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.

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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

17 comments

  • I think cajoules is when you gently persuade someone to reduce their calorific intake.

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    Rhombus

    Sunday, June 29, 2014

  • I think it is being forced to change and I would prefer to talk with local people rather than London making (or not making) decisions about areas far removed from its understanding. Better to reform LAs and make them effective.

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    Sportswagon

    Sunday, June 29, 2014

  • As far as the LA is concerned, a school that hasn't burned down or the headteacher hasn't got caught with his trousers down is a good school and everything is good in the office. I can't see how a laissez faire LA can suddenly become interested in publically challenging schools, when everything they do is a mixture of secretive nudges winks and cajoules, reserving their ultimate weapon, a payoff known as a compromise arrangement till last.

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    Rhombus

    Sunday, June 29, 2014

  • Yes I do see your point but surely the solution is to ensure that the LA has teeth and does respond rather than remove all ability to complain and slam shut the door of localism?!

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    Sportswagon

    Sunday, June 29, 2014

  • So we have someone to complain to (the LA) and the LA simply ignores the complaint, even one involving a school acting illegally. I recall they did say something on the lines of 'looking into it'. Obviously they looked very hard, but in the opposite direction I guess. Useless and weak organisation.

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    Rhombus

    Saturday, June 28, 2014

  • Fair point but today you would have no one to complain to and in the case of admissions academies do as they please and totally ignore local views.

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    Sportswagon

    Saturday, June 28, 2014

  • I complained to the LA that a specialist school was testing applicants on their maths ability during what should have been an informal interview for aptitude. This was (and is) against the law on school admissions. What did the LA do....nothing. I understand the school is still testing 10 years on.

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    Rhombus

    Saturday, June 28, 2014

  • You miss the point Rhombus which is that parents could and did complain locally to LAs and there would be an investigation but today parents have ONLY those unionised head teachers to complain to since local authorities have no say in academies.

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    Sportswagon

    Saturday, June 28, 2014

  • So parents could hold schools to account post academy programme.....rubbish...schools easily ignored parents concerns, and most governing bodies were weak lapdogs, easily manipulated by unionised headteachers. Shepherd is out of date, rose tinted bifocals looking back on the failed educational system of the past.

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    Rhombus

    Friday, June 27, 2014

  • Well said Baroness Shephard.It's impossible to imagine the dire shortcomings in Norfolk's education with her leading the education committee.In comparison,what an awfully puny bunch today's Norfolk Tories are.

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    Peter Watson

    Thursday, June 26, 2014

  • Important issues raised by Baroness Shephard, and the DfE statement is more of the same empty, contradictory flannel as ever. They usually sell academies as offering freedoms, now they claim even more regulation than maintained schools. Where can Stalham parents go to get accountability for what's being done to their school? What can parents at Ryde Academy do to stop their children being abused over trivial alleged uniform violations? Gove has made it possible for academy chains to wreck our children's education with no effective means of holding them to account. And the nature of academies means that even schools with good support can be handed over to a worse sponsor with a stroke of Gove's pen. Sickening and dangerous.

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    djw

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

  • G Shephard is thoroughly decent, tons of integrity and extremely knowledgeable about education and Norfolk LA. If she is worried we should all be extremely worried. RDS, S Agnew, Ofsted, D Cameron and M Gove are all in bed together and have no objectivity or understanding of Norfolk schools or Norfolk people... it is about time we all united and prevented this semi- privatisation of our schools to unaccountable academy bodies which are mediocre at best.

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    Sportswagon

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

  • Agree with the concerns expressed - academies are a disaster. However, don't tell me that there was rigorous accountability under the old system. I know of at least 3 schools in the area where key staff were 'not' held to account and the LA just stood by and let it happen until they had no choice but to use tax payers money to pay them off at vast expense. Centralised state run comprehensives with LA directors accountable to an even more empowered Ofsted who can do the firing with impartiality. That includes firing of entire governing bodies who are frequently the 'blockers' of change.

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    One Horse Town

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

  • There is no way for parents to register their complaints, other than through the school, or the trust, unless they go directly to Whitehall. Unfortunately, many school's who join (get taken over) by certain trusts in the county lose huge numbers of staff. The trusts involved will claim that in their quest to transform education in these schools, the weaker staff are leaving to be replaced by fresh blood. However, when you look at the numbers that are leaving some academies, it has to be for other reasons. I'd be really interested if someone could acquire figures for the turnover of staff in some of these recently 'acquired' academies. I've no doubt some of these academy chains have the best interests of students and staff at heart, but I have a feeling there may be chains where the opposite is true, and the central focus is succesful exam reults at ANY cost. Everything links back to the 'Old boys' network and the Tory party looking after it's own. The pressures now to please Ofsted are causing teachers to leave the profession in droves.

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    OldSchool

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

  • Central to Gove's obsessional drive for academies is the 'freedom' to operate without the 'straitjacket' of LEA oversight and local accountability. The only place a parent can go to raise concerns is Gove himself. And if you want to look at the books then this is blocked by ;commercial sensitivity'. The wider picture is that of a government believing in a 'freemarket' and as small a state as possible. The objective is to sell off as much of the state as it can before the next election, with all key areas - transport,education,health,utilities,prisons - in private hands , run in the interests of shareholders , not the public who use and need them. Part of that objective is the continuing reduction in the provision of services by local councils, the central government funding of which is being drastically cut year on year. So, Gillian Shepherd is right to be alarmed, but needs to acknowledge that the Stalham school issue is a consequence of the Tory-led government's neo-conservative, market-driven, profit before people ideology.

    Just selected as PPC for SW Norfolk

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    Peter Smith

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

  • I hate to say it, but these debacles could have been seen from the very start had Gove only opened his eyes to what the profession has been saying. Now we have a completely fragmented education system with no accountability. Even Gillian Shephard, a former Tory Sec of State for Education, is saying this against her own party's policies, everybody should take note.

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    Johnboy

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

  • Well this was always going to be the problem from the start.It was bad enough when schools became specialty " colleges", getting past their processes to actually get some level of accountability from staff or governors. But in the old days of local LEA offices parents could go and bang on their doors as a last resort. It was obvious that when Gove decided that academies would bring more accountability that it was a joke, and trying to get an answer or a resolution would be like trying to hold a greased pig-if you could find it. This is very serious if the rumour about Ofsted forcing Norfolk Education Dept to work with the Inspiration Trust which is headed by Tory party backer and Brandon Lewis's backer, Theodore Agnew . This is not the sort of organisation I want anywhere near Norfolk schools, and I look forward to a change of government which might dismantle it.

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    Daisy Roots

    Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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