Tim Coulson, former Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) for the East of England, is now chair of governors at Great Yarmouth Charter Academy sponsored by the Inspiration Trust.
During his tenure as RSC, Coulson rejected a bid from the Diocese of Norwich Academies and Education Trust to run the academy when the predecessor school Great Yarmouth VA High converted. He allowed Inspiration Trust to take over Great Yarmouth High instead.
Dame Rachel De Souza, CEO of Inspiration Trust, is an appointee on the headteacher board (HTB) which advised Tim Coulson. Minutes of the HB meeting, 20 April 2017 belatedly published, show Dame Rachel was absent when Inspiration’s takeover was approved. But the decision raises questions about how much the Board was influenced by having Dame Rachel as a colleague.
Great Yarmouth VA High School was not the only school handed to Inspiration when Coulson was RSC. The Board authorised Inspiration’s takeover of Cobholm Primary Academy and Stradbroke Primary School. It also gave approval to an Inspiration-backed free school, Trafalgar College.
The free school opened in September 2016 in temporary accommodation owned by the Department for Education. Plans for a proposed £20m new building were never submitted despite an artist impression appearing in the local paper.
Earlier this month, Inspiration Trust put forward plans to merge GY Charter with the free school to produce an 11-19 academy.
The proposed merger has not pleased some parents who say their children are happy at Trafalgar College. Parent Jimmy Dwyer has set up a Facebook group to address concerns.
He told the local paper that the atmosphere at Trafalgar was ‘more relaxed’ and pupils could ‘have a laugh with teachers’. Such an easy-going system is not likely to be present at GY Charter. It has gained notoriety for the draconian discipline regime imposed by the newly-appointed head.
The merger is also opposed by principals of two local sixth-form colleges, East Norfolk SFC and Lowestoft SFC, FE Week reports. They claim area reviews show no demand for more local provision before 2021.
Dame Rachel admitted to the local paper that ‘school-age population [in Great Yarmouth] has grown much less quickly than forecast by the local authority’ but the time was now ‘right to reassess secondary provision in the town’. Parents and pupils would be ‘best served by a single enlarged school.’
Coulson’s appointment as chair of GY Charter and Dame Rachel’s position on his headteacher board raise questions about the composition of HTBs and their impartiality. These fears may be completely unfounded but such actions raise concerns about objectivity.
The proposed merger of GY Charter with a free school just twelve months old raises the question whether the free school was actually needed. This raises further questions about when the merger was first conceived, the role of the Department for Education and the wise use of taxpayers’ money.