A tale of two schools

Earlier this year Ofsted rated two secondary schools in the same county as inadequate. Their inspection reports are on the Ofsted website. One school was a community school; the other an academy. What happened next?

As a community school, the local authority was required to undertake an exercise about the future of the school, including the option of closing it. Whatever the outcome, the school would become an academy. As this happened just after the county council elections in May, the new Cabinet Member swung into action, working closely with officers to assist the school with its own recovery plan. There was a rapid change of head teacher and a general tightening up of standards and procedures. At the same time, a search was instigated for a nearby-by school that could partner the school as an academy in a multi-academy trust. With goodwill all round, the school looks set on a good future with the local community and parents backing its continued existence. Whether making the school an academy is helpful only time will tell.

The other secondary school is a faith school that is already an academy. It sits in a multi-academy trust with a number of primary schools of the same faith. Eighteen months ago it was placed into financial special measures as a result of misunderstanding about how much money it would receive ahead of changing to an all-through school and starting a primary department. The rules are different for existing school changing age range than for the creation of a new school. The school has had a high number of permanent exclusions, despite being a faith school, and appears to top the list of schools with the largest number of permanent exclusion in the county over a three-year period. Recently it has logged some of the worst GSCE Mathematics results in the provisional totals for 2017 outcomes that appeared in the local press. The school also has a very high percentage of days lost through persistent absenteeism, sufficiently high to place it well into the upper echelons of the national table for such outcomes. The head teacher has, of course changed. As an academy, it is up to the Regional School Commissioner and his Board to decide what to do with the school. The RSC has guidance from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/640916/SCC_guidance.pdf the DfE’s document on guidance on schools causing concern. Chapter 2 deals with academies causing concern. Between May and July there was no record of the relevant Head Teacher Board discussing any performance issues at any school in the region in the minutes of meetings and they also don’t seem to be note Ofsted decisions about academies rated as inadequate at any of their meetings.  They may be reported to sub-boards, but those minutes appear not to be public documents. The RSC has the power to take drastic action, including re-brokering the academy and in extremis effecting its closure. There was no requirement for a public consultation about the future of the school.

So, here we have the two governance systems dealing with the same problem:  a secondary school deemed inadequate. In one case, what happens next takes place in the full glare of publicity; in the other case, behind closed doors, where it is difficult to see if anything happens? It would be interesting to see how many parents have chosen to withdraw their offspring from each school since the Ofsted judgement?

How transparent should these issues be? In the world of local government, schools can less easily hide: in the case of academies, the new system of governance seems far too slanted towards secrecy and a lack of public accountability, let alone public consultation.

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3 thoughts on “A tale of two schools

  1. Transparency at RSC level is a concern. Minutes of meetings are slow to be published. Headteacher boards include appointed members as well as elected ones. This is undemocratic. There’s a potential conflict of interest when appointed members are also trustees of academy trusts. Even if appointed members withdraw when discussions about transfers to their MAT take place, there’s the question of how much influence the appointed members have behind the scenes. For example, Tim Coulson, when RSC for East of England, turned down a bid from a diocesan board to take over a VA school in Great Yarmouth in favour of Inspiration Trust whose CEO Dame Rachel de Souza sat on Coulson’s headteacher board as an appointed member. Coulson also gave the green light to Inspiration’s takeover of two primaries and one free school. Now Coulson is the chair of the Great Yarmouth academy run by Inspiration. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2017/09/schools-commissioner-who-approved-takeover-of-yarmouth-academy-by-inspiration-trust-now-sits-as-its-chair-of-governors

    • Janet,

      I was trying to highlight the lack of transparency and risk of an NHS style closed system compared with the relatively more open system we have been used to in education. If the system does continue then there will have to be more scrutiny at more cost and less funds for schools. I might have compared the salaries of the school leadership teams, but didn’t as both have imported leaders whose stay may well be temporary. However, I suspect on a per pupil basic MATS cost more in leadership costs than either stand alone academies or maintained schools paying to Scale.

      The blog post has been taken up by someone on twitter, so views are rising quite fast despite it being half term in parts of the country.

      John

  2. Pingback: Deeds not words please, Mr Hinds | John Howson

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