares about the school. New pupils will be very happy and very welcome. Believe me, because I understand the school, love it and know this for certain.

  • Past Teacher says:

    Corrina Conner is correct in what she says about the Purcell school. The school uses prize and competition success to paper over an appalling internal atmosphere between managerial staff and the rest of the school. There is the most abject failure in the music department in its pastoral care for students. What you have is a talent auction with the full time managerial staff getting the kicks from students who are much more talented than they are, and neglect and removal for the others not so talented.

    While I was at the school two senior academic staff resigned posting open letters on the staff notice board saying how horrible the atmosphere was. This is in a staff room which is mostly empty at break time – no one wants to be seen talking together!

    Peter Crook wont be missed by the instrumental teachers who he called peripatetics. A quick look at the staff’s CV’s will show what a calculated insult (or just stupidity) it was to call Senior University Professors and Principal players of London and Regional Orchestras that. He just had no respect for the people who were a success in the stated main teaching aims of the school of which he was the headmaster.

    Lastly, why did Peter Crook resign. My understanding is he sacked Ian McMillan, partner of the Head of Music Quentin Poole. Hmmmmmmm.

  • Martin Bartlett Current Pupil says:

    Well lets clear a few things up, I am extremely confident in Mr Elliots abilities as Headmaster. I trust him entirely to do the best for our education, as he has been here for at least thirty years! He has poured his heart and soul into the school, and has been deputy head for a long period of time. Corrina Connor, I can clearly remember you as a practice supervisor and am extremely upset and insulted by your comments! I have an idea, instead of rubbing salt into the wounds, why don’t you forget about your short-lived time at the school and leave it! This only causes conflict.

    • current pupil in final year says:

      I agree with Martin Bartlett, this is my seventh and final year in The Purcell School and Mr. Elliott has always been exceptional in his position as Deputy Head. After Peter Crook’s departure, the morale of the school and the work ethic has continued to thrive under Mr. Elliott. It is rather unfair to criticise someone with an impeccable 30 year teaching career at this school who consistently strives to improve the school year on year.

  • Current year 10 pupil says:

    Spelling correction:
    Can I just clear one thing up? I cannot believe there is anyone out there who has been at this school and can criticize the amazing atmosphere here. Yes there might be some teachers or members of staff that are incompetent or unpopular but if you can find a school where this is not the case I will open my wardrobe and eat all my clothes inside it. You say the atmosphere was oppressive. Yes it was. I agree totally. Just it wasn’t oppressive towards mister crook but towards us! he students who were under peter crook’s command and had to obey his stupid and pointless new rules and regulations. And tell me miss corinna connor, how can anyone be professional if there is the most unprofessional rubbish pillock on the heads seat.

    • Anyone who has concerns about the Purcell School should come and visit us. You will meet wonderful inspirational teachers and pupils. Mr Lebrecht, you really should come and take a look for yourself. Emails blogs, etc can be misleading and damaging, and could undermine the fine work that is going on at the Purcell School

  • Ex Purcellian says:

    Mr Elliott joined Purcell when I was at the school and was one of the teachers that upped the standard of education considerably. He was kind, fair and threw himself into all aspects of the school – good singer as well if I remember. From everything I’ve heard since I left, he is still an amazing asset to the school and will sort this latest blip out, no problem. He should have been Head years ago anyway 😉

  • Current parent (6 years) says:

    From a longstanding parent’s perspective:

    Although I can’t comment on the staff details as I am not immersed as a member of staff, it is true that staff issues at this school have been difficult for many years – there has been a huge hole where strong, positive headship and organisation should have been. It is a monumental job to run an academic school where the results are generally very good AND a top-level specialist music school AND a good boarding school where gifted pupils come from all over the world. I am unsure how such a complex working situation can thrive without astounding leadership and I am not surprised there were difficulties amongst the staff when good leadership was missing. I suspect the departure of Peter Crook in itself will be the single most helpful unifying element for the five+ years I’ve been a parent here.

    I have a great deal of respect for Paul Elliott and his ability to take the school forward in this post Peter-Crook era whilst we await a new head. Paul has a fabulous record at the school and has always responded sensitively to concerns. In the month since he was appointed Acting Head he has already made changes which are a breath of fresh air, changes which are extremely welcome to parents and pupils alike. I’m sure I speak for many parents in saying he has my wholehearted and enthusiastic support. I know for certain the pupils are RIGHT BEHIND HIM and are enthusiastic about the future.

    Ms Connor, whilst I agree with the issues of historical staff discord, and poor pastoral care, I am saddened to read what you say as it seems such a limited, bitter and personal view of the issues the school faces – it also seems to ignore some of the major issues entirely. This is a pity as you could have offered a helpful personal perspective as to how to take the school forward – your intent seems to damage rather than support. I find myself wondering why.

    Anyone who heard the full recorded tape of the ‘lesson’ which took place at Peter Crooks house at 9pm one night cannot help but be profoundly disturbed by its contents. Parents who heard this were distressed and deeply worried. Somehow, I know not how, the matter was not carried forward as it should have been. A head of governors, since resigned, sent letters to parents which were (in my opinion) extremely manipulative of the situation in the head’s favour. Most parents were unable to do anything because:
    a) they FEARED THEIR CHILD’S PLACE AT THE SCHOOL WOULD BE LOST – especially those receiving scholarships (the majority of the school, I understand). I am saddened that some fee-paying parents chose to do nothing in this situation.
    b) they feared the tabloids would be all over the situation (believe me, they WOULD have been!) and the reputation of the school would be utterly destroyed
    In a state school, matters would have been dealt with *dramatically* differently. My late father, then head of governors at a major state school was incandescent with rage at the way the situation was handled at the time.

    The appalling bullying of staff and pupils by Mr Crook is legendary. Staff lived in an atmosphere of fear, as did pupils and parents. Even parents feared to talk to each other or comment on Facebook. My own experiences with Mr Crook requesting changes were miserable and met with a frightening authoritarian response. In the early days of his reign, he was able to get rid of those he considered troublesome pupils (for example, those who had the misfortune to suffer a mental health problem) without challenge. I was one of those parents who eventually challenged this and I was strongly warned that I would eventually pay for this insult to his regime. I did – within a year one of my own daughters (who has an exemplary musical and academic record at the school) was suspended on rather spurious grounds.

    I note that a past staff member has drawn attention to the departure of Ian MacMillan – this person clearly has no real insight into what has been happening at the school in recent years, and especially in the past months. Ian was a highly valued member of staff and a truly inspirational and respected choir master. His departure was part of a highly personal and very seriously abusive campaign against a very senior member of the music staff by that was visible even to parents. Please check your facts before you make comments which lead people away from the true heart of the issues here.

    As a committed parent, I’m looking forward to the new atmosphere of increased transparency and parental involvement within the school and welcome joint initiatives with certain stalwart parents to bring us together from across the world electronically.

    Throughout all this, my two children have been extremely positive about The Purcell School and very clear about where fault has lain. My children love being there and cannot imagine being anywhere else – they will cry their hearts out, along with many, many of their classmates, when they are forced to leave by virtue of being 18 and having finished their education.

    Pupils have been incredibly united by the adversity of the past years and it is clear from recent weeks that this blitz mentality will bear fruit among staff and pupils in taking this very special school forward. Hopefully staff will settle, pupils will settle and people will all be behind Paul Elliott in his new role. His fantastic personal and professional record gives the school a fabulous head start in its recovery.

    I wish this school every possible success and am looking forward to making positive contributions to help Purcell leave these past few years behind it. I am proud to be a Purcell parent, and will always be deeply grateful to the school for giving my children a very special education unavailable anywhere else. My children – and indeed myself – would have been very different (and diminished) people without it.

  • Jane Marshall says:

    Thank you Mr Lebrecht for allowing a space where there can be open discussion. Of course that can be damaging – but it’s he very lack of open discussion in the past that has allowed things to fester. I also think it’s important not to see the problems at the Purcell as being down to one or two bad apples. There are institutional and cultural factors – common to all music schools – which have been at work here.

  • Current parent says:

    My son has just started at this school and loves it. Had I known about all these issues a year ago, I’d never have allowed him to apply – but I’m so glad he did. Purcell has a wonderful, buzzing and supportive atmosphere and excellent teaching (my son was at a very academic school before this, and rates Purcell very highly in comparision). He really looks forward to getting back there after the weekend – I certainly couldn’t say the same about Monday mornings at his old school! I’d urge all prospective parents to put in a visit and see for yourselves. I hope everyone who cares about Purcell will contribute to its future success in positive ways. Of course it’s important to seek answers and to call people to account, but this unique place must be allowed to thrive under its new leadership.

  • Past Teacher says:

    I am confused. The explanation from Current Parent as to the departure of Ian MacMillan is this: ‘I note that a past staff member (me) has drawn attention to the departure of Ian MacMillan – this person clearly has no real insight into what has been happening at the school in recent years, and especially in the past months. Ian was a highly valued member of staff and a truly inspirational and respected choir master. His departure was part of a highly personal and very seriously abusive campaign against a very senior member of the music staff by that was visible even to parents. Please check your facts before you make comments which lead people away from the true heart of the issues here.’

    If Mr Crook falsely dismissed him there are procedures within a school and within law for him to have remedy. If Mr Crook has left, he should be reinstated forthwith.

    All we have is what started it off at the top of the column “Head of music school resigns. No comment” What you have above from Current Parent is much about abusive campaigns with no facts. What you have had from me has not been disputed.

    For me this is all off topic. The problems at Purcell and other specialist music schools are cyclic – depending very much on who is in charge. Purcell is at a low point – and it has not been just under Mr Crooks headmastership. I have seen it all as I have been a student at one, taught at two and also taught at Junior departments.

    There needs to be a much more open and professional approach to how these schools are run. All the discussion above is well overdue and should be encouraged as a healthy reaction to no comment and no discussion at school of the many problems.

  • Simon Richards says:

    As a current pupil of the school i can honestly say there has already been an improvement since Mr Elliot took over as headmaster. Mr Crook had no charisma and did not interact with any students in a pleasant way. He was often sexist and he made inapropriate remarks to some students. Corina Conner, i remember you as a practice supervisor and the reason you may think the students are malicious, is because you were not very kind and often abused your power as a practice supervisor, therefore making most of the student dislike you. When most of the students dislike you then you are obviosly not going to appreciated as the students are together most of the time. this was the same feeling about Mr crook hence his resignation.
    I hope the school can regain some of its reputation.

  • RichardG says:

    The fact that someone claiming to be a current pupil at the school can use words like “rubbish pillock” rather indicates there is still a lot of progress to be made in teaching proper English there, let alone the music side.

    • Year 10 pupil says:

      I’m sorry, but you wouldn’t say that if you had seen our English department. Miss Young and Mr Leverton are fantastic, enthusiastic teachers who really love their subject. Also, you obviously haven’t seen my class – the boys usually behave like rabid squirrels. And music takes priority over English lessons.

  • ex-purcellian says:

    I was a student at the school during its days in Harrow and had a wonderful 9 years. Its high musical and academic standards have given me the best step into the musical profession and I will always be eternally grateful. I only hope that the school can move past these current problems in an open way in order to stop some of these rumours and malicious comments. Paul Elliot is an inspiring teacher and (in my time!) well respected by all pupils, in and outside of the classroom. The same goes for Quentin Poole who helped me so much during my time there.
    The school always felt like a family to me, I hope it still does for the current and future students and staff.