Sunday 19th May 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

WSP Board: No Confidence

WSP Board: No Confidence

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on a superheated “Consultation” meeting at the Whitby Pavilion, supposedly to determine the fate of secondary education in Whitby.

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It has been a busy week.

Whitby Town Council

In preparation for the keenly-awaited “Consultation”, at which parents and carers (and other interested parties) were to be permitted to air their views on the proposed “amalgamation” of Whitby’s secondary schools, I attended Whitby Town Council on the evening of Tuesday 7th March 2023, hoping to witness one or more representatives of the WSP Joint Governing Body apprising Councillors (and members of the public), at the invitation of Town Mayor Councillor Linda WILD, of the details of their ‘masterplan’.

It was not to be. The Governors did not turn up. They were, apparently, too busy – preparing to offer their ‘presentation’ to the public the following evening at Whitby Pavilion.

Councillor Sandra TURNER gave voice to the view, shared by many of those present, that since the Governors – or rather the four who were the only ones to attend the meeting of the Board of Governors on 4th December 2022 and enact the decision (were they quorate?) – were surely fully prepared for their ‘presentation’ at the Pavilion on the following day (8th March 2023), having enjoyed three clear months ‘grace’, and were simply evading standing before elected members to account for the dubious rationale behind their decision.

I was grateful to the Mayor for allowing me to address members (for three minutes) at Item 3 on the Agenda – Public Participation. I drew members attention to the key points expressed in my recent articles highlighting the disingenuousness of the Governors, as exemplified in my email correspondence with WSP Co-Chair of Governors, Ms Christina ZANELLI, and published here:

Amongst those key points, the following are especially worthy of mention.

Only Ms ZANELLI responded to my queries; Ms CROSSLAND and Mr HENSHAW chose to rely on their ‘right to silence’.

Ms ZANELLI confirmed that a letter dated 22nd May 2022 from her and her Co-Chair, Su CROSSLAND, misinformed parents/carers regarding the credentials of the schools’ newly-appointed Executive Head Teacher, Mr Jamie HENSHAW.

Ms ZANELLI attributed this misinformation to a “clerical error”, excusable on the grounds that the Co-Chairs are “unpaid volunteers and as such errors do sometimes occur”.  Well, ain’t that the fact! Ms ZANELLI most disingenuously omitted to mention that she is a professional educator – Head Teacher at Lealholm Primary School and Chief Executive Officer of the Yorkshire Endeavour Academy Trust (YEAT). I will return to Ms ZANELLI’s position at YEAT in due course.

I have, of course, asked Ms ZANELLI to issue an apology and correction to parents/carers; I have no indication that she (or her Co-Chair) has evinced the integrity to have done so.

I also drew Town Councillors’ attention to the following quote from a Report published by the Home Secretary’s Independent Panel:

Concealing or denying failings, for the sake of the organisation’s public image, is dishonesty on the part of the organisation for reputational benefit and constitutes a form of institutional corruption.”

[my emphasis, in bold type]

Readers are invited to consider Ms ZANELLI’s remarks (and Ms CROSSLAND’s and Mr HENSHAWS’s silence) in this context.

The ‘Consultation’

The Governors

I attended the evening session of the Public Consultation on Wednesday 8th March 2023. (Readers may wish to review the Scarborough News coverage, by Duncan ATKINS, of the afternoon session, here.

On arrival, I was alarmed to note a significant Police presence. I do hope that this was not in consequence of a satirical ‘Photoon’ entitled “Carlton’s Cavalry”, published in the Enquirer on 4th March 2023.

The eponymous Stuart CARLTON, by the way, is NYCC’s Corporate Director of Children & Young People Services. Mr CARLTON attended the evening session of the Consultation but (perhaps wisely) did not speak.

The Consulation proper began with the Governors’ presentation, which took the form of the four Governors present (those who took the decision on 4th December 2022 to ask NYCC for a Consulation of “amalgamation”) taking turns (left-to-right, above) to read aloud from a PowerPoint Presentation displayed on a large screen to the left of the podium. I struggle to believe that this PowerPoint Presentation was composited on Tuesday evening, when the Governors dodged the Council meeting to prepare . . .

Co-Chair Su CROSSLAND began, covering the figures relating to school places. These are widely available (and are included in the Scarborough News coverage), so I will not repeat them here.

Next up came Co-Chair Ms Christina ZANELLI, who covered the “financial issues” which (as she has admitted to me) underlie the Governors’ preference for “amalgamation”.

“Amalgamation”, in this instance, amounts to the nominal absorption – in fact, the discontinuation of Eskdale – into Caedmon – thus liberating the site for housing development and future Council Tax revenue. The salient fact is that, as part of a “federation”, Eskdale School – though the best-attended and best-loved – is struggling financially. Ms ZANELLI did not give consideration to the possibility that Mr HENSHAW’s (reputed) £120K+ salary was a luxury the school could not afford.

Mr Jamie HENSHAW, who is a Governor in addition to his inexplicable role as Executive Head Teacher (and Trustee of YEAT) looked nervous as he sped through a lengthy sales-pitch which seemed to include the word “aspiration” in almost every sentence. An “aspiration”, as we all know, is defined as a hope or ambition of achieving something”. On the subject of what he has achieved (past tense) as Executive Head Teacher – rather than what he “aspires” to achieve (in my view, academisation – i.e. annexing the proposed “amalgamated” schools into the YEAT foundation) – he was singularly unforthcoming.

Mark TAYLOR, a former Head Teacher at Eskdale (appointed during the period when Mike WARD was Chair of Governors) gave the impression of wishing he were elsewhere.

The Chair

The Consultation was Chaired by County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON [Con.], NYCC’s elected member for the Swale Division and Executive Member for Education, Learning & Skills. Councillor WILKINSON lives in Bedale.

In my view, Councillor WILKINSON’s Chairship of what was always going to be a fractious event was exemplary. Councillor WILKINSON went out of her way to embrace as many as possible of the multitude of questions and statements from members of the public – including a number of youngsters whose remarks were extremely informative and well-articulated. Those kids were a revelation. Oozing integrity, they made the Governors look like spivvy secondhand car dealers. They were forthright, but always respectful. They were unafraid to broach the highly contentious subjects of bullying and substance abuse (at both schools). One cannot ignore the sincerity of a young girl victim speaking of bullying in terms of broken bones. Councillor WILKINSON, to her great credit, allowed them full latitude; there was no hint of concealment or censorship.

Councillor WILKINSON frequently called upon the Governors to answers questions though (of course) was unable to compel them to ‘come clean’ in all cases.

Admittedly, talk of a previous Head Teacher who allegedly brought his alcoholism to school on a morning did not break the surface. Nor did talk of Governors having affairs with pupils or their parents sully the debate. The focus was very much on the present problems in the present day.

At the end of the allotted period, Councillor WILKINSON generously ran over the time limit to allow more pupils to have their say.

Councillor WILKINSON concluded by allowing County Councillor Neil SWANNICK [Lab.] to make some remarks at the very end. In my view, this was the only blot on an otherwise admirable performance – though, in fairness, she could hardly have anticipated that Councillor SWANNICK would seize the moment to politicise the Consultation in a manner more suited to an electioneering platform. I cannot apologise for being amongst those who heckled him for his entirely inappropriate remarks.

After the meeting closed, I spoke briefly with Councillor WILKINSON to offer my thanks. I also emailed her when I returned home, asking her to ensure that other “options” would be taken into account when she and her Committee consider their decision. This afternoon, I have received a very gracious response, assuring me that this will indeed take place and confirming receipt of the seven options outlined by former Eskdale Chair Mike WARD (no relation to me) and published on the Enquirer here:

The Parents/Carers

Inevitably – and quite rightly – many parents expressed concerns about how the “amalgamation” would impact on their own children, including children who have yet to move on to secondary education. Concrete answers were few and far between.

But I must make special mention of Terri-anne JONES, whose industry and commitment preparing data ahead of the Consultation did not prevent her from attending Whitby Town Council and presenting (within the constraints of the 3-minute section) a detailed analysis of all of the facts and figures – thereby putting the Governors to shame.

Terri-anne made the Governors look entirely inadequate. She ran rings around the professional “unpaid volunteers”. I salute her – and Whitby can be very proud of her.

The Elephant in the Room

As the vastly experienced educator Chris GOZZARD pointed out, “academisation” is the elephant in the room.

It arises as a direct consequence of the folly of the 2018/19 “federation”, which tied a successful and well-populated smaller school (Eskdale) to a far more financially problematic larger school with a sixth form that is rapidly approaching redundancy.

As I said at the meeting, in any other walk of life, “financial issues” (Ms ZANELLI’s euphemism for financial mismanagement) are the province of the management team – the Governors – who have managed to exacerbate a relatively small deficit by forking out an obscene salary to an Executive Head Teacher who, judged on last night’s performance, exhibits all the leadership prowess of a lugworm. He did not lead the Newcastle Academy to an OfSTED rating of ‘Good’ and his membership of the YEAT Board reflects, in my view, the bet-hedging opportunism of the classic self-server. If he was hired to salvage Whitby’s secondary school provision, he has failed most dismally.

Another who already has one foot in the YEAT lifeboat is Ms ZANELLI, already ensconced there as CEO.

What do they care about Eskdale?

Vote of No Confidence

This is why I called a Vote of No Confidence in the Governors.

It did not carry unanimously; a small group (who I later learned were the personal connections of some of the Governors) opposed the Motion. Otherwise, it was loudly and emphatically carried. That is the voice of democracy.

The Vote of No Confidence in the Governors has, of course, no standing in law. But it surely conveyed to County Councillor WILKINSON and her Officers the inalienable fact that dissatisfaction in Whitby is not with Eskdale School and its teachers – it is with the “unpaid volunteers” who bear all of the responsibility for the managerial failures that have led the school into the greatest possible jeopardy.

Ms ZANELLI has been quoted in the press as stating:

“We know the strength of feeling there is but we have not got a choice about it.”

This, too, is categorically untrue.

The choices beckoning the Governors are obvious and threefold;

1). Write to the Education Authority c/o County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON, withdrawing the request for “amalgamation”;

2). Write to the Education Authority c/o County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON, requesting the appointment of an Interim Board of Directors;

3). Resign, en bloc, immediately thereafter.

Eskdale School is irrefutably worth saving. If Caedmon is happy to be privatised, so be it.

But above all, there MUST remain a choice in Whitby – now and for future generations.

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