Exclusive: Headmaster quits troubled Purcell School

Exclusive: Headmaster quits troubled Purcell School


norman lebrecht

November 17, 2014

Parents have been notified today that David Thomas is leaving because ‘he has found the role less enjoyable and satisfying’.

Outsiders might suspect that the prolonged culture of cover-up and civil war might have something to do with it.

Thomas will have spent three years at the Purcell. He leaves at the end of next August to become master of music at Winchester.

The chairman of governors says they are ‘very sorry to be losing David’.

Letter from the Chairman of Governors 2014-11-17 (1)

The Purcell School finds itself even deeper in the mire.


purcell schoolpurcell ribbons



  • James Hoffmann says:

    This man has been an unmitigated disaster ever since he took office. Never more than an amateur musician, his decisions have, nevertheless, left a trail of destruction in their wake. Sacking the Head of Music, Quentin Poole, was disgraceful and it is difficult to recognise anything in his actions other than a search for power. Poor Winchester…
    However, it is the Board of Governors who must accept responsibility for a whole string of bad decisions in their recent choices for headmaster. The school is in a sorry state and needs someone of quality and judgement to sort it out.

  • Worried Observer says:

    This is the best thing to happen to this disasterous music school since the dismissal of Peter (Paedo) Crook!
    Both appointments made by completely incompetent, misinformed, foolish Governors, who should all be called to account and RESIGN for bringing down this once highly regarded music school.
    They have appointed disaster after disaster to try and lead this school which lost it’s way when they appointed David Thomas.

    You may smokecreen all you like, Roger Jackling in your letter of explanation to the parents, but you and your shoddy arrogant idiots should all resign in shame for the further damage you have done to this place.

    God help Winchester in inheriting a boring, incompetent amateur egotistical musician……..
    Do they really know what they’ve got coming to them?
    Headhunted my a–e! It’s the old school tie network again.

    Maybe the much missed former DoM, Quentin Poole, (who Thomas foolishly sacked on the sham redundancy lie that the school couldn’t afford his role), be offered an apology for the appalling manner the school treated him after 25 years stirling dedication to this school, and be asked to become the new HeadMaster?….. At least then, the school, under his expert professional direction will have a chance of recovery from mediocrity, to a beacon of excellence once again.

  • Martin James says:

    It is very sad that Purcell is losing David Thomas, as he was a great headmaster, dealing exceptionally with one student death and providing some structure and work ethics into the School. He was an inspirational musician ( I know this first hand!) and also an amazing teacher… It is
    unfortunate that some ‘worried observers’ have no clue about his abilities…

    • Worried Observer says:

      Well Mr James, best get your facts right before you start pontificating over the inspirational David Thomas!
      [redacted: victim privacy, defamation]

      As for providing structure and work ethics in the school, read instead, your great Headmaster, the wonderful Mr David Thomas
      provided poor management (breaking every rule of good management),criticised colleagues in front of pupils and each other, gave little praise or credit, and was too ready to blame others when things went wrong.
      Oh, and he was/is a egotistical bad musician, out of his depth with those colleagues he also bullied.
      God help Winchester…………

  • Former student says:

    So David Thomas didn’t enjoy being Headmaster and Director of Music simultaneously, then? Perhaps he wasn’t up to it, after all. I wonder how many of his students will send him thank you and farewell cards. There were fanfares sounded when Peter Crook fled the premises.

  • Worried Observer says:

    Ironic that Thomas has decided to resign to take up a Director of Music job somewhere else after a mere two years at Purcell – a post he considered (wrongly!) unecessary in a music school, by deleting the crucial post to allow him the frustrated opportunity to play at being both DoM and Head at the same time, to the detriment of both roles but to feed his unflated ego.
    Now having destroyed this once happy, thriving music school, and having had the taste of musical expectations at a specialist school, isn’t it odd that he hasn’t got the will to sustain and nurture his new management empire?
    Maybe it was a decision made for him the same week the school had the results of a long overdue inspection – the first under his watch…….
    What will the hapless Governors do now their self appointed hatchet man is jumping ship?
    Find the money for another Head/ Director of Music, they said they could ill afford?
    Or was that the real reason they foolishly and so brutely let the former DoM go?

  • Anon2 says:

    It is unlikely that Martin James works or even knows much about the school. The direction and management of the school has been in free-fall since John Tolputt was pushed into early retirement, with each new chapter trying to cover up the inadequacies of a previous Head. The management restructuring under David Thomas has almost brought the school to its knees with almost all the previous members of SMT still on the payroll and the replacement of one excellent Deputy Head with two new Deputy Heads – all very costly and unnecessary. The removal of the DOM post as part of this scheme, all dressed up as ‘redundancies’ to save money, has played a huge part in this latest resignation as power and influence has leached away from the Head and the rump of a ‘Music Department’. Many good staff have left under David Thomas but the widespread use of compromise agreements in use since (and including) Crook has limited the knowledge of the reason for their departure. The strength of the school remains, and continues, in the work that the students do with their (instrumental) teachers. David Thomas talked himself up for the job but he was no match for the innumerable challenges (certainly no match for the Bursar) that the role requires – and that is why, in the end, he had to go.

    • Parent123 says:

      Yes, I’m sure Martin James Bartlett would know nothing about the school. It is not as if he studied there for 5 years.

  • Student Father says:

    I will remain anonymous as I have nothing to say in public about the departure of Mr Thomas, because rightly I will give my thoughts to the school in private.

    BUT I will publicly say this. Those wishing to continually slag off the school and people associated with the Purcell School should go any take a good look in the mirror and realise what pathetic people you are.

    If you have something to say in the public domain , grow a large pair of bollocks and put your name here. You’re no better than the Twitter trolls and keyboard warriors who are gutless and think they can change the world by abusing people from their sofas.

    • norman lebrecht says:

      How very thoughtful. And anonymous.

      • Student Father says:

        What pleasure do you get from giving people the forum to slag off the school Norman?

        I notice you decided to not mention the school name when reporting Martin had won the BBC young musician in May.

        You obviously have your own agenda. Perhaps you need to be looking at yourself as well.

        My child has nothing but good to say about his time at the school including time there with Mr Thomas as head.

        • Former student says:

          A place at the Purcell School affords a young musician a wealth of opportunities, including access to excellent instrumental teaching and an environment where a budding professional musician can flourish amongst like-minded people. No-one could possibly deny that. However, it is also impossible to deny that the school has been embroiled in a string of scandals, all of which were avoidable through proper management and, in many cases, a greater degree of transparency from the top down.

          Unless there are a lot of bollockless, pathetic people out there, Student Father, I think that the existence of the feelings which are vented in these forums is a pretty strong indicator of a plethora of problems. Of course, one could perhaps construct a reasonable case which states that these problems are exacerbated by the re-ignition of strongly held views in a public medium. However, let us consider the following uncontroversial points:

          1. The Governors appointed Peter Crook as Headmaster. Peter Crook commanded very little, if any respect, from students and staff alike, and his behaviour became the subject of an investigation by police and social services. Many former students will testify that they felt very uneasy about the nature of various conversations with him.

          2. The Governors refused to acknowledge parents’ concerns when they also became deeply concerned about Peter Crook’s possible interest in their sons. Whether or not the various allegations made against the former headmaster were ever substantiated is irrelevant; the Governors buried their heads in the sand.

          3. The Governors also adopted a low profile when Peter Crook vanished overnight in the midst of a series of accusations. If your child was at the school at the time, you might remember the one-line email which told parents that the Headmaster had resigned, with no further explanation.

          4. The Governors appointed David Thomas.

          5. The Governors made no comment at all about the departure of Quentin Poole, who effectively steered the ship through a period of turbulence. Mr Poole is an extremely inspiring musician, and his directorship was the reason why a significant number of students chose the Purcell School. Roger Jackling referenced him briefly in a letter sent last September, but no thanks was given for his 25-year service to the school, during which time he raised standards considerably, and influenced countless musical stars, now on international concert platforms.

          5. The Chair of Governors issued a letter which stated that David Thomas had resigned to return to his vocation, which was to be a director of music. Having failed in his mission to effectively lead the school’s administrative affairs and musical vision simultaneously, David Thomas has left the school in a worse state than he found it, and will go to a position with fewer responsibilities.

          I have many people to thank for my very special time at the Purcell School – Quentin Poole, my instrumental tutors, most of my academic teachers and boarding staff, almost all of my fellow students, but not – absolutely not – egotistical headmasters or stuffy, clueless Governors. They need to be brought to task.

        • norman lebrecht says:

          We have a duty to report. No pleasure. We have argued that the board should make a clean breast of the past – Crook, Poole, Thomas and more – and wipe the slate clean. Slipped Disc has no agenda in respect of the Purcell School other than the safety of children, the fair treatment of staff and the values of truth.

        • Worried Observer says:

          Then your child, like you, student father, is a naive uninformed idiot, who clearly has no idea what is/has been going on in this school for so long.As a parent, you will, of course, have the
          first idea of why us members of staff have to remain anonymous when reporting on here, when those brave amongst us blew whistles and reported the abuse at this school over the last 5 years, were ridiculed, berated, or received unwarrented sham disciplinaries, resulting in over a dozen members of staff being bullied into leaving, rather than work at this grim, sad, institution, badly run by the last two disasterous Heads.
          How interesting you have nothing but praise for the outgoing Thomas. Maybe you are more concerned about getting a good reference for your child from him to better their chances at a music conservatoire, rather than open your eyes and ears, and face up to reality.
          Get real Student father, and talk to those in the know rather than criticise those of us who have first hand knowledge and bitter experience trying to work at this school that has completely lost it’s way by Head and Governors bringing it into disrepute in the educational and musical worlds.

          • Anonymous Ex-Pupil says:

            Dear WORRIED OBSERVER,

            I am an ex pupil of the Purcell School, and I prefer not to reveal my identity.
            I would like to say that I am completely abashed by the things you have said: that the senior management bullies the staff!
            I never thought it got that intense!
            I left the school in early years, being unable to put up with the level of abuse, bullying and hypocrisy I got from both students and staff.
            A woman from the senior management of David Thomas has been literally making a police state out of the lower school (which I was in).
            She made up false allegations on pupils (not only me but me also) and made people that she didn’t like (for whatever reason) suffer a lot at the school.
            She organised interviews of pupils, and during conversation, mentally pushing them into saying what she WANTS to hear from them.
            By the middle of my second year, lower school pupils walking around the school were literally scared of even saying anything to each other in the presence of staff, as they were scared that staff may twist their words into some evil way, and then get them into a lot of trouble.
            People would make a simple joke out of something they thought would be a simple thing, and then be accused of being discriminative, racist or nationalist.
            I can clearly remember one time I was walking around with one of my friends (who was Indian), and we were talking about India and their traditions with him. I was keen onto knowing how life was in there and what things they did in everyday life.
            After a week we had that conversation, I get called in to a lady of the senior management, and I get accused of being racist to Indians.
            Another time, was when one pupil was playing football with the other, another (third) pupil came along and started taking their ball away and throwing it into the fields.
            The two boys got angry and threw the ball into the other boy, which hit him near the face by accident. The boys apologised to him, and he merely walked off, showing no signs of injury or any irritation. Basically, a simple matter, a mere accident.
            10 days later, one of the boys gets called in to the lady of the senior management, and gets accused of ‘assaulting’ the third boy (who got hit near the face). In result, the accused boy got suspended from education and was not allowed to board. In result, the boy left, being sick of all the pressure which was among him. That boy was me.
            Complaints left by me, of unfair management and pressure to the other boy, who was my witness but was ignored and I was still suspended, were completely ignored and the senior management asked us to withdraw them in order for me to return. I got suspended for throwing a ball. And I have the question. Why me?
            If you are still in the school, you probably know me, I left recently and I was in the Lower school.
            And in result, I lost a year of school, being too late to apply for a school from September, I was lost, and ALL because of the disgusting management of the school. I was treated very unfairly in there, and no apology was ever offered. I do not understand why it was me.
            For all people, idealising the school: Don’t. It’s not a good place and people feel troubled there.

  • Worried Observer says:

    Sorry, Martin who???
    If you mean the young BBC muso of the year, than all credit for winning that was actually due to his piano teacher, the RCM Junior department, and redundant Purcell DoM Quentin Poole, who auditioned and recognised Mr Bartletts abilities at the school several year ago.
    Typically, John Thomas tried to claim all credit for that success, although he did bugger all, short of desperately trying to claw back what little credibility the school badly needed after he made the worst professional gaff ever, by sacking his DoM and pretending he could do both this role and lead the school
    into more disrepute….

  • Worried Observer says:

    Dear Student Father,

    This is not a campaign of hatred, but a justifiable ongoing major concern that at this school over the last 4/5 years, pupils safety from several identified paedophile teachers has been at risk, and has not been dealt with effectively by Headmaster, Managers, or Governors, to the extent that it has got seriously worst.

    (indeed the latest paedophile allowed to work closely with pupils here, was in February when he was suspended for eight months during investigation by the authorities, before eventually, David Thomas was forced to dismiss him a few months ago).

    As a parent, you should be more concerned about the fact that despite known verbal and physical child abuse cases at this school, (one rape, several cases of verbal sexual abuse, 4 known teacher/pupil underage relationships, ongoing drugs and excessive alcohol issues, oh and the PE teacher who was forced to move on following an affair with a married boarding HouseMistress ironically now teaching sex education to pupils?!) you seem more concerned about musical standards and achievements rather than the protection of vunerable children here.

    What does that say about you Student Father?

  • Student Father says:

    I think the fact that you are anonymously posting here to protect your job rather going to the police if you believe what you write says more about you.
    Go and look in the mirror.

    • Worried Observer says:

      You simply have no idea of the long standing bullying culture by Head and Senior Managers towards staff at this school do you Parent Father?

      And why should you, when it has been the norm for years with threats to those who dare to expose it all.

      Historically, members of staff who went through the correct channels of reporting verbal sexual abuse at the time of former Head Peter Crook, were viewed as ‘trouble makers’ by the Governors who handled the complaints badly disbelieving those who reported matters.

      There was an appalling senario following two investigations of Crook by Police & Social Services, when the Governors,( rather than dismiss Crook for his sexual harassment of boys as they should have done),foolishly decided to let him continue working near children instead, claiming it was a hate campaign against Crook’s tough leadership.

      Those dozen brave staff who knew this decision was wrong, were instead, bullied by the then Chair of Governors ( Graham Smallbone) and Deputy ( Roy Cervenka) to ‘work with Crook or look for work elsewhere’……. They demonstrated little care or concern for the pupils who had been victims of sexual bullying by the then Headmaster…….That’s when the rot started to set in, and the school governance and management began to spiral downhill.

      It is highly significant that the Purcell school have entered into over a dozen expensive Compromise Agreements since Crookgate, with many distinguished and highly regarded teachers, since leaving employment here, without justified reason, in the school’s shameful attempts to prevent the truth being outed.

      One has to wonder what was said (or not) to the recent Inspectors about the real resons staff have left, and how the Bursar has managed tro ‘cook the books’ by hiding away the vast legal costs and payouts for the ‘gagging clauses’ – money that could so easily have been used to keep and fund the post of Director of Music in a once highly regarded music school.

      and so it goes on….

      The current Head himself continually threatens anyone found ‘outing the truth’ to the press or media, with instant dismissal.

      That is why, we who try to continue to work at this sad place, and remain positive for the pupils, and concerned about their protection from past paedophile colleagues who have croosed the line and behaved unprofessionally, have to remain anonymous.

      • Student Father says:

        As I said. If you honestly believe the safety of children is at stake either put up or shut up.
        Go to the police or have the danger you believe the children live in on your conscience for ever.
        Of course if you wish to email me your contact details to Norman I would be happy to meet with you and let you convince me of your claims.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Student Father,

    I would have hoped it would be clear to you by now that concerned staff at the school have over the past few years been through all available channels, including the police. Be absolutely assured that their continued presence at the school is a far greater asset to the pupils than an act of self sacrifice.

    Now please kindly explain in full your own reasons for anonymity before criticising others for it.

    Thank you,


  • ex pupil says:

    Student Father. I wonder whether you would think the same if it was your son\daughter the one who had been raped or abused.

    Can’t believe the lack of sympathy of some people here…

  • A Current Pupil says:

    David Thomas, from what I have heard from other pupils that have been at the school longer than me, has been a total disaster. An amateur musician to become director of music at Winchester College? I don’t exactly follow.
    What I can only do is to pray that the next Headmaster will be a better, if not good, one.

  • A Current Pupil says:

    Student Father, I have two things to say:
    Open your mind.

    Go and look in the mirror.

  • A Wykehamist says:

    As a parent of a current Winchester College musician, I would appreciate some guidance from parents who have experienced the David Thomas DOM period. It sounds as if I need to brace myself, but in the manner of a prudent sailor who reefs his sails before the storm gets to him, I would like to take as many steps beforehand as you think would be practical and helpful. All comments would be welcome.

    • open minded parent says:

      I do not give my full name, not because I would not stand by what I say, but with the vehemence and ignorance on this site, it would appear of no benefit to identify clearly either myself or my child.

      However, as a parent who has significant experience of the private school sector, with 3 children at a combination of boarding and day, including the specialist music schools, I would say that the reaction of the current crop of pupils to the news of his leaving should not be ignored. To say that they are largely heartbroken would be an understatement.

      David Thomas has engendered a level of respect and affection from the pupils that is remarkable. The recent inspection report tells of a relaxed school, with confident pupils and staff. Go and look at it on the website. Comparing it to recent reports from the schools my other children attend, both of which are top performing and well respected, left me astonished at the vitriol directed at the school on this site.

      The pupils are gaining significant success in musical competitions, university and conservatoire places and extra curricular provision of support in the community. They are happy and ‘play well’ together. The chamber choir has been a pleasure to listen to and I applaud DT’s honesty in his statement that this was the only area he really enjoyed, making him realise this was not the school for him (or at least not the role).

      What more do you people want from them all? They have recognised where the problems are, made steps to deal with them (some of which may not be as effective as others) and there is an air of honesty and openess about the place that is refreshing. I have no idea what agendas you are pursuing but, frankly, it all looks a bit bizarre to this parent, who can only comment on what is happening there now. Your continual hark back to the past looks strange and I would urge anyone who genuinely has concerns and thinks that somehow this vitriol helps the school go and spend some time there, in whatever capacity, and see and feel the joyful place it is. Surely that is what is important to these children? – Trying to cast clouds where there are none (and again, I reiterate that this is the current situation, I cannot speak for the past) will do them no favours as they step out into the wider world, curiously happy and having to deal with the snide implications that somehow they shouldn’t be.

      And before I get accused of being naive, let me just say I have reasons to recognise abusive situations and the damage they can do – I don’t live in lala land, but I do speak as I find.

  • Ex Student says:

    The school has a disastrous management.
    I as an ex pupil noticed that.
    WORRIED OBSERVER has the staff point of the view on the matter whereas I am one of the ex students, and the management was turning our school into a police state.
    What a terrible thing to do with one of the only music schools in Britain?!

  • Potentialparent says:

    I notice no comments on this forum for quite some time. How are things at the school in the last year or so particularly under the new head?

    • Ex- student says:

      Dear Potential Parent,

      I am an ex pupil of the school and I left quite recently. Personally I would not recommend the school if you have talented children, especially if they’re going into the younger years because that’s the most disastrous part of the school.
      If you’re going into year 9-10, currently the pupils in these classes are causing a lot of trouble, a couple of weeks ago, about 7 people were suspended at once. The year 9 and 10 have been up to some really disgusting things the couple of months now, like smoking and drinking.
      If you would like to give it a try, as we did (and it didn’t work and we found better opportunities), then you are more than welcome but I wouldn’t recommend it from personal negative experience. There is plenty of private schools out there with a brilliant musical department such as Kingston Grammar School or Alleyns School, or at least Yehudi Menuhin, which is by far better than Purcell.

      • Potential parent says:

        Thank you for the reply. I have experience of three other schools private and state and to be honest problems with year 9-11 drinking and smoking and getting suspended are not unusual. Anything else specifically that you had problems with?

        Yes there are some private schools with good music departments but depends on the instrument and then the cost is much higher as no MDS scheme. I am not sure Yehudi Menuhin is good comparison as just strings and piano and much smaller. Certainly wouldn’t work for us.

        • EX- STUDENT says:

          Well then no. If an awful and abusive head department does not concern you or the safety or your children then feel free and apply to the school.

          • Anon says:

            I’m thinking of sending my daughter here but have heard that the head has resigned. Can anyone shed any light on this.