The following letter was been written for a variety of audiences including the Essex Local Authority, The Regional School Commissioner, The Secretary of State for Education and OFSTED.
David Williams wanted to share it as it provides invaluable context for the fight that WHX is going through right now.
I am writing to you regarding my growing concern over the issues at Waltham Holy Cross Primary School in relation to the proposals to place the school with NET Academy, or any other academy come to that.
Notwithstanding the growing furore over the academisation process as identified in a recent report by the Institute of Education at UCL as well as by other serious and damaging reports about certain other academies, Lilac Sky for example, where huge sums of money have been paid over to MATs as well as grave concerns over the quality of leadership and outcomes of these academies.
For example, Jean Else who was stripped of her Damehood in 2011 for failure to observe maximum standards in recruiting and promoting staff. Greg Martin, once favoured by Michael Gove, who was heavily criticised for his £400,000 salary, way above any reasonable salary for a school leader.
There are also concerns about the wider impact of MATs against the outcomes from Local Authority controlled schools.
The greed, cronyism and nepotism that seems to flourish in some academy settings worries me in relation to Waltham Holy Cross and its recent OFSTED report which is heavily critical of the school. This seems to go against previous LA observations found the school to be deemed ‘good’. It is also a picture that the vast majority of parents do not recognise.
It has been my pleasure to have been involved in the school for a number of years. Both my daughters have attended the school and have been very positive and happy about their experiences there. My youngest has just finished Y6 and moves to her secondary education in September with real anticipation.
As a parent though, I feel compelled to express my concerns over the way the school is currently being treated and the manner in which parental concerns have been dismissed or ignored by those currently managing the process of academisation of the school.
This is not acceptable.
During the period of time my children attended the school there were a number of ups and downs. This would be the case in any number of schools as staff and cohort changes take place. This is particularly so in relation to the period when the school operated as a separate Infant and Junior school sharing the same site.
Where there were some concerns over the Junior school the Infant school had maintained a ‘good’ grading from both the LA and OFSTED.
The Junior school was subsequently managed by Lilac Sky Academy Trust prior to its eventual amalgamation with the Infant school, thus creating a new Primary School.
As you will know, Lilac Sky was investigated by the Government’s Education Funding Agency, I believe it is now the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and was closed amid concerns that standards in some schools had dropped.
There were also concerns over ‘financial management and governance’. This was when Trevor Averre Beeson, founder of the trust was running the trust with family members.
Indeed, his daughter I believe, Ms Vicky Averre became the Interim Head of the Junior school. This must have been a conflict of interest to say the least, as she was also a founder member of Lilac Sky Schools, a private profit-making company providing services for schools and a Director of the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust.
Surely, as well as being a massive conflict of interest issue, it must also be a serious cause for concern.
Nevertheless, both schools worked together and eventually the schools amalgamated. The appointment of Erica Barnet as head of the new primary school was not that long ago.
However, it is felt by many of the school community that Mrs Barnet and the dedicated staff team, both teaching and support staff, have not been given sufficient time to embed her ideas and ethos before OFSTED made their visit.
The idea of the amalgamation was to avoid the school being forced down the academy route, but since a seemingly flawed OFSTED report in many people’s view, the school has been proposed to be taken over by NET Academy Trust, which in itself does not appear to have a very solid track record.
At a recent parent meeting with the new Interim Board there was a real strength of feeling that parents did not want NET Academy, or any other academy, and were told they could not have anyone else anyway. Parents made it clear that they disagreed with the findings by OFSTED and were concerned by the manner in which the inspection was conducted.
The Interim Board made several references to previous data but the most recent SATs results for Y6 show significant improvements. This would seem to be a clear indication that Mrs Barnet, the Leadership Team and the staff are moving in the right direction and I believe should be allowed to consolidate and build on their success for the sake of the school and the pupils who attend.
It has been a good LA school and I feel has good prospects for further development and success, take it away from the LA and we lose all accountability. If placed in a MAT that fails, as some clearly have, then the school cannot return to the LA but is sponsored by another MAT and in my view could be catastrophic for the staff and pupils alike and will have a major impact on the local community. It could lead to a catalogue of change that deprives pupils and schools of the stability they require to improve.
Mrs Barnet and the staff deserve the real opportunity to show how good they are and how well the pupils can achieve. I am all for school improvement but the manner in which this particular situation has been approached is not good enough.
The system is either ‘Requiring Improvement’ or is itself in ‘Special Measures’.
We, you, are messing with the futures of our children and at the moment I am clearly not convinced about the academisation process, nor the integrity of those who run them or have run them in the past for what appears to be their own personal gain or prestige.
I look forward to hearing from you in due course.
MA, B.ED. (Hons), SIP and PARENT