WSP: The Bottom Line
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, examining the information vacuum surrounding the ‘out of the blue’ proposal, made public on 4th January 2023, to amalgamate the Whitby secondary schools, widely perceived as a step towards academisation.
As a long-established scrutineer of, and commentator on, local government conduct, foremost in my mind at all times is that we live in a democracy. Our elected Council members (and, no less so, the paid public servants who are entrusted with the task of carrying out their decisions), occupy positions of public trust. Their duty is to carry out the will of the people.
I would ask readers to keep this in mind as I recount my attempts to discover the rationale behind this hugely unpopular proposal to close Eskdale School.
The North Yorks Enquirer has published approaching a thousand of my articles. Of present interest, and in the present context, I would hope readers may have seen two in particular.
1) On 24th February, my Open Letter to the Co-Chairs of the WSP Board of Governors (Christina ZANELLI and Su CROSSLAND) and the fairly recently appointed WSP Executive Head Teacher (Mr Jamie HENSHAW) sought answers to some of the questions parent and carers of Whitby school children (past, present and future) have been asking me:
I wanted to know why it was that, in a letter to parents/carers dated 22nd May 2022, the Co-Chairs had misrepresented the newly-appointed Executive Head Teacher (Mr Jamie HENSHAW) as having, in his previous position, “led” the Newcastle Academy to an (improved) OfSTED rating of ‘Good’.
He did no such thing. Follow the link and you will see that I produced the documentary evidence underpinning this assertion.
Unfortunately, Ms CROSSLAND and Mr HENSHAW ignored my Open Letter, leaving it to Ms ZANELLI to respond, which she did – though not from her WSP account; rather, from her Yorkshire Endeavour Trust (YEAT) account. Ms ZANELLI perhaps mistook her desired future for a present-day reality?
In any event, Ms ZANELLI did respond to me, apologising for a “genuine mistake”, pleading “a clerical error” as her excuse for the 22nd May 2022 misinformation and excusing herself (and Ms CROSSLAND) on the grounds that they are “unpaid volunteers with full time jobs, and as such errors do sometimes occur”.
Obviously. But surely, as an honourable man, Mr HENSHAW would have been at pains to correct a misinterpretation that ‘bigs him up’ beyond his desserts, PDQ? But he did not.
This surprises me because, by all accounts – and with the exception of my own correspondence – Mr HENSHAW has been a prolific responder to emails who has been keen to make it his personal business to deal with a large volume of correspondence to the Whitby Secondary Partnership (WSP), including Freedom of Information requests (though I find no record of Mr HENSHAW being an ICO Registered Data Controller/Processor) to which he has evinced considerable expertise in the application of exemption clauses under which information can be lawfully withheld. I suspect he may have had help from Northallerton. Then again, perhaps withholding information is part of his skill-set.
2) In my second article, I reproduced the full text of my exchange with Ms ZANELLI. This appeared in the Enquirer on 27th February 2023:
In my response to Ms ZANELLI, I pointed out that she had misrepresented the circumstances of Mr HENSHAW’s appointment. Ms ZANELLI’s email contained further factual errors (which, when dealing with “unpaid volunteers . . . do sometimes occur”). It overlooked my request for verification of certain documents already in the public domain. Ms ZANELLI declined to meet with me, stating that she was busy. I reproduce this correspondence in full so that readers may be assured of complete transparency.
I was disappointed by Ms ZANELLI’s next response. Her tone had changed markedly. I was no longer ‘Dear Mr Ward’ – I was ‘Dear Nigel’. She was no longer “Christina Zanelli – Headteacher – Lealholm Primary School – CEO – Yorkshire Endeavour Academy Trust – Strategic Lead – Yorkshire Endeavour English Hub“ – she was, “regards Christina”. Pseudo-friendly PR mode, I would suggest.
——– Original Message ——–
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2023
From: Christina Zanelli <email@example.com>
CC: Su Crossland <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Jamie Henshaw <email@example.com>
Good Morning Nigel
In regard to the Ofsted report, you have misunderstood the context. The school had previously been inspected by as a Local Authority School called Sir Thomas Boughey High School, it then became an Academy and in the eyes of Ofsted the report I previously attached becomes the first report of the new academy. In actual fact it is the same school, staff children, parents etc – just a new name. Mr Henshaw became the Executive Principle in September 2020 when it was ‘requires improvement’ and he led it to the next inspection judgement of good. I have attached the previous report.
In regards to the documents – the figures were provided by NYCC as part of the consultation so I believe them to be true. I am unable to comment on the newspaper article as I was not associated with the governing body at this time.
Thank you for your kind invitation for a sticky bun! I have a very busy schedule at the moment – but should an unexpected gap appear then I will be in touch.
I might add, at this point, that Governors in general do not have an especially good record when it comes to the appointment of Head Teachers – which may explain why staff have come to me with stories of bullying and drunkenness in the work place, resulting in massive pay-offs under the strictest of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). Small wonder that there have been “financial issues” at Eskdale. One Governor, in particular, appointed a Parish Clerk with a gambling addiction who had been previously censured by his professional body, the Magistrates Association, for less than total honesty.
Governors may wish to note that, in both cases, half an hour on Google could have pre-empted such rank stupidity.
Ms ZANELLI and Ms CROSSLAND may choose to believe that when they appointed Mr HENSHAW, they appointed an ‘educator’. I believe they appointed a ‘corporate facilitator’. It is not the same thing – and it is not what Whitby wants or needs right now. What Whitby parents and carers emphatically do not need is facile errors made by “unpaid volunteers”.
So, naturally, I responded to Ms ZANELLI with my customary candour, politely correcting her errors and repeating my earlier offer to meet:
——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Re: queries
Date: Wed, 1 Mar 2023
Ms Christina ZANELLI – Co-Chair Board of Governors: Whitby Secondary Partnership (WSP) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO): Yorkshire Endeavour Academy Trust (YEAT)
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
Thank you very much for your email of Tuesday 28th February 2023. I note that you have reverted to your WSP identity. Thank you for that; it precludes further confusion.
My thanks again for your very prompt consideration of, and response to, my email of Monday 27th February 2023.
I hope that you will find the following remarks helpful.
I am sure that you are aware that your amalgamation proposal has met with fierce opposition from parents/carers, staff, former staff and former Governors – as well as the wider Whitby and Esk Valley public.
This may be because the general perception is that a a radical change appears to have been promulgated, precipitately, by just four members of the Board of Governors (one of whom – Mr HENSHAW – is perceived as a ‘newcomer’ to the debate, with no roots or permanent home in Whitby), giving the appearance of a cloistered decision all too easily characterised as high-handed and narrow in scope.
In such circumstances, as in most, perception is (almost) everything.
This negative perception has been compounded by a paucity of accurate information and a plethora of conflicting speculation.
You point out that I am in error to have omitted the fact that the Sir Thomas Boughey Academy is, in all practical terms, a continuation of the Sir Thomas Boughey High School.
Touché. However, the fact that you omitted, in your earlier email (of Monday morning), any mention of that circumstance may have contributed to my ignorance on that point (for which I apologise).
Nonetheless, now that I am in possession of the relevant dates, I remain puzzled.
You state that the present WSP Executive Head Teacher, Mr HENSHAW, joined the Sir Thomas Boughey Academy in September 2020. The final OfSTED Report for the Sir Thomas Boughey High School (I thank you for attaching the Report to your email) is dated February 2017 – some three-and-a-half years before Mr HENSHAW’s arrival at the Academy. It is noteworthy that the Sir Thomas Boughey High School had previously enjoyed an OfSTED rating of ‘Good’. There appears, therefore, to have been three-and-a-half years of remedial endeavour before Mr HENSHAW’s involvement.
The first OfSTED Report for the Sir Thomas Boughey Academy is dated February 2022 – some five years after the predecessor school’s final Inspection, and only eighteen months after Mr HENSHAW’s arrival at the Academy.
Hence, it is, in my view, rather stretching the point to claim that Mr HENSHAW “led” the Sir Thomas Boughey Academy to ‘Good’, having covered only the final 30% of its period of informed return to its previous rating of ‘Good’ – even disregarding the unfortunate “clerical error” of you and your Co-Chair wrongly identifying the Newcastle Academy as Mr HENSHAW’s previous appointment (in your May 2022 letter to parents/carers).
As members of the public, we cannot easily evaluate the extent of the Sir Thomas Boughey High School’s progress during the 70% of its endeavours before Mr HENSHAW’s arrival.
Together, these discrepancies and inaccuracies have contributed to the common perception that Mr HENSHAW is not the ‘cure all’ that he has been presented as being.
This perception is further compounded by the widely-held belief that the present Head Teachers at Whitby’s secondary schools are well-liked, well-respected and considered to be more than competent. In consequence, many believe that Mr HENSHAW has been, as it were, ‘parachuted in’ (by the LEA?) for no other purpose than to propel the Whitby schools to academisation, with little or no regard to the pupils, their futures and their degree of choice – only the “financial issues” (to which you have alluded). Mr HENSHAW’s appointment has also been seen as a slight against the competence of the existing Heads.
The proverbial ‘done deal’ is the phrase foremost in many parents’/carers’ minds.
If these perceptions are mistaken, there is work to be done to rectify this misapprehension.
Surely it would be appropriate for you and your Co-Chair to write to the same parents/carers who received your 22nd May 2020 letter, correcting your “clerical error”. I think you should, to set the record straight.
I thank you for confirming your belief that the NYCC tables are accurate. The fact is that they have been doing the rounds on social media and I could not know, with certainty, that they were authentic. I am happy to take your word for it that they are. Thank you again for that.
I am sorry to hear that you cannot find time for an informal chat. Email correspondence, by its very nature, can be seen as cold and calculating. Conversely, a candid exchange of views over a coffee can achieve much in a context less redolent of the formal overtones that tend to add adversarial ‘colour’ to email correspondence. It is true that I write with care, but I chat freely and amicably.
I had hoped that you would be eager to persuade me of the benefits of amalgamation (and subsequent academisation), so that I could present to my extensive readership a more holistic view of your ambitions for the schools and the pupils. I mean, by that, that if your narrative ‘stacks up’, I will be happy to report it – fairly and squarely.
So please reconsider; an hour or so of your time (and mine; we are all busy people) might ‘grease the wheels’ of good communications, to the greater good of all concerned. There is the starting point from which we can all aspire to progress.
I promise, I will make you feel welcome.
Very kind regards,
Regrettably, Ms ZANELLI has since ‘gone to ground’. No further response. Shutters down. Bottled it.
This is the second time Ms ZANELLI has passed up an opportunity to explain to me why the Governors have chosen their only option to amalgamate and why it is the best option – so that thousands of NYE readers could have an insight into the Governors’ conclusion and an opportunity to evaluate it properly for themsleves. Opportunity may not knock again.
Perhaps Ms ZANELLI feels that she would be unable to present a narrative that does ‘stack up’? Or perhaps she has been instructed to avoid providing any explanation or rationale for the amalgamation/academisation proposal – just as she and her colleagues have avoided standing accountable for their decision to Whitby Town Council, whose invitation to attend and explain has apparently also been declined, much to the annoyance of Whitby Town Mayor, Councillor Linda WILD:
Personally, I think it most likely that the publication of former Eskdale School Head Teacher David BRADLEY on 2nd March 2023 may have convinced Ms ZANELLI and her colleagues that nothing she could say to me would ‘stack up’ her case – not for one moment:
In my view, it is difficult to believe that Mr HENSHAW’s appointment as Executive Head Teacher served any other purpose than as a response to ‘pressure’ applied by North Yorkshire County Council’s Corporate Director of Children and Young People Services, Mr Stuart CARLTON – who replaced Mr Pete ‘Pants on Fire’ DWYER after the last (failed) attempt to destroy Eskdale School, in 2016.
Despite assurances that Local Government Reorganisation (the abolition of North Yorkshire’s seven District/Borough Councils) would save £57 million, it has recently been admitted that there is now a massive £30 million ‘black hole’ in the new unitary authority’s finances. Thus, Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) has resulted in a net £87 million deficit. Plans to claw back that deficit rest in the hands of the County Council’s senior Officers – Mr CARLTON and his colleagues.
As an aside, I should mention that I do not warm to Mr CARLTON. I endeavoured to apprise him, in October and November 2017, of serious managerial mismanagement at a historically famous North Yorkshire School in Richmondshire. Mr CARLTON ignored my email, though his PA did eventually respond, thus:
“Nigel. I can confirm receipt of your email in the Director’s office and I can assure you it has been brought to Mr Carlton’s attention.”
Really? Nevertheless, my information mysteriously coincided, in January 2018, with the sudden ‘departure’ of a certain Head Teacher. I expect Mr CARLTON does not warm to me . . .
The Way Forward
Granted that the present dilemma of having to maintain three school buildings – collectively only two-thirds utilised – is not financially sustainable; two would suffice.
And granted that selling off the Eskdale site for housing development (with the prospect of a large cash injection and a significant revenue stream, in perpetuity, in the form of Council Tax charges from those houses) must be very appealing to an authority with an £87 million shortfall to rectify, how can a proposal that deprives pupils of educational choice be justified on strictly educational grounds (which is why schools exist)?
Clearly, it cannot.
To my mind, this confirms that the proposed amalgamation/academisation – and Ms ZANELLI stated this to me herself in her email of Monday 27th February – serves another purpose; the purpose of addressing certain “financial issues”.
Nowhere in her correspondence has Ms ZANELLI set out the case for the amalgamation/academisation proposal addressing educational needs or preferences.
The obvious conclusion is that, as is usual with local authorities, it is all about the money – the money that has been lost through managerial mismanagement and incompetence on the part of those same senior Officers who miscalculated the cost of LGR, to the tune of £87 million.
The County Council (NYCC/NYC) is desperate for every penny – and the kids will have to like it or lump it. Never mind their talents. Never mind their options. Never mind their futures.
Readers who have followed Scarborough Borough Council’s antics on the Enquirer will be familiar with the name Mr Richard BRADLEY, who was brought in to ‘drive through’ various ventures that were fully expected to arouse strong public hostility (e.g. the ARGOS project) – he failed. Or what about Mr Marc COLE, who was drafted in to ‘drive through’ a number of unpopular projects (he has failed to deliver the HQ Hotels development in the North Bay, the absurd Station Gateway project and the despised and totally impracticable proposal to turn Scarborough West Pier into a tourist plaza)?
In my view, Mr HENSHAW is no different. He is another ‘outsider’, a ‘whizz kid’ brought in to ‘drive through’ a fiercely unpopular proposal – in effect, to brush aside the will of the people.
Clearly, neither he nor Mr CARLTON has reckoned on the diligence and tenacity of the parents and carers of Whitby.
Former Eskdale Chair of Governors Mike WARD has set out seven different options (as a minimum) to tackle the problems of the Whitby educational provision. There may be more. There may even be an option that is more financially viable than the present hodge-podge. After all, the Governors have already conceded that there is no desperate hurry – no need for a ‘rush to judgement; amalgamation has already been pushed back to September 2024.
We have eighteen months to arrive at the best possible solution.
So what is needed now – instead of a heavily biased so-called “consultation” that, in reality, is intended only to ‘rubber stamp’ a ‘done deal’ – is a professional appraisal of all of the various options, conducted by people with more appropriate credentials than the “unpaid volunteers” who have brought us to this distasteful impasse. Or by senior Officers who are angling to obviate their own shortcomings.
Then, when all of the information has been collated, analysed, compared and evaluated – reducing the list to a viable few – why not resolve this stand-off with a democratic poll to establish the will of the people?
Let the people of Whitby VOTE on the best option. After all, this is about something much more important than money; it is about lives and futures. It is about democracy.