Monday 13th May 2024,
North Yorks Enquirer

WSP: Recent Revelations

WSP: Recent Revelations

  • – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, offering an opinion on the disturbing revelations (possibly/probably inadvertent) contained in an undated Freedom of Information Response provided by Mr Jamie HENSHAW, Executive Head Teacher of the Whitby Secondary Partnership, on 28th March 2023, disclosing a large number of documents comprising Confidential Minutes of Board of Governors meetings first requested on 14th January 2023 – i.e. long, long, long overdue. The following report collates information freely available in the public domain, plus private correspondence with and between elected representatives.

~~~~~

Whitby Town Council

Firstly, I am indebted to Mr Michael KING, Whitby Town Clerk, for providing some very significant documentation of great interest to Whitby parents and carers.

Readers my recall my report on events taking place at the Whitby Town Meeting held at the Coliseum on Wednesday 22nd March 2023. In response to one of my Motions and a related Motion Proposed by Councillor Rob BARNETT, both of which carried almost unanimously, Councillor Linda WILD, Mayor of Whitby, has written to North Yorkshire (County) Council – the local education authority (LEA) – in the following ‘no-nonsense’ terms:

I am writing to express Whitby Town Council’s objection to the proposals to amalgamate Caedmon College Whitby and Eskdale School, resulting in the technical closure of Eskdale School and the Eskdale site. It is the council’s understanding that the consultation process has been inadequate and the views of parents and the community have not been properly considered nor listened to.

Whitby Town Council strongly believes that any decision regarding the future of our local schools should be made with the input of all stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and local residents. Unfortunately, it appears that the consultation process has not been sufficiently robust or inclusive.

There has been very little information provided to parents about the proposed amalgamation, and many have expressed the view that they have not had the opportunity to fully understand the implications of this decision. Furthermore, it seems that the concerns and objections have been largely ignored by those in charge of the consultation process. This is evidenced by the failure of the governing body to accept an invitation to address the town council and the lack of engagement experienced at the two public sessions conducted at Whitby Pavilion on 8 March 2023 – which was the only public consultation event undertaken by the LEA or the Whitby Secondary Partnership.

The town council is aware of legitimate concerns articulated by parents and others over the process that has been followed by the governing body in making its initial request to the local education authority to undertake this amalgamation.  The town council believes that a fuller explanation is required of the process followed, whether decisions by the governing body in this regard are properly constituted, whether full and meaningful figures have been disclosed to justify the decision to close the Eskdale site over any other within the Federation based on pupil numbers, utilisation of existing capacity, the extent of remedial works required under the proposals versus a ‘do nothing’ baseline, the capital value of any land declared surplus and the utilisation of any asset arising from the technical closure of the Eskdale site.  The published figures do not show a full analysis of options other than the one proposed, which does not enable a full and proper comparison of the available options to be made.

Statutory guidance states, “Although there is no longer a statutory ‘pre-publication’ consultation period for prescribed alteration changes, there is a strong expectation that governing bodies and local authorities will consult interested parties in developing their proposal prior to publication, to take into account all relevant considerations…” (Making significant changes (‘prescribed alterations’) to maintained schools Statutory guidance for proposers and decision makers – January 2023)

This has not occurred.

The town council urges you to reconsider the proposed amalgamation of these two schools, or to request the withdrawal of the proposal by the governing body, and to engage in a more meaningful and transparent consultation process with the local community. It is important that any decision regarding the future of our schools is made in a way that is transparent, accountable, and addresses the views and needs of all stakeholders.  Whitby Town Council calls on North Yorkshire County Council (and henceforth North Yorkshire Council) as local education authority to conduct a full, systemic and independent review of education provision in Whitby, within the catchment of the existing secondary schools, to include nursery, pre-school, early years, infant, primary, secondary and further education facilities and opportunities to ensure that the current and future needs of the Whitby area are properly understood and provided for.  Such a consultation should enable all relevant considerations to be reviewed before any specific proposal is made.

[The words “prior to publication” in bold type within the cited guidance at para.5 convey the Mayor’s own emphasis]

As an opening salvo, the people of Whitby can hardly have expected such a robust blast. Well done, Madam Mayor!

There has been Scarborough News coverage, but it does not do the Mayor full credit. It does, however, assert that the Town Clerk was acting on behalf of the Mayor and Whitby Town Council – which is important, because the Town Council (soon to be the statutory body representing the entire electorate of Whitby, providing direct input to NYC, following the abolition of Scarborough Borough Council at midnight tonight), carries far greater ‘clout’ than the sum of the votes of only those individual electors who attended the Town Meeting.

The Town Clerk has also provided me, too, with the text of the Mayor’s letter to the Co-Chairs of the WSP Joint Board of Governors. Since the thrust of this correspondence applies later in this article, I shall defer presenting it until then.


Freedom of Information Responses

The WSP has somewhat belatedly released ‘Confidential’ Minutes of certain Board of Governors’ meetings under the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I find it somewhat disturbing that the Executive Head Teacher of the Whitby Secondary Partnership, having arrogated unto himself the authority to process the many penetrating Freedom of Information requests lodged by parents of Whitby school children, has apparently not taken the trouble to inform himself about the niceties of the FOIA process. Then again, Mr HENSHAW’s name does not appear on the Information Commissioner’s Register of Data Controllers/Processors, so perhaps someone else is writing his script?

Setting that aside; even when disclosing information, Mr HENSHAW imagines that he can restrict its wider dissemination, attempting to impose confidentiality on the requestor  – “Thou shalt not share!”.

Hard to believe? Then please read the the disclaimer addendum to Mr HENSHAW’s letter of response:

This email and its attachments may be confidential and are intended solely for the use of the intended recipient. If you are not the intended recipient of this email and its attachments, you must take no action based upon them, nor must you copy or show them to anyone. Please contact the sender if you believe you have received this email in error. Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Caedmon College, Whitby. For more information please visit https://www.ccwhitby.org/welcome/privacy-policy

[passages underlined denote my emphasis]

The FOIA is not the Official Secrets Act. The underlined passages are nonsense and Mr HENSHAW is clutching at straws. Every Data Controller/Processor (Registered or not) should be aware that FOIA responses are, under the terms of the Act, published “to the world” – but Mr HENSHAW seems to imagine that his (perhaps understandable) affection for secrecy somehow countermands an Act of Parliament. It does not. The documents are now in the public domain – albeit two months late and justthree days before the end of the Consultation period.

Some very choice excerpts from Mr HENSHAW’s disclosure have found there way onto social media during the course of the week – and more still, into my in-tray . . .

I have made it my business to solicit the testimony of many others who attended the evening session of the Public Consultation on 8th March 2023 at Whitby Spa/Pavilion and amply confirmed the veracity of the above Facebook post.


North Yorkshire (County) Council

I have also made it my business to bring these disclosures to the attention of County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON [Con.] (along with the letter mentioned above – to the Co-Chairs of the WSP Joint Board of Governors from Whitby Town Mayor, Councillor Linda WILD, acting in accordance with my Resolved Motion at the recent Town Meeting), asking Annabel to refer these developments to the entire membership of her Committee, as well as to Mr Stuart CARLTON and his staff in Children & Young People Services.

I reproduce (below) large sections of my lengthy email to County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON in her capacity as elected representative of the LEA, based on excerpts from the Freedom of Information response described above together with my own opinion/evaluation regarding the significance of the disclosed information:

County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON – Executive Member for Education, Learning & Skills – North Yorkshire (County) Council

Annabel,

I hope you are well?

Please forgive the intrusion, so late in the evening. I can assure you that I would not disturb you were it not vital to apprise you, as a matter of grave urgency, of information which has fallen into my hands today, by virtue of a Freedom of Information response published by the Whitby Secondary Partnership (WSP).

You will certainly recall that both you and I attended the evening session of the Public Consultation event held at the Whitby Spa/Pavilion on 8th March 2023. (http://nyenquirer.uk/wsp-no-confidence/ )

It follows that we both witnessed statements made by representatives of the WSP.

In particular, I distinctly recall the Executive Head, Mr HENSHAW, emphatically denying, in response to remarks made by students, that there is or has been a drug-abuse issue at the schools. I have checked this recollection with a significant number of attendees, unanimous in their recollection that such was the case.

Setting aside, for the moment, the near-tragic events of Monday 13th March 2023 ( http://nyenquirer.uk/wsp-caedmon-incident/ ) – which many interpreted as giving the lie to the Executive Head’s denials – I now learn the following, which I am duty-bound to set before you, with the request that your fellow Committee members and Mr CARLTON and his staff receives sight thereof, the following example extracts (there are others) from a large tranche of documents comprising Confidential Minutes of the WSP:

I also recall the flat denial of Governing Board Co-Chair Ms Christina ZANELLI (whose integrity has been undermined by her own words in her correspondence with me – see http://nyenquirer.uk/wsp-zanelli-responds/ – that the WSP 6th Form facility is/was partially funded from within the Eskdale School Budget.

From within the same FOIA response, I now encounter the following:

Many parents would be shocked by the revelation that the School paid £74,000 for a supply teacher.

My more serious concern is that, even at first glance, the above-mentioned budgeted £30,000 Sixth Form contribution appears to amount to a damning impeachment of the Co-Chair’s honesty.

Whitby Town Clerk Mr Michael KING has kindly provided a copy of the letter sent on behalf of the Mayor of Whitby, Councillor Linda WILD, pursuant to a successful Motion of mine (Seconded by a Whitby Town Councillor) at the Whitby Town Assembly held on Wednesday 22nd March 2023 at Whitby Coliseum. I present it to you here below, for your consideration:

FAO Ms Crossland and Ms Zanelli (Co-Chairs)

Dear Chairs,

I write on the instructions of the Annual Assembly of the electors of the parish of Whitby, which met last week (22 March) in accordance with Sections 14-22 of Schedule 12 of the Local Government Act 1972, to officially set out the following resolution of the meeting for your consideration. Please note that this was NOT a meeting of the town council.

This meeting resolves to write to the co-chairs of the Whitby Secondary Partnership Board of Governors call on them to write to the North Yorkshire Council Executive Member for Education, Learning and Skills, and the Corporate Director of Children’s and Young People’s Services, asking them to:

      • immediately withdraw the Whitby Secondary Partnership Board of Governors’ formal request for the amalgamation of the Whitby secondary schools;
      • mmediately formally appoint an interim Board of Governors for the Whitby Secondary Partnership;
      • and immediately after, they tender their resignations, along with all other members of the Board of Governors, from the Whitby Secondary Partnership Board of    Governors.

My understanding is that, as of late this afternoon, there has been no response.

In good conscience, I feel I have no alternative but to report on the subject matter of this email, in the public interest. In consideration of the courtesy you have extended to me previously, I do not wish to do so without offering you the opportunity to comment in response to my concerns. Please do so, Annabel.

In my view – and we are all entitled to express an opinion – the circumstances leading to, and following, the WSP Governors’ announcement on 4th January 2023 (that the EA had been requested to consult on the proposed Amalgamation of the schools) have been dogged by misinformation, procrastination and secrecy of such a nature as to be utterly incompatible with paid public servants who have a duty of transparency and have clearly abused the public trust.

I urge and implore you to instruct your Corporate Director: Children & Young People Services, Mr Stuart CARLTON, to intervene in this process in the interest of the people of Whitby and the good standing of North Yorkshire (County) Council. To do nothing is surely not an option.

I will refrain from submitting my copy for publication until close-of-play (5:00pm) on Friday 31st March.

Yours, with very kind regards,

Nigel

I am gratified to be able to report that Councillor WILKINSON (the recipient, in my view, of a horribly poisoned chalice) has provided an entirely reasonable (though quite properly non-committal) response:

Good afternoon Mr Ward, Nigel

I am well thank you, I hope that you are?

Thank you for your email.

Any content within your email relevant to the consultation will be considered and I have also noted your concerns. Thank you.

Concerns about a school should be raised through the school’s complaints policy. More information about raising complaints is available here. Complain about a school: State schools – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

If you have comments about the amalgamation consultation, please continue to submit these via the council’s website: Proposal to amalgamate Caedmon College Whitby and Eskdale School from 1 September 2024 | North Yorkshire County Council.

Any comments submitted in this way will be included and responded to as part of the report to Council’s Executive.

Thank you.

Kind regards

Annabel

Cllr. Annabel Wilkinson. North Yorkshire County Council.

Executive member for Education. Learning and Skills.

From the other side of the potitical spectrum, County Councillor Neil SWANNICK [Lab.] (Whitby Streonshalh Division) has proposed that parents affected by the potential amalgamation be compensated by the Local Education Authority if the amalgamation takes place.

https://www.thescarboroughnews.co.uk/education/councillors-say-parents-should-be-given-compensation-if-whitby-schools-merger-goes-ahead-4086007


Another FOIA Response

I am also able to reproduce what I regard as documentary evidence of one of the most outrageous strokes of misinformation I have ever encountered.

It comprises just three communications:

(i) a request to the Department of Education for official confirmation of the existence of a Federation between Eskdale School and Caedmon College, Whitby;

(ii) a gentle reminder (by telephone);

(iii) an official response from Ms Joanna HARRISON of the Department of Education Governance Team.

  • “…holds no documentation received about the formation of a federation…”

Silly me. Like many, I believed the following media report – one amongst several – featured on the ThisIsTheCoast website, dated 16th December 2021:

  • “…in July 2019 when Eskdale School and Caedmon College were brough together to form a federation with a single Governing Body…”

Was it the Executive Head Teacher who informed ThisIsTheCoast that the Whitby Secondary Partnership became a Federation in July 2019 – even if nobody bothered to notify the Department of Education? Or, if not, did he take steps to ensure that a correction was published promptly by the Scarborough News?

Or was it the Governors?

Or did ThisIsTheCoast pluck the apparent ‘fact’ of the schools’ Federation out of thin air?

Perhaps the ‘Federation’ of schools is none of the Department of Education’s concern?

And would it be reasonable to expect that, having formed a Federation (without that ‘fact’ having been notified to the Department of Education by WSP or NYCC at any time during the period starting from its ‘inception’ in July 2019 to the present day), North Yorkshire (County) Council might have been duty-bound to register that notification – had it ever, in fact, existed?

Perhaps the steps from (i) School to Federation, from (ii) Federation to Amalgamation, and from (iii) Amalgamation to Academy could be ‘facilitated’ by skipping the step from (i) to (ii) – leaving (iii) that much closer to the ‘winning-post’?

There are, amongst certain former teachers and former Governors, cynical individuals who tell me that this Amalgamation really is a ‘done deal’.

Headlines in today’s YorkMix offer a more than plausible explanation:

https://yorkmix.com/brand-new-north-yorkshire-council-plans-to-sell-off-thousands-of-properties/

This was always the suspicion, even back in 2016 when Eskdale School first came under ‘attack’.

According to the Yorkshire Post, this trajectory (insofar as it applies to Eskdale School) seems to have been ratcheted up back in 2018/19 – with the full support of Whitby & Scarborough MP, Sir Robert GOODWILL:

Perhaps the ‘Federation’ of schools is none of Sir Robert GOODWILL’s concern, either?

In my view, the ball is firmly in the court of County Councillor Annabel WILKINSON and her Committee to satisfy the people of Whitby that the future of secondary education in Whitby, including the continued existence of Eskdale School, has not been hocked to a bunch of unscrupulously dissembling self-interest merchants whose lack of commitment to the next generations is is equalled only by their inability to lie straight in bed.

In my view, the WSP Joint Board of Governors must resign forthwith.

I conclude this necessarily lengthy report by paraphrasing Pink Floyd:


My report on the Whitby Town Meeting of 22nd March 2023 can be reviewed here:

http://nyenquirer.uk/town-meeting-wsp/

Other publications on the North Yorks Enquirer addressing the proposed Amalgamation of the Whitby secondary schools can be reviewed here:

http://nyenquirer.uk/category/county/north-yorkshire-cc/

The Report provided to NY(C)C by the organisers of the Keep Choice in Whitby & Save Eskdale group is reproduced below and may be downloaded here.

Download the PDF file KEEP CHOICE.

 

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