Tuesday 2 July 2013

Is Brent children and families department 'fit for purpose'?

The Harrow Observer's story on Copland Community School reveals that Brent Council's own action plan to tackle the school's weaknesses had been declared 'not fit for purpose' by Ofsted LINK
Education secretary Michael Gove approved the appointment of an interim executive board, taking over the functions of the governing body, on June 19.

On the same day, Ofsted wrote to the school to declare both the school's nor Brent Council's action plans, designed to address the failings found by Ofsted a month earlier, as "not fit for purpose". (sic -the paper's original wording. I assume neither were fit for purpose)
The letter reveals a quarter of the staff, including some of the senior leadership team, are taking voluntary redundancy at the end of this academic year in a bid to cut the wage bill and the school has permission to hire a maximum of seven Newly-Qualified Teachers as replacements.
In exchanges over the Copland issue Cllr Michael Pavey, lead member for children and families, had said that the local authority did not, because of cuts, have the capacity to improve the schools and to try  to do so would break it. If the local authority's children and families department and its school improvement service could not provide a viable plan it surely raises the question about what might happen with other schools that get into difficulties. Indeed, it raises the unavoidable question: Is Brent 's children and families department fit for purpose? The DfE is likely to have asked itself this question..

The former director of children and families has just retired ahead of the council's senior management restructuring and Sara Williams has taken over as interim director.  Faira Ellks, head of the school improvement service has also retired and has been temporarily replaced by Rachel Matthews. The service has been cut back and partially replaced by the Brent Schools Partnership which is at an early stage of development.

The Brent Education Commission, set up by Christine Gilbert, interim Chief Executive of Brent Council and a former head of Ofsted, is due to report in November.

There is an urgent need to restore confidence in the children and families department and its capacity to provide strong leadership and effective support for schools. When parents called for strong support for their campaign against forced academisation of Gladstone Park Primary School following its 'inadequate' Ofsted rating there were reports that the authority did not want to make a strong stand and take on Michael Gove's academy broker (former Brent director of education Jacky Griffin) for fear of incurring the attention, and the wrath, of the DfE and bringing about an inspection of the local authority.

In the present circumstance of transition and uncertaintly it may not do well if such an inspection were to take place.

The hasty imposition of an Interim Executive Board at Copland and acceptance that Gladstone Park will convert to an academy may be an attempt to 'prove' to the DfE that they are up to the job - by acquiescing  to Gove's agenda.

If the authority itself is 'failing' or 'inadequate' it will lose the confidence of schools and their governing bodies and possibly  hasten voluntary academy conversions across the borough's primary schools.

Back bench Labour councillors and the opposition must ensure that the Executive realises the extent of the problem and acts accordingly.

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