County calls for more powers to intervene over academies

WSCC
WSCC

West Sussex County Council has appealed for local authorities to be given more power to intervene when academies get into difficulties.

At a meeting of the Children and Young People’s Services Select Committee, at County Hall, officers and councillors shared their frustration over essentially having their hands tied when it came to the ongoing situation at Thomas Bennett Community College, in Crawley.

In the past few weeks, it has been revealed that 12 teachers at the academy have resigned, the head of school has quit, strike action has been called and fears have been raised about the future level of provision for children will special educational needs.

This all stemmed from concerns about a 'restructuring' by The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT), which unions said would cut almost £1m from the academy budget and lead to job losses.

Richard Burrett, cabinet member for education and skills has agreed to write to Damian Hinds, secretary of state for education, calling for a review of the powers available to local authorities "to enable them to fulfil their statutory duties and champion their children and young people to ensure they get the best start in life".

At the meeting, Deborah Myers, director of education and skills, explained that the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) had no duty to inform the local authority about any issues at academies in its area.

As such, she said the council had received no first-hand information about the situation at Thomas Bennett, receiving everything second and third-hand and often a few days after the fact.

She said: "If we did have more information in a more timely fashion, we potentially could put some support in there.”

Ms Myers said her team was in constant communication with the RSC about the issue, adding: "I have proposed a couple of options that would secure the future of the school in various different guises.

“I had a conversation with one of our secondary heads with an idea that he had as well and he was going to talk direct to the RSC about that.

“At the end of the day it’s an academy - but they’re still our West Sussex children and we need to account for their education, their quality of learning, so we are doing what we can under the radar within the powers we have got.

“Sadly, I think one of the challenges that this has brought to the surface is that local authority children, which we are responsible for on behalf of our residents, when it comes to academies that are in challenging circumstances, we have very, very few powers.

“We’ve got very little anyway but we’ve got even less with academies."

Agreeing to write to Mr Hinds, Mr Burrett said: "I’m quite weary of people asking us to do things that we don’t have the power to do over this situation.

"We have no formal powers, we only have the power of influence. And actually it would have been much better had we been able to intervene or at least provide some advice.”

- The National Education Union said strike action planned by its members at Thomas Bennett for June 21 was suspended pending ongoing negotiations with TKAT.

The union added that action planned for Tuesday June 26, Wednesday June 27 and Thursday June 28 are set to go ahead as planned.

Related to this article:

Fears over planned cuts at Thomas Bennett

Thomas Bennett head resigns - and parents march

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Twelve teachers quit Thomas Bennett - four days of strikes to come