Concerns regarding The Ridings Federation in South Gloucestershire
I am writing on behalf of concerned parents, teachers and the local community regarding the current situation facing The Ridings Federation in South Gloucestershire.
The ward that I represent sends children to both the secondary schools in The Ridings Federation, Winterbourne International Academy (WIA) and Yate International Academy (YIA). Both schools have a “Requires Improvement” Ofsted grade and due to a projected £1m deficit and a lack of leadership capacity, the Board of Trustees have made the decision to go for “re-brokerage”.
Parents and staff are concerned that this decision was taken without any consultation with them and was announced only a week after the Chair of Trustees had written reassuring them that she was optimistic about remaining within the current Federation and putting in place the agreed recovery plan. They are being told that a decision will be made on which of three expressions of interest will be pursued for each school in a matter of weeks, again without any formal consultation. They feel there is a lack of transparency and engagement with the local community and that the decision is being pushed through with undue haste, with many seeing it as a “done deal”. These concerns are heightened by conflicts of interest relating to the Chair of Trustees and the Regional Schools Commissioner for the South West.
I would ask you as Secretary of State to look into whether the correct process has been followed. We are told that the decision will be made by an RSC from another region, because the local RSC has a conflict of interest, but the role she has played in this process to date is unclear. Parents query whether this process is covered by the requirements for a “fair and open local consultation” set out in the document “Making significant changes to an open academy” (DFE-00062-2016). If so, what action can be taken as no such consultation has been carried out? Parents also query whether it is possible to reverse the decision to re-broker if an alternative proposition is made or whether the decision of the Trustees is in fact irreversible.
I hope you will agree that schools are most effective when parents are actively engaged and that they should be given an opportunity to have their say. Parents have been told that their views can be fed back through the Board, but many do not have confidence in the Trustees and would prefer to communicate directly with the person making the decision. I would be grateful if you could let me know how this can best be facilitated.
I understand that where a decision is controversial, as this clearly is, you can make it as the Secretary of State, rather than it being delegated to an RSC. I would ask you to consider exercising these powers, making sure that all stakeholders have an opportunity to provide input.
I have attended three public meetings in the last week and the parents clearly wish to be involved in making decisions about their local school. There is particular concern about Oasis Community Learning taking over either or both of the schools. Last year it had a poor MAT Ofsted, which identified lack of leadership capacity among other issues. This is of course one of the issues that needs addressing at The Ridings Federation, so it seems inappropriate to bring in a MAT with the same issue. Oasis does not have experience of running large schools or sixth forms and individually many of its schools are not at the required standard. It is seen as a large, remote organisation, rather than one that understands the local community. Some parents are concerned about the religious nature of the organisation. I hope that all these concerns will be taken into account in the decision making.
I look forward to your response.