The title is probably the longest I have ever used. It certainly is not snappy, but it describes what this post is about.
Northallerton School and Sixth Form College has been placed in special measures following an Ofsted inspection in January 2018. Consequently, the school is, understandably, keen to demonstrate how it is making progress. As part of this progress academisation is being identified as a positive step forwards . This post comments on the issues of accountability highlighted in the Executive Principal’s recent video blog, particularly in relation to the academisation process. The Ofsted Report is available on the school’s website as well as direct from Ofsted.
The Executive Principal’s video blog sets out to reassure parent’s that the school is making progress since the Ofsted inspection. It is a two-hander video, with an amateur feel. This may be deliberate, an attempt to convey an authentic voice of the Executive Principal who can be believed and whose opinions can be trusted because they are not tainted by the spin of professional video making.
Early in the video the Executive Principal addresses some of the areas judged inadequate in the Ofsted report. Clearly, these will be areas of concern for parents of young people at the school, and listing the ways in which the school is addressing these is designed to set a reassuring tone.
However, there are several problems with this message of reassurance which are highlighted here. The video is introduced by Keith Prytherch, the Executive Principal who doesn’t introduce himself by giving his name. An oversight perhaps?
The other presence in the video is Paul Bartlett, introduced as the ‘Chair of Governors’. However, he announces that “the governing body is no longer in existence” (I’m not sure, therefore how he can be chair of governors). The governing body has been replaced with an interim executive board (IEB) which is a process that can happen when a school is placed in special measures of where the governing body has not adequately performed its duties. Paul is also introduced as chair of Areté (ἀρετή) Learning Trust, a multi-academy trust (MAT) which is a clear portent of the future direction of the school as I will comment on later.
A key theme referred to in the video is accountability, reflecting the identification of this by Ofsted as a major area of concern.
“The previous governing body didn’t really hold the school accountable for what was going on and that was part of the reason for the Inadequate judgement”
The response to the problems surrounding accountability are far from reassuring.
Whilst shortfalls in the accountability process have been identified, the video then goes on to outline how it intends to reduce local accountability even further. The following statement is key:
“The School is going to leave Local Authority Control and go to a Sponsoring Trust”
References to local authority control are misleading and I would argue, in this context, irresponsible. The use of the word control here serves to support an idea that schools need to be freed from a dictatorial regime (the local authority). Local Management of Schools was introduced following the 1988 Education Act which delegated financial and management responsibilities to schools. Further changes devolving more responsibilities to schools were made following the 2002 Education Act and 2006 Education and Inspections Act. Gradually, the responsibilities and the powers of local authorities over education have been eroded. Local authorities currently retain a limited number of responsibilities in relation to schooling, including planning for school places, arranging alternative provision for pupils who are permanently excluded from school as well as the provision of home to school transport. The local authority, North Yorkshire County Council, does not control the school in this sense, but does have responsibilities to promote high educational standards. Indeed, as the Executive Principal explains, four local authority advisers are coming in to the school on a weekly basis. This support from the local authority is celebrated as an example of how the school is improving. Yet, shortly after, leaving this apparent controland academisation is identified as a way forward, no doubt sponsored by the Areté (ἀρετή) Learning Trust.
Accountability, highlighted here in this video is lacking in an academy trust. They are not accountable to parents or the local electorate, but are accountable directly to the secretary of state. Concerns have already been expressed surrounding multi-academy trusts who withdraw from running schools. In particular these trusts have been accused of asset stripping (land, playing fields, school buildings and other property is no longer owned by the school or local authority, i.e. it is no longer owned by you). However ineffective the governing body may have been in this case it is important to retain local accountability of schools. The existence of school governing bodies ensures that not only parents, but local residents are able to hold local authorities and schools accountable. If they don’t act accordingly, local democracy enables other representatives to be elected and appointed as school governors.
In short, the school is tackling shortcomings with the existing mechanisms of accountability by replacing them with an academy system which offers no accountability to parents and local residents At the same it sells this as progress. That is a clever, but irresponsible move.
Finally, Keith Prytherch ends the video:
“Any feedback, we would genuinely welcome”
You are free to read this blog post.
The conversation to academy status is presented as not only desirable, being the best way forward for the school, but as a given. Neither is the case. Academisation can be resisted.