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Former education secretary and Norfolk MP raises concerns over academy accountability

PUBLISHED: 07:41 25 June 2014

Baroness Gillian Shephard at here home in Swaffham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Baroness Gillian Shephard at here home in Swaffham. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Archant Norfolk 2013

Students, staff and parents in some academies do not know who to ring when problems arise, a former education secretary has warned parliament in the wake of concerns about Stalham Junior School.

Baroness Shephard, a former Norfolk MP, highlighted “accountability problems” at two Norfolk schools, telling peers that children’s education is suffering.

During a Grand Committee debate in the House of Lords she alluded to the Stalham school, which was taken over by the Norwich-based Right for Success Trust in May. The town council had called a public meeting after parents raised concerns about the whereabouts of headteacher Kim Breen, who allegedly has not been at the Yarmouth Road school since it switched.

The former cabinet minister said: “A town council in Norfolk – with no official role in the matter – has called a public meeting in order to oblige the local academy trust to explain its policies and plans following the resignation of more than half the teaching staff, and I believe, the head.

“There may be an inside story, but the children’s education is suffering, and the situation does little to demonstrate an understanding of accountability within the academy system.”

Baroness Shephard, who was the MP for South-West Norfolk, told peers that at another local academy, 16 key members of staff have left, feeling unable to complain to the head, or to the chairman of governors because the chairman had been put in place by their employers, the academy chain.

“That is not good. The students, parents and staff in that school do not know who to ring,” she said.

She asked if parents, students and staff had a complaint about a governing body or head teacher, if the Department for Education had the resources to deal with the volume of cases it receives and how they were dealt with.

Baroness Shephard, who was MP for South West Norfolk, called for reassurance that the Department for Education understood that, “humdrum as it may be”, preparation for ensuring the accountability of all our schools was as important as their academic performance.

A Department for Education spokesman said that it was strengthening the “failure regime” for academies through the new regional schools commissioners and head teacher boards, adding: “Free Schools and Academies are subject to far greater scrutiny than council-run schools and as we have demonstrated in the small number of cases where academies are not giving children the education they deserve, that we will make sure swift action is taken.”

Do you share any of the concerns which have been raised by Baroness Shephard? Email education correspondent Martin George at martin.george@archant.co.uk

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