This is the fourth time I have posted about Cuckoo Hall. (note 1) That this is so draws attention to a special feature of this story. It is going on so long. Much TOO long. It appears, in fact, to be testing to the limit the system of accountability for Academies and Free Schools based, as it is, on Local Authorities having no power at all, what regulation there is, being a matter for the Secretary of State. The delay in anything happening to deal with a clearly unsustainable situation, is provoking more and more people to speak out, and is inducing, based on personal communications I have received, something akin to desperation amongst some parents. These parents understand that if it continues to be the case that nothing is done, then there will eventually be a wreck as teachers reluctantly flee to less stressful employment elsewhere. (Three out of the five Heads have already left) And it is their children who will suffer.
THE STORY CONTINUES
In my last post
about Cuckoo Hall, "Cuckoo Hall: and there was silence for a space"' I referred to what appeared to be a lull, at least in public, following the publication of the EFA report in which little seemed to be happening. Little that is, apart from an extraordinary level of "stone walling" on the part of the senior management of Cuckoo Hall. Having investigated themselves, and found that this investigation cleared them, and having been, in their view "vindicated" by the EFA report (A conclusion which, I would argue, no reasonable person could reach) the senior management saw, it would seem, no reason not to carry on.
A LETTER TO THE EDITOR
The next event was the publication of a letter in the local press, by an experienced school governor at schools in Enfield which concluded:
"How the headteacher and the remaining trustees feel that it is acceptable for them to remain in post is baffling.
The remaining trustees (and I include the head) appear to be demonstrating a breathtaking level of complacency and from the comments made by them in the advertiser, would seem to be in complete denial.
How can the staff and senior management have any confidence in the future of the School?"
So not just me then. Phew.
AN MP CONDEMNS....
Then, a local MP weighed in. Nick de Bois (Conservative), the MP for Enfield North was quoted in the press on the 13th March.
“Parents and now senior staff are worryingly losing confidence in the principal board members of cuckoo hall. After first such a damning report from the DfE and now the loss of support from senior staff they should put the children’s interest first and resign.”
I have never before seen an MP make such a forceful intervention. Partly, no doubt because, in a community school it would never get to the level of the MP. It would indeed be a matter for local councillors. At any rate Mr de Bois could reasonably expect a response from the Board -Of course what he wanted them to do, was resign forth with.
...TO NO AVAIL
This was the Board’s reply:
“It would be absolutely wrong for anyone to suggest that today’s announcements are anything other than the staffing changes that are, sadly, a fact of life for all schools, and organisations.”
This is so absurd, as to verge on the insulting. At this stage I suppose Mr de Bois, having first lobbied the school privately and now been driven to condemn it in public, saw nothing for it but to move to the next stage. Which in the Academy and Free School system is NOT some kind of local official but the Secretary of State herself.
Mr De Bois (still an MP when he wrote the letter, now no longer an MP, as Parliament dissolved, but standing for re election) has provided me with a copy of his letter, and here is the text.
LETTER TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE
The Rt Hon Nicky Morgan
Secretary of State for Education
Department for Education
Great Smith Street
Our ref: EN4640
20 March 2015
Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT), Enfield
Following the issues at the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust I have been contacted by a number of constituents including parents and staff who feel let down by the investigation carried out by the Department for Education as the outcome is the present leadership of the management board remains in place charged with remedying the failings identified in the DfE report (ref below.)
It is clear to me that this leadership team do not carry the confidence of the parents and should resign to be replaced by a new board. I would like the opportunity to present to you the concerns of parents, which I share and request further intervention from the DfE.
For now I would draw your attention to the following two statements taken from the DfE report.
"50. The allegations have further significantly destabilised the Board of Trustees. An interim chair of the Board of Trustees was elected at a meeting of the Board on 16 December. This followed the removal by the Board of the previous chair due to allegations of conflicts of interests. The Board of Trustees has been internally divided and this delayed the procurement of its own investigation into the allegations. In the EFA’s view, relations between some trustees and some senior staff had degenerated to the extent that there was a serious breakdown in management and governance, to a degree which would entitle the Secretary of State to intervene in accordance with the funding agreement."
Financial management governance table p16
Most of the business interest declaration forms are nil returns. However it is clear some trustees have conflict of interests that should be declared on these forms, e.g. that the executive head’s, members of the Board of Trustees’, and the head’s family members are working in the trust. This did not happen despite emails by the clerk and the financial director reminding trustees of their duties in this respect including that personal relations should be disclosed. We would regard this as a breach of the trustees’ duties in company law, of paragraphs 1.5.13 and 3.1.11-3.1.20 of the Academies Financial Handbook, and consequently of the funding agreement."
Despite these comments I understand from Ann Zinkin, who was a governor asked to resign by the Board (see her email forwarded with this letter [note 2]) that it was recommended by Tony Woods from the DfE that at least 3 independent governors be appointed to the Board. However I remain unconvinced that in fact genuine independent appointments have been made.
I am deeply concerned that given the serious shortcomings highlighted in the report the requirement for the board and management to investigate themselves is flawed and will not carry the confidence of parents and other stakeholders.
I have now received representations from the Chairman of CHAT which I have also taken into consideration when writing to you.
Free schools have been an enormous success across the country but if they are not robustly held to account I would be concerned that ultimately children's education could be disadvantaged. Like me I am sure you would want to avoid any such outcome.
I should be happy to meet with you or a senior official to discuss this further at you earliest convenience.
Nick de Bois MP
Member of Parliament for Enfield North
Mr De Bois is to be commended for taking this issue on, as it cannot be entirely comfortable for him. And I am grateful to him for providing me with the text of his letter, when he is rather busy at present....
It is not clear to me whether the Secretary of State's continued inaction reflects some political difficult on her part, or a considered view that the mess best taken on by the next Secretary of State, or, alarmingly, a lack of certainty regarding her actual, legal powers to act.
My other postings on this are here
I do not have the text of Ann Zinkin's email. If I get it I will post it.