School Holiday Sleuth – Idyll Interrupted – 5

There was a momentary pause while Blandford took in the enormity of this small bag. He stood up stiffly and moved towards the door. “Perhaps we could break for a moment?” He signalled another police officer into the room and ushered Anna out and into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.

“Right.” Blandford continued, with his hands wrapped around a mug of hot sweet tea and with one of Barry’s Hobnobs in his lap. “That was a surprise. I have sent it away, as you suggested.”

“I haven’t kept it from you. I only found it late last night.” Anna wasn’t sure if, or why, Blandford was cross.

“No, it’s not that.” Blandford’s face relaxed. “We’ve been looking for something, anything, to make some headway into this case and we have been unsuccessful, no one seems to know anything useful, but now it’s clear I began at the wrong end of the group.” He smiled. “Where shall we start?”

“Perhaps we’d better start with the victim.” Anna proposed. Blandford nodded, settled back into his chair and munched his biscuit. “I didn’t know Janice before we came here and I obviously didn’t know her for very long, but I think I have pieced together the sort of person she was which helps me understand why she was killed.”

“Go on.” Blandford reached for another biscuit.

“Janice played the ‘fragile-little-girl-lost’ character but she was, in actual fact, a very shrewd operator, manipulative and controlling. She has been entwined with this group since she was a teenager and her crush on Jeremy meant that the boys, as they were then, tolerated her but didn’t pay her much attention” Anna stopped, realising that Blandford wouldn’t know about Jeremy.

“That’s OK, the Jeremy incident is in Robert’s police file, there was quite a detailed investigation at the time.” Blandford reassured her that she could continue.

“After Jeremy died the boys went off to university and you’d think that would be the end of it, but Janice found her way back into the group when they all returned to work in their home town by attaching herself to Colin, Jeremy’s younger brother. At that time, Colin was involved with Rebecca and began playing golf with Robert, Neville and Elden, as his brother had done, I think they all wanted to help Colin, so they invested in his Fitness Club idea.”

Blandford tried to get it clear in his head. “Rebecca and Colin?”

“Yes but Colin left her for Janice when they started working together on setting up the Club and Robert was there as a shoulder for Rebecca to cry on.”

“I see.”

“So with the Club proving to be a success, Colin became more settled and, finally admitting he was gay, fell in love with Anthony. Janice then moved, perhaps rather too swiftly, on to Elden and his money.”

“Nobody else has talked about any of this.” Blandford was astounded at all this detail.

“It is just a case of listening to them all when they talk, and also what they don’t say.” Anna replied. “I spend a lot of time in my job listening to others.”

“So, what is going on?” Blandford was keen to hear more.

“It’s clear that Janice and Elden’s marriage has been struggling. I think he has grown tired of her ‘china doll’ persona, he wants someone who can be a Stepmother to his children and I don’t think they get along very well as a family. Elden might be very wealthy but he is unhappy that the Club is failing and he is worried about losing his investment.” Anna took a breath and a sip of her tea. “Indra and Neville seem pretty solid, I think Indra was good friends with Elden’s first wife, so her relationship with Janice was strained. Robert is still wracked with guilt over Jeremy which affects his marriage but I think they’ll be OK, they’ve got a major event on the horizon.”

“And Colin and Anthony?”

“I think they are a very strong couple. They have similar interests but their age gap puts them at different stages in their career.”

Blandford looked over the notes he had been making. “So, on the face of it, this is a happy group of friends in Cornwall for a golf tour holiday, what makes you so sure it was one of them?”

“There were a few initial clues that made me want to look a bit deeper. In my line of work we say that trust is not a control, everything has got to be evidenced.” Anna looked thoughtful. “I guess I’ve just got used to listening to my instincts and then looking for answers.”

“What were the first clues?” Blandford’s team hadn’t yet been able to put any of it together.

“For me, the sand in the Boot Room was the first clue.” Anna replied. “I’ve had an advantage over your team in that I was here earlier in the day and also at the time of the murder. As usual with holiday lets, the house was spotless when we arrived. The building and contents are a little dated but the cleanliness was impressive. No one walked from the beach through the Boot Room but the following morning, the floor was covered in sand. We had all arrived at midday, then Barry and I went down to the beach, and everyone had joined us by four o’clock.”

“Yes, everybody has agreed that you were all on the beach by four and stayed until Janice was the first to return to the house at nine thirty.” Blandford continued to write in his notebook and absent-mindedly nibble biscuits.

“Janice returning alone to the house was the first thing that I thought was odd,” Anna explained. “Elden had a sweater with him but he didn’t offer it to Janice when she complained of being cold. She had probably hoped her husband would come back with her to the house, a natural expectation, but he didn’t and no one else offered. She will have arrived at the house at nine forty, we watched her go in the front door and turn on every light in the house.”

“Is that unusual?”

“Every light seemed a little over the top to me, I wondered at first if she was signalling something, but now I think she was terrified of being on her own, she must have known her life was in danger and if she knew that, it must be someone in the group that she was afraid of. When we all arrived at the house at ten past ten, we also went through the front door, and left a lot of sand in the hall too, I noticed.”

“So, just to go back and clarify what I think you are saying, Janice was not afraid of Elden?” Blandford looked as though he’d had a revelation.

“That’s right, Elden didn’t kill his wife.”

Blandford looked over to the window and saw that it was nearly dark. “Let’s stop there for now. I need to take this back to the office and look at it with my team. We’ve been working hard to find evidence that Elden killed his wife, you’ve just blown a big hole in that.”

“The thing you must remember Blandford,” Anna pointed out, “Is that while the killer thinks your main suspect is Elden, they feel safe to carry on at the house.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t be sharing this with anyone other than my immediate team and I’ll be back first thing tomorrow morning. If you are at all concerned, just let my officer know.” Blandford indicated towards the young uniformed man at the door.

“YOU DID WHAT?” Barry’s rage was evident. “How could you do that Anna?” In a big dramatic flurry, Barry turned on his side, with his back to his wife and inched right over to the edge of the bed to demonstrate just how cross he was. Anna reached out her hand; she was very tempted to give him a firm shove to send him flying onto the floor, but relented.

“I’m sorry, that is all there was available.” She smiled to herself in the dark. “I promise to go to the shop tomorrow and get you some more Hobnobs.”

“Unforgivable.” Barry humphed, but then turned back into the middle to give her a hug. “I’ll let you off this once as you’ve had such a difficult day.”

The following morning, and back from her walk to the shop; Anna sipped coffee and felt rather sad to be spending such a beautiful day in a room with Blandford. “First of all, can we go over what you think happened? I’ll then talk to my team and we’ll resume again this afternoon.” Anna had noticed that there were a considerable number of officers in the house.

“Of course.” Anna was keen to get going and be outside. “We all arrived back at the house at ten past ten and found that the front door was locked, everyone spent time looking to see if they had a key, I eventually found one in the bottom of my rucksack and we opened the door and talked in the hall before Barry and I went up to bed. It was just after twenty to eleven that Elden found Janice.”

“OK, The forensics report says that Janice had been dead for about half an hour. But that would mean she would have been killed before you all got back.” Blandford looked confused.

“I believe the killer was extremely opportunistic. On approaching the front door, they saw Janice through the kitchen window, went through the Boot Room picked up a golf club and glove on their way and struck her over the head with it before she knew what had happened. They then picked up a kitchen knife and thrust it into her back before wiping the golf club with the glove and putting it back in a bag, before tossing the glove into the bushes and rejoining the group as we all went in through the front door. It would probably have taken less than a minute and in the darkness of the porch, no one noticed that they were gone.”

“So it was possible then.” Blandford couldn’t help but be impressed.

“Yes, all the killer needed to do was stall the discovery of the body for as long as possible. It is fortunate that Elden went for a glass of water in the kitchen after their round of whiskey in the lounge, otherwise she may have lain undiscovered for a lot longer.”

“So, whose is the glove?” Blandford was still struggling to put it together. “Wouldn’t they need two?”

“The glove is Robert’s. He is right handed so the glove would be worn on the left hand. Barry is left-handed.” Anna added by way of explanation. ”The putter that was used to strike Janice was Neville’s. He is also a left-handed player. I think that is why the blow to the head caused so much internal damage, it was wielded by a right-handed person.“

“The autopsy did say there was unusual damage to the base of the skull, it is likely she was rendered instantly unconscious.” Blandford flicked back through his notebook to verify and then nodded. “The strike alone may have been enough to kill her without medical attention. Why drive the knife in as well?”

“Dramatic effect?” Anna paused. “A ‘knife in the back’ is an expression used to describe someone who has betrayed you.”

“Who had Janice betrayed?” Blandford’s notebook wasn’t any further help.

Anna looked straight at Blandford. “To some degree…over the years…everyone in the group.”

We’ve got to Let It Go

I’m always a little in awe of @shropshiresbm blogs and I read a timely retweet of Are you a next generation business leader? with interest and optimism. I was inspired, as was the intention of the theme, to consider myself an ambitious business leader, with the potential to go as far as I wish to. “There is no glass ceiling” is an inspiring ‘call to arms’ to achieve, collaborate, get qualified, lead, fly… but then that nagging disquiet floods in. Because in the back of my mind a small voice reminds me “but you love being a School Business Manager”.

Yes. I do. I love the variety and the broad skill set needed to lead all those different non-teaching functions in a school. But I am fully aware that I have got to Let It Go. I know that my job, in its present form, is disappearing over the horizon. 
I am in no doubt that our profession is about to change significantly. The government’s attempt to mount the first step on the Change Management Ladder by ‘Creating a Sense Of Urgency’ back-fired dramatically when they had to u-turn on the policy of forcing all schools to become an Academy by 2022. As a result, schools with the drive and resources to take up the leadership reins have been left hanging and everyone is confused by the continuing debate. 

Of course, we are told that the policy is still, quietly, going ahead, but without any momentum it is clear that the process is going to be piecemeal, ineffective, damaging and slow. It will also lack the required buy-in from Governors and SLT to make conversion a success for every school. 

And, as a result, step 2 is becoming unachievable. Unless school leaders can be convinced that change is necessary, they are never going to join together to ‘Form Strong Coalitions’ in order to weather the storms of change. Why would any school add to their already significant workload to follow what is still a rather vague idea promoted because it ‘might’ improve delivery and cost effectiveness?

Yes. You picked that up correctly. The required formation of Multi Academy Trusts is not the change that is coming. It is just step 2 on an 8 step process. ‘Communicating the Vision’ doesn’t come until step 4.

The glaring fact is that a Single Unit Academy or School cannot continue to operate in splendid isolation because it is clear that the funding model is not sustainable. 

So here is my idea for ‘Creating the required Sense Of Urgency’ that I believe every SBM will understand and hopefully we can use it to help us all get on step 1 of the Change Management Ladder. If you like, this is my ‘call to arms’.

Take hold of your school budget and project it forward to 2025. Use the same staff and add 1% cost of living every year, also add 1% to both pensions every year and 2% NI in 2022 (there is going to have to be a cash injection into the NHS at some point.) Then minus 1% of your income in 2021 and leave the following years at the same level of funding. 

Now do you see why there is an urgency to change the system? It is unaffordable, unsustainable and unrealistic in a modern Britain with its current size and diversity of population. 

So I am also going to be so bold and tell you that I think it is time for all SBMs to take the lead in this. Yes, it is going to mean your job changes out of all recognition. Yes, it means you are going to have to decide in which direction you want to take your leadership role. Yes, it means significant change is coming and we don’t actually know yet what that change is going to be. (Step 4 remember?)

And, if I may, I am going to stand beside @shropshiresbm to tell you that you need to be ready. To tell you that it is up to us SBMs to lead on this. That it is up to you. You absolutely do need to #Bethechange. 

Blogging for Funds – can it be done?

I blog for 4 reasons;

1. to relieve the challenge buildup of my working day. 

2. To record 2017 (not sure what I’m going to do on Dec 31 yet)

3. To entertain myself and (hopefully) others.

4. To get my head around Twitter

So, in doing this for 6 months, I’ve attracted followers in the guise of blogging experts who are keen to advise me on how to improve my blog and take it to the next level. It is all very interesting and it seems to me that my blogging learning curve has got to include an investigation into whether I could make a few bob for my school out of this (what can I say? I need the money – my shopping list includes part funding a MUGA, a mezzanine floor in the library, refurbishment of a beautiful Edwardian red brick technical school that amalgamated with us in the early 1960’s, and the demolition of several HORSAs)

So, I’m told one can make money out of a blog. OK, how? By (it seems) starting to ‘work it baby’ and sell stuff. 

So, I’ve decided to give it a try, starting with something that I genuinely believe in as a product for schools, that is very dear to my heart, with whom I have no conflict of interest, and that you would have to go some distance to persuade me to change…SAGE 200 

SAGE and I have been friends all my adult life. I started out in small business accounts, got my head round the business industry standard accounting package and never looked back. 

So when a job came up at a school that I knew had always used SAGE (albeit a completely worn out DOS based version) I applied and here I am. 

On conversion to Academy status all those moons ago, we looked at other accounts package solutions, but my business brain said no. I am a business leader, why would I want anything else but a market front runner? (and I felt at the time that all the others were disrespectfully expensive as well.)

So we upgraded to windows SAGE 200 and I embraced the system I know and love. When we converted to a MAT our SAGE provider (the biggest one I gather) bought a solution to the table and we successfully upgraded again (though I have a sneaky suspicion I’m akin to a beta tester for the add-ons, the fact that the system is updated every time we make a suggestion is a bit of a giveaway! – look, not only am I advocating this system, I’m helping develop it for you as well!)

But the main reason I like SAGE 200 is that it lets me be in control. It treats me like a business leader; it doesn’t try to do everything for me (but actually not), it doesn’t try to justify costing me an arm and a leg (it just doesn’t);  it is so widely known you can ask your accountant mate in the pub a question and he’ll know what you’re talking about; it just gets on with the job and it has everything you need. It is user friendly, it has the ability to give you some spectacular reporting functionality and, because it doesn’t try to pretend a school is anything other than a business, it is going to give you a solid transferable skill. 

All it asks of me is that I bring a modicum of accounting nonce to the table, a little bit of free thinking and a hard core understanding of double entry book-keeping, TB, P&L and BS (I’m not a qualified accountant).

I would recommend that every school big or small, MAT, SUA or Maintained, tried it out and see how it fits for you. I could even recommend an excellent service partner…

Please just tell them I sent you?

What do you think SAGE? 2% of converted sales? Am I going to get my MUGA anytime soon?