Governors of The Kingswinford School are intent on pushing through their Academy plans and have announced a date for conversion of 1st January 2012. The decision has been taken despite overwhelming opposition from staff who held a one-day strike on 18th October, and despite serious concerns raised by parents at a public meeting on 27th September about the lack of information and consultation.
I attended and spoke at the public meeting on 27th September. I had been asked to present a parents’ perspective on Academy status. The meeting had been called, not by the school leadership, as might be expected as part of a consultation process, but by staff and parents concerned about the lack of communication, information and opportunity for discussion. It was chaired by local Councillor Tim Crumpton. Incredibly not one single meeting for parents had been held by the school as part of the consultation.
There was an uneasy atmosphere ahead of the meeting, which was being held at a nearby Primary school. There had been pressure in school the previous day from Governors unhappy about the public meeting, and the staff I encountered were nervous about repercussions back in school. There was apprehension that some staff might be too fearful to attend.
At the meeting I listened as parents spoke of having been totally unaware that consultation had even been taking place. They were stunned to discover that the consultation period was due to end the very next day. Parents spoke of having received a letter in January informing them that the school would be looking into Academy status, and that ‘further details and opportunities for full consultation with all stakeholders will be provided in due course.’ One parent explained that they had been waiting for more information, but no further letter had been received.
Before the meeting I had trawled through the school website looking for any references I could find to the Academy proposals. Tucked away towards the bottom right of the school website is a notice about Academy status. To find it, you actually have to be looking for it (as I was). Academy status – the biggest proposed change in The Kingswinford School’s history, a decision that will affect generations of children to come – appears 6 news items down in small font. You actually have to scroll down to find it. When you click on the link you reach the following cheery message;
The Governing Body have decided to proceed with an application for us to become an Academy School. This is a very exciting moment in The Kingswinford School’s history!
The Governors have taken their decision in the best interests of the students, families and staff of The Kingswinford School.’
As more information becomes available, the Governing Body and I will keep you informed as to the progress we are making with this.
Would you like to give us your views about The Kingswinford School becoming an Academy?
(Followed by a downloadable PDF form and some glib and insubstantial information about Academy status).
Incredibly parents are actually invited to comment on a decision that has already been made. To do so they must have internet access and a printer and a habit of regularly scouring the school website. You could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that governors don’t actually want to hear parents’ views, and presumably, since the decision has already been made, wouldn’t be taking them into consideration in any case. Unsurprisingly we heard at the meeting that only one parental response had been submitted during the whole of the consultation up until that point.
Governors would not agree following the meeting to extend the consultation period, but one parent did succeed in persuading the school to hold a meeting for parents. This meeting took place on the 18th October, but it was labelled as an ‘information’ meeting and was not part of the consultation process as that had officially ended on 28th September. Weirdly the meeting was ‘ticket only’. Could it be that Governors didn’t actually want parents to attend?
A letter has recently been sent by post to every parent promoting the virtues of conversion. I understand that this is the first letter parents have had from the school about Academy status since the initial letter in January informing them that further details of consultation would be provided. No letter was sent out to parents informing them of the start or duration of the consultation, or of how they could contribute. No information was distributed to parents on which to base a consultation. The ‘consultation’ for parents consisted of a hard-to-find notice on the school website inviting them to comment on a decision that had already been made.
The lawyer David Wolfe on his excellent blog ‘A can of worms’ makes the following points about the legal requirements of consultation;
The law lays down some important requirements whenever a public body consults (i.e. they do not just apply to academy consultations). As for what they might mean in the context of consultation about an academy conversion:
- it is hard to see how an academy could lawfully not consult parents (and potentially pupils) at the school already; also at feeder schools; and indeed those feeder schools themselves; also other, potentially affected, schools in the area
- those consultees need to be given enough information about what is being proposed to understand why it is being proposed – why do the governors want the school to become an academy?
- they need to be honest about their reasons; and provide proper explanations for them
- those explanations need to withstand scrutiny – they cannot be nonsense
- the information needs to be in a form which people can understand – not technical gibberish
- people need to be given enough time to digest it; and the opportunity to ask questions and for more information
- if something changes in the course of the consultation, then the consultation may need to be extended for the fresh information to be provided to everyone
- the governors need to be open minded on the question of whether to go ahead when they consider consultation responses.
David Wolfe goes on to list the information that should as a legal minimum be provided to consultees;
- the benefits of converting
- the disadvantages of converting
- the extra money, if any, the school would get, and on what basis
- the extra responsibilities and costs the school would take on
- the risks
- the ‘freedoms’ (but asking themselves whether the things they might actually want to do with those freedoms are things they cannot do already)
- the impact on pupils
- the impact on teachers
- the impact on other staff
- the impact on the community
- the impact on other schools
I am not a lawyer, but there must be very little doubt that the consultation at The Kingswinford School has fallen far short of this and would be very unlikely to withstand a legal challenge.
The NUT and NASUWT are holding a further public meeting on Monday October 31st at Kingswinford Community Centre, 7.30pm