The letter that follows this article sets out in some detail the shameful process by which Paddock Wood Primary School converted to become an academy within the Leigh Academy Trust (LAT) on 1st September, along with Horsmonden Primary. Paddock Wood applied to become an Academy on 6th December 2018, without the legally required Governing Body consent, although the consultation to consider possible conversion only began in May this year, five months later (surely a pointless exercise!).
The chairman of governors sent an email in the cover up to what was in effect a secret process, stating: ‘“We should have had FGB approval to apply instead of simply a quorate for the academy working part [a sub group of the governing body]. I think this was an error” (!!!!). In fact probably making the whole process unlawful. Subsequently, it is alleged that governors made up a fictional meeting (for which neither they nor their solicitors have been able to provide minutes) at which the resolution was supposed to have occurred, despite one of the governors who was alleged to be present, stating in writing that it never took place. The Information Commissioner was highly critical of various aspects of the process, whilst admitting its findings were too late to influence proceedings. Both the Department for Education and the Regional Schools Commissioner also had concerns, but again were too late in considering these to affect proceedings.
The Minutes of the ‘Taking the School Forward Working Group’ an informal governors meeting on 22nd November 2018, later portrayed as a Full Governing Body, contains an attack on KCC by the headteacher of the two schools (although Mr Opstad . There were just four governors present: the Chair, Ros Tucker; the Headteacher Scott Opstad; a Parent Governor, and Sue Stone, who has now left the Governing Body (along with two other governors).
My previous article identifies attacks on KCC and Paul Carter its leader (previously a governor of LAT) by the CEO of the Trust in his attempt to justify the process. Warwick Mansell, an investigative journalist, has published two further articles on his website ‘Education Uncovered‘ looking in detail at the failings of the schools and Trust. The linked article inlcudes:
Paddock Wood formally triggered the process of academisation by applying for an academy order on December 6th, the government’s official academies “pipeline” data shows. However, government rules state that there has to be a vote of the full governing body before such an application can be made. Yet there seem to be no publicly-available meeting minutes showing that such a vote took place. A parent,Charles Marshall, had sought to challenge the academisation of the school through judicial review. That attempt failed, as reported in a separate story here. …The school’s solicitors said, in a letter sent to Marshall’s lawyers as part of preparing for the judicial review process, that governors had voted on applying for the academy order at a meeting on November 22nd last year. However, the only set of governor minutes available on the school’s website which relate to that date are for a meeting of a governors’ “working group” on academisation. So, not a meeting of the full Governing Body as required, and in any case, no indication of a vote being taken by the four governors present out of the 14 in total at that time.
Little if any of this would have come to light were it not for the efforts of Mr Marshall, one of that small band of whistleblowers that try and hold academies to account whilst those in authority pretend all is right with the system..
In passing, Education Uncovered has reported that Simon Beamish, CEO of Leigh Academy Trust was the 13th highest paid leader of an Academy Trust in the country for 2017-18, on £220,000.
Letter from Mr Charles Marshall, parent of boys recently at Paddock Wood Primary School.
It is with great sadness that I am writing to let you know that my two sons have left Paddock Wood Primary School. They have been happy at the school and leave with many fond memories.
Though sad, the decision was not a difficult one. We were clear that first, it should be about practicalities, not ideology – that is to say, our decision should be about the boys’ education and their day-to-day experience of being at school. Second, it should be for and about them, not us.
During the last nine months, the conduct of the governing body has been shameful. Parents were told from the outset that you were only investigating academisation as one option when in fact, as the LAT Winter Newsletter made clear, the decision to convert had already been taken before you’d even written to us. You told parents that you’d only applied for the £25,000 grant from DfE because you needed the money for your ‘research’, when the DfE explicitly states the grant is for the costs of conversion. The fact that both the headteacher and the chair of governors refused to attend a public meeting organised by parents to present the case for staying with the local authority gave the lie to your claim that you were genuinely investigating the proposal (people who are genuinely trying to find answers don’t ignore arguments unless they’ve already made up their minds). You held two presentations to brief parents on your plans during which you attempted to control the agenda as a means of bullying and excluding any voices of dissent. You derided parents’ efforts to be given a vote on academisation saying that only a very small number were against the proposal, when actually a petition signed by 470 people showed that more than 300 of them were from postcodes in which Paddock Wood parents lived.
You broke DfE rules that were designed to ensure that academisation was consensual and governor-driven (rather than headteacher-led). When it was discovered that the chair of governors had in fact applied to convert to an academy on 4th December without first obtaining a resolution of the governing body, your efforts to save the conversion started to become Buster Keaton-ish. Despite an email from the chair of governors stating that, “We should have had FGB approval to apply instead of simply a quorate for the academy working part [a sub group of the governing body]. I think this was an error”, you made up a fictional meeting (for which neither you nor your solicitors have been able to provide minutes) at which the resolution was supposed to have occurred, despite one of the governors who you say was present, stating in writing that it never took place.
At every opportunity you tried to conceal from parents what you were doing. Against all transparency and child protection rules, the headteacher used his private gmail to correspond with the Leigh Academies Trust. You redacted governor meeting minutes to hide new charges LAT are going to impose. You blocked freedom of information requests and the school even blocked my email address so that I couldn’t send emails to the school office (do you even realise the difficulties this could have caused for my children?).
You have probably found it easy to maintain a ‘dignified silence’ (as the CEO of your multi academy trust called it, I assume in a rare moment of irony) when faced with the scrutiny of journalists; after all aren’t they all just ‘trolls under the bridge’, to quote the CEO again? But actually, everyone who has looked at this woeful conversion has concluded that at some point in the process your conduct has fallen short: the Information Commissioner’s Office, Kent County Council, Paddock Wood Town Council, even those disciples of academisation the Department for Education.
What does this have to do with my children who, thankfully, are oblivious to all of this? You see, I do not imagine for a moment that the concealment, the obfuscation, the untruths will stop now the school has converted. It will continue, only parents won’t know because it will be subtle and incremental. It’ll only be three or four years hence, when the headteacher has long gone to pastures still better paid that, pausing for a moment, remembering what it used to be like and comparing that with what it will have become, will it be possible to see what we – children, families, teachers, the community of Paddock Wood – what we all will have irrevocably lost.
Source: Kent Educational advice
Leigh Academy Trust shows Contempt for the Rules at Paddock Wood and Horsmonden Primaries.