Friday 12th July 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

WSP: “Transparency & Accountability”

WSP: “Transparency & Accountability”

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, speculating on information ‘doing the rounds’ amongst members of the public both before and after the evening session of the Public Consultation meeting held at Whitby Pavilion on Wednesday 8th March 2023 – namely, that a North Yorkshire solicitor (reputedly expert in matters of governance) had attempted to engage the WSP Executive Head Teacher at the afternoon session regarding potential “procedural improprieties” (errors) in the legality of the processes giving rise to the proposed amalgamation of the two schools – and was told to “Make an appointment”.

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The purported concerns of an anonymous ‘North Yorkshire solicitor’ have not, as far as I am aware, as yet been outlined in detail.

I do, however, have concerns of my own.

I have decided to address them to Ms Su CROSSLAND, a co-opted member of the WSP Board of Governors and, in fact, one of its two Co-Chairs.

I reproduce my email to Ms CROSSLAND below, in the hope that it is not too technical and boring.


Subject: Public Interest Questions

Ms Su CROSSLAND – Co-Chair – Whitby Secondary Partnership Board of Governors

IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST

Su,

You will recall that on 24th February 2023, I wrote (separately) to you, your Co-Chair Ms Christina ZANELLI and the WSP Executive Head Teacher, Mr Jamie HENSHAW – in the public interest. You did not respond. Mr HENSHAW did not respond.

This non-responsiveness does not sit well with the public statement issued recently by County Councillor Carl LES [Con.], Leader of North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC – the Education Authority – or EA), soon to be Leader of North Yorkshire Council (NYC), namely:

“It is essential that North Yorkshire’s residents and businesses can have confidence in the transparency and accountability of the new council.”

The Whitby Secondary Partnership comprises two so-called “controlled schools”, funded by the Education Authority and therefore subject to the same ethical framework and onus of accountability that County Councillor Carl LES regards as “essential”.

Only Ms ZANELLI accorded me the courtesy of a response to my email, whereafter she and I fell into a productive (though short-lived) correspondence. For convenience of reference, you may wish to refresh your memory regarding the content of that correspondence:

Ms ZANELLI, it would appear, has since (belatedly) elected to invoke her ‘right to silence’.

I do not wish to engage with Mr HENSHAW, who has also invoked his ‘right to silence’.

As the sole remaining recipient of my earlier attempts to elicit information under the asupices of “openness and accountability”, I hope you will be willing and able to provide some answers to certain matters arising.

Background

Please correct me if I am mistaken in my understanding of the present structure of the Whitby Secondary Partnership.

The Whitby Secondary Partnership, since 2019, comprises a federation of two schools, at each of which an independent Head Teacher presides – Ms Susan BOYD (at Caedmon) and Mr Phil NICHOLSON (at Eskdale).

Presently, these two Head Teachers co-operate under the purview of an Executive Head Teacher – Mr Jamie  HENSHAW – a position newly-created in (approximately) May last year.

The two schools share a single Board of Governors, under the Co-Chairship of yourself and Ms ZANELLI.

Mr HENSHAW, your appointed Executive Head Teacher, is also member of the Board of Governors.

The three Board members mentioned above were three of the four Governors (the fourth being Mr Mark TAYLOR, a former Head Teacher of Eskdale School) present at the Board of Governors’ Meeting in December 2022, where it was reportedly resolved (either unanimously; or by three votes to one; or – in the event of a two-two tie – upon the casting vote of either or both of the Co-Chairs) to request the EA to consult on a proposed amalgamation of the two (already federated) schools.

In the event that the proposed amalgamation is approved, Eskdale School will cease to exist. There will be only one secondary school in Whitby and, as now, only one Governing Body.

I trust that the foregoing is an accurate description of the prevailing circumstance?

If so, then the following questions arise.

Questions

It is difficult to conceive of a single school (albeit, under a new name) with two Head Teachers, plus one Executive Head Teacher. Three into one really does not go, even in a world of top-heavy, multi-layered management.

It is reasonable to speculate, then, that a single Head Teacher will be appointed to preside over this single, newly-named school.

Mr HENSHAW has already publicly professed himself to be a man of many aspirations.

Impartiality

If it were one of Mr HENSHAW’s aspirations to attain the position of Head Teacher of the new school, one can readily imagine that the success of the amalgamation proposal would bring potential career-path benefits to Mr HENSHAW.

For example, holding the position of Head Teacher of a unified Whitby secondary school, in addition to its naturally concomitant direct benefits (e.g. salary, pension security, health plan and other pecuniary benefits), there exists an obvious strategic advantage to be gained from the amalgamation of the two schools, in terms of the the key role held by the single Head Teacher (and Governor) in any future negotiation pursuant to achieving the academisation of the new school as part of (e.g.) the Yorkshire Endeavour Academy Trust (YEAT).

Mr HENSHAW is already a Trustee of the Yorkshire Endeavour Academy Trust. It could rightly be suggested that Mr HENSHAW already has ‘a foot in both camps’ – present and future.

Thus, there is at least an appearance of a trajectory of logical progression, proceeding from (a) separate schools to (b) federation, from (b) federation to (c) amalgamation, and from (c) amalgamation to (d) academisation.

The concern must be that some of the advantages outlined above (and quite possibly several more) amount to what, in law, is definable as a disclosable interest (pecuniary in nature, at least in part), the holding and non-declaration of which may have made Mr HENSHAW’s participation in the resolution of the Board of Governors (to request consultation on amalgamation) unethical – perhaps even unlawful.

Did Mr HENSHAW stand to gain, or could he be seen as standing to gain, from driving the schools from federation to amalgamation and from amalgamation to academisation?

In the simplest terms;

Could Mr HENSHAW be perceived as having an undisclosed personal motivation to promote amalgamation?

It may be that Mr HENSHAW, in participating in a decision in which he could be seen as holding an interest, has rendered the resolution null and void.

Certainly, in the spirit of ‘openness and accountability’, it would have been morally impeccable for Mr HENSHAW to have recused himself and taken no part in a decision from which he could be perceived as entertaining a personal interest. That course of action would embody the great merit of being beyond reproach. It is, of course, the honourable course.

Quoracy

Also of concern is that it appears impossible to obtain sight of the Constitution or Terms of Reference of the Board of Governors. Thus, it is unclear whether or not the Meeting held in December 2022, with only four members present, was quorate. (Ms ZANELLI has confirmed that the Board comprises a full complement of thirteen members). Quora most often require the presence of a third of any given membership (rounded up to the nearest whole number). One might anticipate the quorum of a 13-strong Board to be five.

It would seem unrepresentative if only four (or less) members of the Board amounted to the quorum necessary to enact any resolution, most especially a resolution that amounted to ‘euthanising’ Eskdale School.

Compounded by the compelling moral argument against Mr HENSHAW participating in the resolution (on account of the ‘live’ risk of him appearing to have a personal interest in the outcome – as set out above), there also arises the real possibility that, even had Mr HENSHAW recused himself and taken no part (which he seemingly did not), the resolution may still be unsafe on the grounds that the presence of three remaining members did not amount to the necessary quorum.

In the simplest terms:

Would three members suffice, in law, to achieve quoracy in order to make such a momentous decision?

Without sight of the Board of Governors’ Constitution (or Terms of Reference), we cannot know the answers to these questions. We cannot know whether or not due process has been observed.

We certainly cannot be faulted for seeking answers to these questions; they accord precisely with the “openness and accountability” that County Councillor LES has promulgated.

Please provide me with a copy of the WSP Board of Governors’ Constitution, Terms of Reference or equivalent document. Thank you.

Management Shortcomings

It cannot be gainsaid that we have recently observed examples of imperfect decision-making by the Board of Governors, which alone bears responsibility for the “financial issues” which precipitated the decision to request consultation pursuant to amalgamation. Moreover, the testimony of the courageous children who very publicly levelled grave allegations of bullying, drug-abuse, “broken bones”, etc., allege failures of leadership (at both schools) that cannot be ignored. That leadership is overseen at the operationa level by the Executive Head Teacher.

The Board alone bears the responsibility for unsatisfactory and/or unsuccessful appointments.

You may be aware that the Keep Choice in Whitby and Save Eskdale School group has been conducting a social media questionnaire regarding the provision of school meals. Some of the responses are deeply alarming – on top of which, I am in receipt of private correspondence from parents/carers asserting that it is a commonplace – a daily occurrence – at Eskdale School that children who prefer to attend school meals after the first rush frequently find the cupboard bare.

This horrendous state of affairs begs the question: Is this a consequence of the “financial issues” to which Ms ZANELLI has referred? If so, how can the Board justify the appointment of an Executive Head Teacher at phenomenal expense – the expense of children going hungry?

The Board of Governors bears sole and ultimate responsibility for any and all failures of management. “Heavy lies the head that wears the crown”.

I look forward, without optimism, to including your responses to these crucial public interest questions in my next article.

Yours, with kind regards,

Nigel

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