Confirmed: Purcell School is headless again

Confirmed: Purcell School is headless again


norman lebrecht

November 26, 2017

The headmaster Stephen Yeo has left ‘to pursue other opportunities,’ according to an internal message. He will remain head nominally until the end of the term next month, but will not set foot again in the school.

An interim head, Bernard Trafford, formerly of Royal Newcastle Grammar, will fill in after the New Year.

Once again, Purcell has shed a head without any account to parents or students of the reasons for his departure.

Due process seems to mean nothing at this troubled school.



  • Sue says:

    Are you sure your headline doesn’t refer to the “Mary Queen of Scots Music School”?

  • Purcell parent says:

    Due process is not the right phrase but yes it would be nice to know why. Is he leaving for another job somewhere else? Has he done something wrong and been asked to leave? Is he unwell? I was not so surprised at him leaving as much as the fact it is immediate. Why not stay until the end of term?

  • Purcell parent says:

    I should add that the school is not “troubled” in the experience of me and my child but it would be nice to have a long-term effective head and I think a dedicated director of music would be a plus.

    • Purcell Parent 2 says:

      My thoughts exactly and I’m sure a lot of other parents feel the same way.

      • Purcell parent says:

        I am actually amazed at times how well the place runs without a Director of Music as clearly Mr Yeo wasn’t involved in the music side of things very much. I think that is testament to the heads of each music department and other senior music staff, who in the main do a fantastic job, but I could easily imagine how it could all go wrong in the future.

  • Amazed Observer says:

    The Purcell School is a very special place, and there are some amazing teachers at the school. I think we are all looking in the wrong direction here. The Purcell has lost three heads in the last few years. Whilst they were clearly all flawed, we should ask ourselves – who is it who keeps making the wrong choice of head for the school, and which members of staff have been responsible for chasing the heads – and the Director of Music, a few years ago – off? The answer is clearly Aideen McNamara, clerk to the governing body and bursar, and the governors themselves. If the Purcell is in a precarious financial situation, with falling student numbers and demoralised staff, then this has to be down to the senior leadership team, Aideen and the governors, not just the head Stephen Yeo.

    • Purcell parent says:

      Out of interest what is the basis for believing precarious financial situation, falling student numbers and demoralised staff? Certainly doesn’t appear that way. Since my child joined there has been a steady increase in new pupils joining the year group and lots of people auditioning most weeks.

  • Music Teach says:

    Oh dear, oh dear, ANOTHER member of Staff and another Head Master bites the dust at the poisoned chalice aka The Purcell School…..

    Stephen Yeo has only managed to survive two years of the ongoing senior management bullying led yet again, by a bursar [redacted].
    Surely the hapless Governors should, by now, see a pattern developing? [redacted] It has cost them dearly in losing 3 Heads,
    (Peter Crook, who departed to Repton School, Dubai following allegations of unprofessional interest in male pupils) and David ‘axeman’ Thomas, brought in by Governors to leave a legacy of making redundant the essential Director of Music post in a specialist music school??!. Thomas also lost his excellent Head of Academic Music due to his pompous ambition to do both jobs whilst trying to lead the school as HM, (lucky Winchester College to now have him currently as their Director of Music….)

    And now, sadly, the popular and highly regarded Stephen Yeo, has finally seen sense and had enough of the bullying Bursar, and useless Governors, who are unable assess and judge the needs of this once highly regarded music school by having the experience and judgement to appoint the right senior staff to lead the school.

    They should all resign in shame for their catalogue of historical disasters, bringing this once highly regarded Purcell School into total disrepute once again.

    Good luck Mr Yeo ‘pursuing other opportunities’ – those who work at the school all are aware of the ‘real’ reason you are departing after 2 years…..

  • Insider says:

    I was most heartened to learn that Mr Yeo has not, in fact, left the school due to ill health. At the same time, however, saddened, but not surprised, to find that the “bullying Bursar” has managed to see off yet another excellent and valued staff member and her second Headmaster. As an ‘insider’ I can reliably say that Mr Yeo is thoroughly decent, kind and honest man who was very loyal, utterly committed to the school and very well-liked by the music, academic and pastoral staff. With many years of experience as a Head Teacher behind him, he is a true gentleman who treated all staff members regardless of ‘rank’ or department with respect, courtesy, compassion and fairness. Contrary to two separate comments I have read, he endeavoured to be, and was involved, in the music side of things as much as he could be, and would step in, often at very short notice, despite of, and in addition to his enormous workload and the daily challenges he faced. An accomplished pianist, organist and chorister, he was a fantastic leader and teacher of the junior choir, a responsibility he took diligently and professionally, as well as gently and sensitively, with the younger members of the school, allowing them to shine and produce some magical and emotionally mature performances. If he was “flawed”, it was only as a result of his natural way of trusting and respecting those members of the senior management, the Bursar in particular, who should have supported him in his role, rather than insist on riding roughshod over him and undermining him from the off, keeping information from him, taking decisions without any reference to him, and working against him, and going behind his back, plotting his demise at every opportunity. It is commonly acknowledged within the school walls that bullying of staff by the Senior Management team, and the Bursar in particular, is endemic, and has continued for years, especially since David Thomas was himself seen off by the Bursar, but sadly, numerous attempts for this to be addressed as well as heartfelt pleas, again over years, to the governors, have been ignored. Unfortunately, Mr Yeo was no exception to this unacceptable and insidious behaviour, and as a Headmaster with only the best of intentions, this must have proved a very unhappy and impossible situation for him. Reading comments from parents on this site, it is unsurprising that neither parents nor students are aware of how badly the staff are treated (which is perhaps as it should be) as the staffs’ priority has always been the welfare and education of the students and more tellingly, the Board of Governors does a very good job of “keeping things quiet” and providing “generic” or downright false reasons for the departure, sudden or otherwise of staff. Mr Yeo was not remotely a bad choice of Headmaster – he simply wasn’t allowed to get on with the job, allowing the musical ethos of the school to flourish and leading the school where it needed to go. The Board of Governors should hang their heads in shame, or perhaps simply install Aideen McNamara as Head with James Harding her officially appointed puppet, and let her get on with it. Perhaps that might be the only thing to finally induce a mass exodus of staff. Perhaps only then, will the Board of Governors wake up, or better still, resign en masse also.

  • Barbara says:

    Very glad to see the back of Yeo, from a parents’ point of view. Not glad to see Norman Lebrecht, as ever, seizing any opportunity to stir up gossip and grinding that axe. Anyone reading this might think the pupils were really unhappy and the school is failing (which they aren’t and it isn’t), but then I think that’s what he wants to happen.

    • James says:

      Totally agree with you. Things could be better but it is not failing in what matters – educating the children. Also the tone of these articles seems unnecessarily sensationalist and almost vindictive.

  • Music Teach says:

    The Governance of The Purcell School is the culprit here once again, appallingly led by incompetent, arrogant members of establishment, ie former Precentor, (aka Head of Music) at Eton, & ex Head of public school Oakham, Graham Smallbone, & current former Security boss to HRH The Prince of Wales (who is Patron of the School), Sir Roger Jacklin, who instigated the demise of the former highly regarded Director of Music, Quentin Poole, leaving the bizarre legacy of the only music school in the UK & internationally without a D of M…. and now allowing his ‘out of control’ Bursar, Aideen McNamara to be the root of the cause of the resignation of the recent highly regarded Head, Stephen Yeo.

    How the Governors have stood by & allowed, (encouraged?!) Ms McNamara spend huge amount of money allocated for pupil’s musical education on litigation, including nearly a dozen staff ‘gagging’ agreements, paying over £500K to silence those who know so much about their rotten governance when they have either been dismissed, sacked, or made redundant, beggars belief in these days of accountability.

    Until the Governors resign in shame, acknowledge their incompetence, arrogance, & obvious lack of judgement in appointing suitable staff,the school will continue in a state of turmoil & continue as a ‘poisoned chalice’ to any new Head, whose professional judgement & integrity is threatened by the Bursar.

    Maybe Sir Roger should confer with his former boss, HRH, The Prince Charles, & Sir Simon Rattle, who for some extraordinary reason, remain both Patrons of this music school & devise a plan to dismiss the Bursar for the sake of the future good of the school, it’s poor staff & pupils?

  • Another Purcell parent says:

    Surprised about the comments on poor state of the schools finances I checked the accounts and they seem in quite good health. There is a healthy cash flow surplus every year and the balance sheet seems reasonably strong especially as the loans for the new boarding houses and music centre are being repaid rapidly and I think will be completely repaid this year or next. Just add to my confusion as to why there isn’t a Director of Music. Certainly the school can afford the £50-80k per year salary.

  • Insider says:

    Totally disagree with ‘Barbara’ and ‘James’. Firstly, the post contains nothing to substantiate the comment “glad to see the back of…. from the parents point of view”…. and secondly, this is clearly not Norman Lebrecht “seizing any opportunity to stir up gossip ….” This site is an open forum and the comments on here, indeed show differing views. Any damning (as well as positive) observations have been made independently, by those who have first hand knowledge and experience of the inner workings of the school. The fact that the students are receiving a good education is testament to the level of teaching and the expertise and experience of the loyal and committed teaching staff, in spite of the way they are treated. Perhaps “James” would like to comment on the number of, and frequency with which, staff members are signed off for weeks on end due to stress and bullying by certain SLT members and the bursar. As for the suggestion that some of the comments are “unnecessarily sensationalist” and “almost vindictive”, once again, these are views expressed by people on the inside with often long-term, first-hand witness and experience, who have better things to do with their time, but find this the only outlet in which to expose the truth without fear of losing their jobs. As for transparency, are the governors aware of the number of (failed) applications made over the past few years by the current acting head, for headship at other non-music schools, as well as all of the time off such interviews necessitated? And when and if he is finally successful, what then? Will the governors wake up and realise that they have been backing the wrong horses? Incidentally, there are no comments on here, as far as can be seen, that suggests that the school is failing financially. If numbers are falling, this is simply down to the reputation of the school, and the refusal of senior management to let the teaching staff fly with their brilliance, and the need for change in its governance and draconian senior management, no doubt something that the recently departed Mr Yeo was probably trying to address.

  • MusicTeach says:

    Current parents writing on here are completely missing the bigger picture….

    Rotten Governance at this school began 10 years ago under the bulling regime of Graham Smallbone, the arrogant public schoolmaster who dominated all decisions both here, the Menuhin Music School, & as a sometime board member/Chair of the National Youth Orchestra management team.

    This was followed briefly by a disastrous acting chair of Governors, a former parent, Roy Cervenka, who, in association with the current Bursar as accountant, managed to lose the school vast sums of money due to litigation to remove any whistleblower (there were several) who dared to challenge their overspending & lack of budget control.
    Previous Head, Peter Crook, who was investigated twice by Herts Police & Social Services for allegations over his unprofessional interest in male pupils,cost the school dearly. Outcry from brave staff & parents who challenged Smallbone’s misjudged decision to allow Crook to continue to work with children, cost the school even more vast sums of money (£500k) in order to pay off Mr Crook & several members of teaching staff who bravely blew the whistle on the cover up by Governors at the time (as reported on this excellent forum, & nationally in The Times & ITV News.)

    Many Governors not wishing to be associated with the scandal, ‘left’ the Governing body, but new Chairman, Sir Roger Jackling, (brought in by the concerned Royal school Patron (HRH Prince of Wales) in turn, brought in new Head David Thomas, & together, masterminded a transparent plan to save the school lost revenue, by making the post of Director of Music redundant, claiming there was simply no money in the school account to continue to pay for this crucial (in a music school!) post…..
    (money, no doubt lost due to the excessive need to spend on expensive litigation & gagging contracts….).

    The school coffers may by now, (several years on) have recovered from such overspending (although there was always enough money to sustain an essential Director of Music Post), but current parents should be aware that this current dismissal/resignation/ moving on of the popular Stephen Yeo, is yet another casualty in the historical catalogue of rotten governance under a former employee of the Royal Household desperate to avoid investigation or association with historical allegations of verbal sexual abuse by one previous Headmaster, whose unexplained resignation from the allegations at the school, still allowed him to work abroad in Dubai.

  • James says:

    It is rather condescending to say current parents are missing the bigger picture. There have clearly been a lot of issues in the past and to some extent continuing in term of senior management and general governance. But the real big picture is that this is a public forum and people reading comments and previous articles, including.prospective parents and students, could easily get completely the wrong impression about the school. I almost did before joining and so glad I ignored much of what had been written on this site. The other big picture is that what matters in the end are results, academic and music, and on this count all is good. Exams results are very good, numbers getting into music college on scholarships are good and numbers winning competitions and involved in things like NYO also good. Past issues aside the schools finance are currently strong. Facilities are excellent including the new boarding houses and new music block. Students numbers are not falling. There are a lot of high quality applicants auditioning all the time. So things are not perfect but to anybody reading from the outside and considering the school do not believe all the doom and gloom. It is a great school and has so much to offer. To those inside the school spreading the negative stories past and present perhaps contact the governors and patrons directly. In the end that will be much effective in having genuine issues investigated.

    • Ninavd says:

      Thank you for writing to share a wider perspective.

      I am quite shocked at reading this string of commentary. I am a prospective parent and I am quite shocked at the vitriolic language being used and the accusations being made of so many people as well as the personal nature of the comments.

      It seems very one sided with no real balance.

      • Insider says:

        The “wider perspective” you refer to is, as you can see, echoed in my earlier post of today and supported by other commentators. I am sure therefore that you will accept that this is not all “one sided” as you suggest. I am sorry that you personally find some of the comments to be vitriolic, but sadly they are nothing other than facts based on first-hand experience. The truth is not always pleasant or easy to hear and this stream has only arisen as the direct consequence of the shocking treatment and ousting of a very decent man and headmaster and the longstanding issue of maltreatment of staff and an unfettered autocracy- a matter over which you appear, rather one-sidedly, to show no concern or enquiry. However, as already stated, your child will receive a fantastic education and endless opportunities in a wonderful setting in spite of the issues highlighted in this stream.

  • Insider says:

    Respectfully, I must suggest that ‘James’ is also missing the point. There is little argument that the school, whilst it may lag behind its peers in certain areas, does, nonetheless, provide a fantastic opportunity for young people to obtain a very bespoke, personal and indeed, privileged, education in well-equipped, spacious, green and modern surroundings. One would naturally expect this with annual fees of £32,826 for boarding and £25,707 for day pupils, with the majority of the pupils benefitting from having most, if not all of the cost of these fees paid via the Government’s Music and Dance Scheme, which, of course, in turn, is ultimately funded by the general tax payer. For that reason alone, any parent of a talented young musician would understandably jump at such a wonderful opportunity and pupil application numbers will remain high. For every place not filled, or vacated mid-term, one would imagine that the school loses the funding from the government for that place. Of course what matters are exam results, numbers getting into music colleges on scholarships, success in competitions and the opportunities to perform, and above all, the welfare and happiness of the pupils. However, the point being made over and over again, and being ignored, over and over again, is that the majority of the staff are treated appallingly by the Senior Management, recently departed headteacher excluded. So whilst ‘results’ are, of course, important, there is also the human element when it comes to the staff. ‘James’ suggests that those “spreading the negative stories… should perhaps contact the Governors and patrons directly”. The sheer number of representations and pleas that have been made to the Chairman of Governors, the Board of Governors as well as to individual Governors over the years to try to address the problem of the autocracy of the Bursar, and the bullying and forcing out of staff, has continuously fallen on deaf ears. Nothing is ever done and it seems that nothing will ever be done. The catalogue of complaints against the Bursar are innumerable and go back years, yet there have been no investigations of “genuine issues” when it comes to this individual who remains completely unaccountable. So to do as “James” suggests is a completely futile exercise. Indeed, even when almost the entire Music Department descended en masse on a Governors’ meeting to try to have their voice heard, nothing was done. Anyone who does try to have such matters addressed is immediately vilified, victimised, will often find themselves subject to some form of disciplinary procedure somewhere down the line and in many cases, ultimately driven out, with or without some form of “gagging order”. If a pupil in the school experiences bullying, then matters are quickly taken in hand, as indeed they should be, yet staff members have no support in this regard and no safe recourse. The Bursar has placed herself as the head of almost every department of the school. Indeed, it is commonly agreed in the school that the Headteacher does not run the school, the Bursar does, and heaven help you if the Bursar takes a dislike to you, or you try to address her autocracy. One can only surmise that this was the fate of the recently departed Headmaster, who, as is well known, had tried (clearly in vain – tt doesn’t take Einstein to see through the standard generic explanation given for Mr Yeo’s departure) to shift this balance of power, for the good of the school. So yes, the Purcell School is a wonderful place to send your children, and it can only been seen as a testament to the staff that they seem unaffected in any serious way, by the lack of decency, consideration, respect and support shown to the staff who are experienced and committed individuals.

  • MusicTeach says:

    Excellent summary ‘Insider’…. well said!

    All current parents should read, re- read & digest all that you state from an informed ‘insider’s’ experienced first hand point of view.

    You’re also spot on with your comment that it is futile going with any problem/ concern. issue, to any Governor or senior Manager, who, historically, as many recall vividly at the time of ‘Crookgate’, were treated with utter contempt, rudeness & worst –
    offered ‘hush money, to silence our major concerns, even though they involved serious child protection & welfare issues of grave concern.
    Anything to hush up all that was rotten about governance at this school….

    This school will NEVER recover from the shocking misdemeanors of it’s past &
    move on, whilst current Governors allow the historically bullying & controlling Bursar, Ms Aideen McNamara to run the place.
    Why are Governors allowing such autocratic dictatorship in all aspects of school life?
    Isn’t the title Bursar meant to be responsible for Fund raising & maintaining finances only?
    Hasn’t Ms McNamara cost the school enough already financially, as a result of seeing off THREE Headmasters & over a DOZEN other employees who dared to challenge her unacceptable unprofessional antics?
    The woman is clearly out of control & ruining what flimsy credibility & reputation this school desperately tries to maintain…….

  • A mum says:

    As a parent of a very happy pupil at Purcell I am shocked to read all of these comments. My son absolutely loves the school and is thriving there. For any staff that might feel bullied or unhappy all I can say is thank you for persevering and doing a great job !!
    All the children I know within my son’s friendship group are enjoying every aspect of Purcell. They are well looked after and the school has a lovely atmosphere. It really is a fun place to be with hard working teachers/pastoral who strive to give my son the best academic and music education possible. Also house and pastoral staff, thank you for providing a happy and safe boarding environment.
    I am trying to recall anything negative that my child may have mentioned in the past few years and I cannot think of one single thing.

  • Another Mum says:

    As a parent of a child at the school, I have to echo the comments here from A Mum. My child is extremely happy, thriving musically and we cannot fault the hard work and dedication of the staff we deal with. Results also speak for themselves.

    If, as Insider states, there are such deeply flawed practices both in the senior management at the school and in the governing body, then I have to ask if anyone has escalated these issues – beyond the governors? There are accusations of bullying – which we will all agree is totally unacceptable. Has anyone kept a log of these bullying incidents? Can someone prove these incidents rather than just relay them as a tale of woe on a website forum? To quote, Insider says people are ‘vilified, victimised, will often find themselves subject to some form of disciplinary procedure…ultimately driven out’. Legal action is open in such cases, particularly if concerns raised to the governors are ignored – has no-one ever taken this step? Again, Insider states ‘bullying and forcing out of staff’ – there are channels to follow for unfair dismissal – has no-one ever done this? Much talk of gagging orders and payoffs – are they even legal – and why have people accepted them? Has no-one who has fallen victim to this treatment got the nous to expose it publicly? There seems to have been a large number of them – why are they all silent?

    There are options open above and beyond the governors, if they are not addressing reports of what are alleged to be a catalogue of abusive and inappropriate behaviour. I find it somewhat incredulous to repeatedly read that years of such issues are allegedly perpetrated by a one-woman dictatorship who we are told can do what she wants, when she wants, to who she wants.

    If it’s true (and I have only the comments made here to go on – there is no evidence to parents other than the dubious departure of successive headmasters) then those who are first hand witness to it need to gather hard evidence and get that evidence into the appropriate public circles – be that the police, the press, the local MP, the Schools Inspectorate, – and moreover the Department for Education – since a vast chunk of the school’s funding comes via the Music and Dance Scheme and is thus government funding.

    Nothing will change unless those that claim to know all about it have the temerity to take it further, rather than just name and shame anonymously on blogs and forums. Parents I am sure would back any action against such appalling behaviours – but it will take more than the departure of a few headmasters and another opportunity to have a moan to garner that support.

    • Former Parent and fellow teacher says:

      Unfortunately all of the behaviours cited by staff insiders are true. All concerns were escalated to the appropriate authorities. No action was taken as it is so difficult for staff members to prove that they are being bullied. Conditions are made so difficult if you speak out that in the end you put up with it or leave. The staff at the Purcell are exceptionally committed to their students.

    • Student says:

      As you have mentioned about the poor senior management team, there is definitely something going on between the deputy head – Christine Rayfield – and someone in a higher position, although it is not known who (by myself anyway). Sanctions are unfair, rules are treated differently by different staff members and a general feeling of negativity echos throughout the SMT. Not to mention, there are rumours of her being a puppet of one of the student’s parents themselves, which is even more horrendous. The deputy continues to deny this, however.

  • Parent says:

    In the interests of journalistic balance look forward to the positive article about Purcell resurrecting the post of Director of Music 🙂

  • PARENT says:

    So new head appointed. Director of Music place reinstated and appointment very shortly. Bursar who has been focus on criticism on here retiring and new appointment soon. Plans being hatched for major new buildings. Looking forward to the new positive balanced article or just waiting for bad news?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Do you think ten years of chaos can be erased just like that? And without any of the root causes being treated? You sound very naive.

      • PARENT says:

        Did I say I think I think every problem of the past has been solved? Certainly positive steps though (especially for those laying lots of responsibility at the bursar and governors unwillingness to address this) and day to day far from chaotic. Also those claiming the school is in deep financial problems are clearly wrong. Money is there for new appointments and new buildings/refurbishments.