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.

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