Dear Mr Hall,
I am contacting you as a concerned parent of two children attending Winterbourne International Academy, South Gloucestershire.
I am sure you will be aware that the academy is potentially undergoing re-brokerage to another Multi Academy Trust. Over the past two years, WIA has suffered from successive periods of mis-management, leading to the current situation in which no Chief Executive Principal is in post. Despite this, and thanks to the best efforts of WIA’s dedicated staff, the academy’s academic results have remained strong and it currently occupies an excellent placing in the league tables for the area.
However, staff and parents now have serious concerns about recent events regarding the re-brokerage process, and the future of the academy. I have outlined below the key reasons for this:
Lack of transparency regarding re-brokerage process
The re-brokerage process is being managed by Claire Emery, a self-employed “consultant”, whom I understand from her LinkedIn profile has no teaching experience.
While parents have received a small number of e-mails from Ms Emery, they have been very light on details of the re-brokerage process and have sometimes been sent at very short notice. As an example, we received a one-line e-mail yesterday lunchtime, informing us that one of the bidders was visiting the school today. This would be concerning enough, but it appears that teachers are also suffering from the same lack of information- academy staff say that the first they knew of interest from one of the bidders (Oasis) was when they were being shown around the school.
For many parents, the first real awareness of how far this process has come was provided at a public meeting on November 22nd. This meeting was arranged by concerned staff, rather than Ms Emery or the trustees, and was the first opportunity many parents had to fully understand just how disconnected teachers were from the process. Furthermore, my understanding from this meeting is that once the re-brokerage process has started, it cannot be reversed? I can see no reference to this in any e-mails received to date.
Of greatest concern however are the apparent links that both Claire Emery and the Regional Schools Commissioner for the South West, Rebecca Clark, have to two of the bidders (Olympus and Oasis groups respectively). Again, no mention was made of these links until the meeting on the 22nd. Staff and parents will undoubtedly want to be reassured that this process is being carried out in a fair and transparent manner- such reassurances have so far not been forthcoming.
Initial visits by all three bidders are to conclude by December 5th, leaving very little time for parents to have their say. Claire Emery is currently on two weeks holiday.
Confusion over the academy’s financial situation
I am sure we would all agree that mis-management at the academy cannot be blamed on hard-working teachers and support staff. These same teachers are now questioning the level of debt that academy is supposedly in.
At the meeting on the 22nd (and in subsequent media reports thereafter) it was suggested that the debt figure may be up to £1 million. The National Union of Teachers have suggested that this figure has been inflated, and that the actual figure is more closely aligned with the levels of debt being managed by other academies in the area.
Most worryingly of all, it appears that teachers have not been told how this figure has been arrived at. One teacher (of Mathematics) said he could not understand how the supposed figure had been generated; and another claimed he had been told that the relevant figures needed to calculate the level of debt “do not exist”.
Of further concern is a possible lack of minutes from meetings relating to the decision-making process. I understand that a Freedom Of Information request concerning minutes relating to re-brokerage meetings, plus minutes of governor meetings, budget forecasts, and supporting papers has already been submitted.
Again, this lack of transparency does not provide parents or staff with reassurance that the process is being conducted by competent decision-makers, in an open and listening environment.
Identity of the bidders
The presence of the Oasis Trust as one of the bidders has caused considerable alarm among staff and parents.
Recent league tables have confirmed that, despite it’s recent management problems, WIA still scores very highly for GCSE and A level results when compared to schools in the rest of South Gloucestershire and the City of Bristol. Oasis academies in the region do not seem to achieve the same success levels and I simply cannot see the benefit to our children in placing WIA in the hands of an academy trust that is performing to a lower standard.
All of the Oasis schools in the area are considerably smaller than WIA and only one has a sixth form, which is currently rated as “Requires Improvement”. Given that the Oasis Trust seems to have no support from teachers of WIA (who are the experts and whose voice should surely be heard above all others?), it is not clear why this apparently illogical decision is still being considered.
All of the above has culminated in feelings of frustration, confusion and anger among staff, parents and pupils. A lack of adequate consultation has lead to a growing suspicion among many people that the process is not being managed competently- or worse, engineered to achieve a pre-determined outcome. Surely such concerns could be easily dispelled by conducting the process in a far more transparent manner?
A well-represented campaign group has quickly been formed and has already been successful in ensuring coverage from local TV, radio, press and digital media. Students themselves have been actively pursuing social media campaigns and online petitions. This Saturday (26th) at noon, a peaceful demonstration will take place at the school gates by concerned parents.
Given the very short timeframe mentioned above, I hope you will be able to give this matter your urgent attention. In your capacity as ???? you can play an enormous role in providing the reassurance that staff, parents and, most importantly, students are currently lacking.
Please help us to ensure that Winterbourne International Academy continues to give our children the best possible start in life.