A HEADTEACHER and his deputy have spoken publicly for the first time about complaints from staff over how their school was run.

Jon Howard-Drake and Bea Bates said they had been in a personal relationship since November 2004.

But they said this was common knowledge and did not compromise how they had run The Misbourne school, Great Missenden.

Mr Howard-Drake and his partner, who both retired at the end of the summer term, became the subject of allegations in the Daily Mail last month when it was claimed that a collapse in morale had led to an increase in resignations under their leadership.

It was said staff had compiled dossiers of problems at the school and alleged the relationship breached policies.

A council letter also reveals union officials had raised concerns about the “whole school climate, ethos and morale” with issues identified by staff including access to unions, staff recruitment and retention, the “middle leadership” structure, and support for some subjects, special needs care and staff expectations.

Student behaviour, enrolment and “leadership style and close relationships at work” were also mentioned.

But in a statement to the Bucks Free Press the pair said their relationship had been widely known for many years and in no way created a conflict of interest.

They said: “It has been common knowledge within the school and the wider community that we have been involved in a personal relationship since November 2004.

“Our continued leadership of the school was sanctioned by the Local Education Authority and Buckinghamshire County Council.

“We have always strived to deal with any issues which might be perceived as relating to our personal relationship in an open, honest and professional manner.” They said this had been acknowledged by the school’s chairman of governors after a meeting with him and a county council official in January 2007.

“The Chair confirmed on behalf of the Governors and Buckinghamshire County Council that, concerning our relationship, we conducted ourselves ‘in a truly professional way which has had no adverse impact on the wellbeing of the school’ and that the issue had been ‘fully addressed and no further judgment or action is needed’.”

They added: “Thus our professional obligations and duties have never been compromised in any way as a result of our relationship and no conflict of interest has arisen.

“Far from our relationship having a detrimental effect on the school, under our leadership The Misbourne has flourished.”

They pointed to the fact the school was awarded the Investors in People twice, most recently in January of this year, and to complimentary comments about the school’s leadership in the school’s last Ofsted report, published in January 2008.

This included “resolving its inherited budget deficit whilst improving accommodation and resources”.

They pointed out that in July 2009, Jon Howard-Drake’s Senior Link Educational Advisor from Buckinghamshire County Council’s School Improvement Department said Mr Howard-Drake was a ‘principled and professional leader of the school…’ And they highlighted a comment in the last report which said: “The senior leadership team, inspired by a headteacher with vision and determination, are setting a clear direction for improving the education in the school.”

They said: “We have had numerous positive and supportive messages from staff and pupils following our decision to retire.”

And their statement added: “…in our experience, and as many of our former colleagues and pupils have confirmed to us in recent days, the school provides a happy and friendly environment for staff and pupils alike.”

Buckinghamshire County Council declined to comment on the pair’s relationship being sanctioned. The school’s governors also declined to comment.

Guidance about close personal relationships at work is given to schools by the county council, but chairman of governors Keith Lawes declined to comment on whether this policy had been adopted by The Misbourne school.

The council refused to release its policy but a copy seen by the Bucks Free Press and dated 2003 says the council will not employ or continue to employ people who share a direct line management relationship or where one is a ‘manager’s manager’.

It says: “This is because of the potential conflict of interests, which could cause significant problems with employee management (e.g. appraisal, grievance, discipline, etc.) by creating the potential for claims of favouritism or unequal treatment.”

Mr Howard-Drake and his partner said a parent’s comment in the last Ofsted report described the school as a ‘happy, caring establishment with a family ethos’.

Their statement concluded: “In addition, the school is oversubscribed and is one of the most popular schools in the county. Turnover of staff has reduced significantly in our time at the school. Aside from ourselves, only two members of staff left at the end of this year.”