“I feel very used” - ex-governor speaks out about academisation of Antingham and Southrepps Primary School

Antingham and Southrepps Primary School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Antingham and Southrepps Primary School. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

A former primary school governor has spoken of how he felt he was 'used' during its conversion to an academy.

Ben Woodcock said he decided to speak out about his experiences at Antingham and Southrepps Primary, near Cromer, because of the current controversy about the future of the Hewett School in Norwich.

The former Southrepps parish councillor became a governor in October 2013, the month of an Ofsted inspection which found the school to be 'inadequate'.

Mr Woodcock said the Department for Education and Norfolk County Council gave governors no choice but to become an academy, and said a consultation with parents was 'bogus'.

Mr Woodcock said: 'It was very uncomfortable and stressful as a volunteer giving up their free time. It was almost useless. The process would have happened with or without me. I feel very used because that's the path they wanted the school to go down, and that was going to be it, at the end of the day.'

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The school joined the North Norfolk Academies Trust, based at Sheringham High School, in October 2014.

In a blog post, Mr Woodcock said council and government officials visited governors before the inspection report was published to tell them 'the school would need to breakaway from the local authority and seek a new solution'.

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He wrote: 'Quite simply, both of our visitors were there, being paid, to encourage and shift the school out of the hands of local authority and into systems currently being pushed by the government.'

He said governors were told they would be replaced with an interim executive board, as has happened at a number of other Norfolk schools, if they did not find a solution, and added this 'didn't feel like advice, but more of a threat'.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: 'Back in 2013, Antingham and Southrepps School was judged as inadequate by Ofsted and our priority was to work closely with governors and school leaders to ensure that there was a strong plan in place for rapid improvement, this included exploring options for the structure and governance of the school.

'The government's direction has been schools that are judged as inadequate are required to become academies, and our role is to help them secure a strong sponsor, which is what we did in this case.'

Mr Woodcock alleged that, when a governor asked about consulting parents about becoming an academy, they were told there was no need for a consultation because governors made such decisions.

In his blog, he said: 'A carefully-worded meeting was held with the parents led by the headteacher, chair of governors and a representative from Sheringham High School & VI Form Centre in which the parents were led to believe was a consultation. The meeting was nothing more than bogus.'

Tim Roderick, consultant headteacher for the North Norfolk Academies Trust, said: 'There was a full and open consultation, prior to the academy conversion.

'The school is now going from strength to strength and this year's Key Stage 2 results are very pleasing and are above last year's local and national averages.'

In response to an earlier EDP freedom of information request for the results of consultations on Norfolk schools becoming academies, the Department for Education listed the information it held about Antingham and Southrepps as 'statutory consultation completed'.

The Norfolk County Council spokesman said: 'The North Norfolk Academy Trust was led by a very good school in Sheringham High and the majority of the school's governors agreed it could provide the strong support that was needed to help Antingham and Southrepps to improve.

'In the case of academy conversion, the governors or proposed sponsors are responsible for consulting parents prior to a funding agreement being signed by the Secretary of State and this is what happened at Antingham and Southrepps.

'The school has now been an academy for nearly a whole academic year and we are pleased with the progress that the school is making.'

Do you have an education story? Email martin.george@archant.co.uk

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