Government Wants Scilly’s School To Become Academy Within 18 Months

The Five Islands School

The Five Islands School

The government wants the Five Islands School to become an academy within the next 18 months.

That’s the conclusion of a Department for Education investigation into the school following the suspensions of former head teacher Bryce Wilby and deputy head teacher Ben Probert last summer.

The 12-page report, produced by officials who visited the school last November following complaints to the DfE, says the school’s governors didn’t understand what to do and allowed the Council to take over and overstep their authority.

They interviewed almost fifty people from the school and local authority and inspected documentation during their investigation. Their goal was to find out whether the governors and the Council had followed proper procedures and they didn’t deal with the allegations made against staff members or assess whether their suspensions were justified.

The report alleges that there was ‘conflict and acrimony’ in the Five Islands School governing body and that they suffered from a poor understanding of their legal responsibilities and separation from the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

And the DfE recommends the governors should ‘actively and strenuously’ investigate acquiring Academy status, possibly by joining with an existing multi-Academy Trust on the mainland.

The report alleges that the Council and governing body breached education law on several occasions. The DfE says that only the school governors had the legal right to suspend staff members and allege that the council went beyond its powers by not informing the governing body in writing of their concerns about Mr Wilby before the 18th May meeting.

The Council allegedly gave the governors the impression that the authority could suspend Mr Wilby and the report also alleges that the Council did not have the power to suspend Mr Probert on 28th May.

They state that, “the council placed the governors under undue pressure to make a decision on the evening of 18 May.”

The Council allegedly informed the full governing body of the details of the allegations against Mr Wilby at that meeting, and again, at a meeting on 29th June. This, say the DfE, left the governing body unable to follow their own disciplinary procedure, which allows for some governors to be kept outside the decision to suspend a staff member. This is in case they need to hold an appeal.

The two formal press releases issued by the Council disclosed allegations against Mr Wilby and, on two occasions, indicated there was substance to those allegations. This, they claim, breached the terms of Mr Wilby’s suspension and the school’s disciplinary procedures.

The DfE say there is no evidence that the governors were involved in defining the scope of the audit investigation initiated by the Council and allege that the investigating officer appointed by the governors was not recognised by the Authority.

They also allege that staff governors and governors with close family links to the school or Council remained present in discussions relating to the suspension of Mr Wilby and the reversal of a staff restructuring process at the school, which had downgraded some roles and salaries.

Although the staff governors didn’t vote on that reversal, they should not have been in the room, the DfE claim. The attendance of governors employed by the Council, when their employer was recommending the head’s suspension, was also improper, they say.

In their summary, the DfE say many interviewees highlighted conflicts between the council and governing body, often related to financial matters, and that there was a long history of the Council being too ‘hands-on,’ a claim, they say, that was strenuously denied by Council officers.

But the DfE says there has been more stability under chairman Ben Julian’s leadership although there are still disagreements, they say.

The report criticises the governing body for a poor understanding of their legal roles and responsibilities and alleges they lacked the skills and experience to operate autonomously from the Council. But while the authors accept that the small size of the community in Scilly makes it hard to achieve an independent governing body, they recommend introducing a ‘significant element’ from outside the islands.

The governors should ‘actively and strenuously’ investigate becoming and Academy, possibly by joining with a similar Academy school on the mainland.

Chair of governors, Ben Julian says the school governing body met last week to discuss the findings of the report. He confirmed that they would respond to the report by the deadline of 28th March but he said he couldn’t say any more.

17 Responses to Government Wants Scilly’s School To Become Academy Within 18 Months

  1. Nobby Nobbs April 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    The DFE report states….

    “The report alleges that the Council and governing body breached education law on several occasions. ”
    “The Council allegedly gave the governors the impression that the authority could suspend Mr Wilby and the report also alleges that the Council did not have the power to suspend Mr Probert on 28th May.”

    Why have there been no prosecutions or suspension form post if the law was broken ?

  2. Rincewind March 27, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    I expect that although some governors were willing to go along with something that was clearly wrong there are a small minority who have persisted in trying to get things done properly and in some cases been vilified for doing that.

  3. Moist von Lipwig AKA Steve Sims March 27, 2013 at 12:49 am

    Kev, you are clearly blissfully ignorant of the many travesties of rabbit hutches I foisted on my son’s poor rabbits. And I think Porthcressa is starting to look quite nice. But please everyone don’t start bickering about PC here.

  4. Moist von Lipwig AKA Steve Sims March 26, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I don’t think the governors can be blamed too much for this unholy debacle, they are after all British, and the British as a social group have a long standing and warranted trust in their civil service. And historically the British civil service are and probably still are the least corrupt in the world. So when an emergency meeting is called and a situation is presented, without specifics being given because of their heinous nature, which requires immediate and urgent action or there will be grave consequences, what were the governors to do? They had to take this nonsense on good faith.

    It’s not their job to know the minutia of the law regarding school governance, generally advice will be available from numerous bodies elsewhere. But not on a Friday evening. They were presented with an arguably spurious crisis, which they were told had to be resolved there and then. So on the reasonable assumption that this was the case the governing body went along with the advice given. A number of the governors insisted that the action was inappropriate, however it went through.

    Why was it so urgent? Obviously not because Bryce was due to see officials at the DfE about Academy status for the School the following Monday. Clearly not, because that would have been wrong, wouldn’t it?

    Why was it so urgent that the meeting was held at the start of the weekend? Clearly not to prevent the governing body from accessing desperately needed independent advice form the mainland. That would have been wrong, wouldn’t it?

    And clearly this rather strange set of events wasn’t carefully staged to shanghai the governing body into allowing this illegal process to start rolling. That would have been wrong wouldn’t it?

    The governors did act incorrectly, but it could be said that the circumstances were engineered so that they were backed into a corner and had little choice. And I very much doubt that there is an example of this type of situation in the Governor’s Handbook.

    This whole process could be seen, by someone much more cynical than me, as an assault with an unlicensed shotgun on someone’s career and prestige, in order to perpetuate a grubby empire building scam. But clearly it wasn’t, because that would have been wrong wouldn’t it.

    I have no issues at all with the school. But regarding Academy status, I can not see any reason why anyone (without a vested interest) would want the council (given the above) involved with the school ever again.

    The school is a good one, despite, not because of, the Council’s influence.

    • Kev Wright March 26, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      I think, Mr Lipwig, you have just hit several nails squarely on their heads. With carpentry skills like that you should get down to Porthcressa and finish off that mess that won’t go away.

  5. Kev Wright March 26, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    I’m not sure Verity’s view is that “jaundiced”. I can’t vouch for the quality of all employed by the school. My son is in Mr Garrett’s class and given the awkward situation of my son having to have a lot of time off for a major operation and subsequent adjustments to the way he’s treated and taught by the school I have nothing but praise for Mr Garret and his team. They’ve been brilliant. I’m sure most of the other staff are too.

    One thing I’m pretty sure of though, is that there are a lot more people employed by the school now than when I was there. My GCSE results turned out OK and I didn’t bother revising. So the teaching must have been up to standard with what seems like less members of staff. Of course I wouldn’t wish anyone to lose their job and it would of course create unemployment and worry which no one wants, but I do wonder if these pay cuts and possible redundancies are needed? There seems to be an awful lot of money involved.

  6. Terrence March 26, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Oh dear Verity! You certainly have a very jaundiced view of our school. The DfE report had absolutely nothing to do with the school at all – staff or students. It was about the Governing body and the Council. To say such hurtful and untrue things about the staff as” frankly not all of them would be re-employed and, those that did make the cut, would probably be on a more realistic pay grade” indicates an ill informed axe to grind there. The staff I’ve met and the comments the pupils report suggest that we have a talented group – the results as measured against national standards would say so too. As for the ‘room for improvement’ it was not about the students at all. Read the OFSTED, report, it’s about Leadership and Management which is being repaired and has to be graded at 3 because of its temporary nature. no matter how good it actually is. The pupils’ achievement and behaviour were truly praised by OFSTED. It’s a shame your anger gets in the way of reality and focuses on the school, not the people who were at fault – the Governing Body and the Council.

  7. Verity Pushpram March 25, 2013 at 11:33 pm

    The council were not “unsure of their role”, they knew exactly what they were doing.
    You say ….”Academy status removes any local accountability”
    And you think the governors and senior council officers have been accountable !!!!
    This is exactly the reason why the school should be made an academy, so local people with vested interests can’t meddle with it to suit their own ends.

    As to the Ofsted report, the conclusion was ‘Room for improvement’ not ‘top marks’ as you stated.

    You go on to say “The staff I feel would not want this” Of course they don’t, because it means them having to reapply for their jobs and frankly not all of them would be re-employed and, those that did make the cut, would probably be on a more realistic pay grade.

    As a parent who has put a number of children through the school, I can honestly say, it failed all of ‘my’ children.

    It’s too late for me and mine but I do hope that the new head is able to do what needs doing and that will mean change and a lot of people are going to be unhappy which is another reason for the governing body to be replaced or diluted with cooler heads from
    outside the islands, so decisions that are required can be made by people who don’t have to worry about upsetting people. Off islands school bases and Mundersley being perfect examples.

  8. Terrence March 25, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Politics at work here. The DfE correctly identified a dysfunctional and divided Goverining body plus a Coucnil unsure of its role. So why should the school have to become an Academy? Academies were originally created for schools that were failing. Then widened to break the link with local democracy. Our school is one of the best performing in the country, currently very well managed by the team at the top, staff happy and pupils getting top marks from both OFSTED and HMI. Academy status removes any local accountabilty, allows the National Curriculum to be ignored and any national agrreements can be dispensed with. The staff I feel would not want this, the pupils who are high achievers wouldn’t get much benefit, so who would it benefit? The Govenment of course who wish to dismantle and eventually privatise education. Is this what we want for our children? I think not.

  9. Mark Prebble March 25, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    Such a shame that once again a leaked draft document pre empts any attempt at transparency or calls for accountability by the complainants. With the draft apparently only available to governors and the council, who actually benefits from this action?

  10. PJ March 25, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    i hope the Council is well-insured against a claim for constructive dismissal – for that is what I would do in the same position.
    Those of us who have been in the teaching profession a very long time always knew that Education Law had been breached but sayng so on Scill………
    At least the Chair of Governors has learnt that he should not comment.

  11. Nobby Nobbs March 25, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Nobby Nobbs would like it known that he has been heavily moderated on this post, in particular with regard to a post he made about the legality of actions taken by the senior council officers involved and the process that should now be followed regarding their conduct in all of this.

  12. Sue March 25, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Colin. I believe the decision for the school to become an academy is entirely down to the governing body. It is not for the councillors to decide.

  13. Kev Wright March 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Hi Colin, I was talking more about the apparently unlawful actions that have taken place than about the school getting academy status to be honest. My main gripe has been that what took place wasn’t done in the correct way, and this report suggests this was indeed the case. As for academy status – I’d need to research that more to come up with a set opinion as to whether that’s the way forward. But the main point is that a man was forced from his job and the place he lived under suspect circumstances. Something that has sat very uncomfortably with me. To me this has been the major worry. Would love to have a chat sometime.

  14. Margaret Davis March 25, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Colin I disagree with your comment. This report is about proper procedures and fairness . If as you suggest ,some Councillors and Officers disagreed with Mr Wilby ,do we allow them to ignore the democratic processes and make sure by their subsequent actions that a family is hounded off the island.

    I shall certainly not vote for anyone who supports such methods!

  15. Colin Ridsdale March 25, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Interesting logic, Kevin. The Conservative Government has wanted academies all across the land since Day 1, and has the power to get what it wants by whatever means.
    Just maybe some of the, still independent, elected Councillors to our Council disagreed with this argument, for academies, for Scilly. Westminster says that it wants to hand local decision making back to locally elected Councils, but it only whispers “ when it suits us”!
    Always was – and always will be; get elected, to take the blame locally for whatever nationally has already been decided, whether you agree or not!
    The more who stand for Council, the more that will learn how it all works. Please prove that my cynicism is ill founded. I will be the first to apologise; good luck to all who stand.
    Give me a shout when the sun comes out, I’d love to have a meet and chat about it all. Col.

  16. Kev Wright March 25, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Is anyone else not surprised by any of the content there?
    I think that shows conclusively what many people though – certain members of the council acted unlawfully. I hope this is all dealt with accordingly. Good to hear that things are improving and I wish the new head all the best with the tough challenge of dealing with the outcome of this whole mess.