WSP: Ms ZANELLI Responds
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on (and replying to) a very prompt response to one of three recipients of an Open Letter published on Friday 24th February 2023, seeking clarification to a public statement made by the Co-Chairs of the Governing Board of the Whitby Secondary Partnership (WSP).
Ms Christina ZANELLI, Co-Chair of the WSP Board of Governors, has very kindly provided a prompt response to the concerns I raised in my Open Letter to her, her Co-Chair Ms Su CROSSLAND and Mr Jamie HENSHAW, the Executive Head Teacher of WSP on Friday 24th February 2023. I am a little surprised to note that my email addressed, primarily, to three dignitaries of the Whitby Secondary Partnership (WSP) Board of Governors should receive a response from Ms ZANELLI’s Yorkshire Endeavour Academy Trust (YEAT) email client, almost as though YEAT has replaced WSP already.
In the interests of openness and transparency, I will reproduce (i.e. copy/paste) Ms ZANELLI’s email to me (timed and dated 08:50 on Monday 27th February 2023), in which she has kindly invited me to attend the Public Meeting in March (for which invitation I have cordially thanked her), in its entirety, at the foot of this article – followed by my response.
Before doing so, I have a number of thoughts to express on the subject of Ms ZANELLI’s reply. To that end, I will first highlight some of her remarks in the form of excerpts (in blue type) – some of which, in my view, raise more questions than answers.
Firstly, I am surprised (and disappointed) that Ms ZANELLI, in her opening sentence, appears to have attributed to me, personally, remarks cited in my Open Letter as specifically attributable to other sources, thus:
“… the proposed amalgamation is being characterised, by some, as ‘akin to a hostile take-over bid’ amounting to ‘the attempted privatisation, by steath’ of Whitby’s secondary education provision”.
This is careless. Ms ZANELLI appears to have misread my remarks. I have not decried academisation. Others have. I would have expected Ms ZANELLI – or any other Head Teacher or (Co-)Chair of Governors to discern that important distinction.
I write with care; I do not appreciate having the words of others thrust into my mouth.
Ms ZANELLI explains that approaches were made to WSP by two secondary trusts (academies) in September (I imagine Ms ZANELLI means September 2022), but that the Regional Schools Commission required WSP to resolve its “financial issues” before academisation could be considered, though not, in any case, before September 2024.
Regarding the glaring discrepancy between the assertion in the Co-Chairs’ letter to parents and carers (dated 22nd May 2022), to the effect that the newly-appointed Executive Head Teacher (Mr HENSHAW) had elevated the Newcastle Academy (from ‘Requires Improvement’) to ‘Good’, and the factual information provided in the OfSTED Report, stating that the Newcastle Academy continued to be rated ‘Requires Improvement’, Ms ZANELLI has this to say:
“Concerning the letter – this was a genuine clerical error. The school that Mr Henshaw was executive head of before joining us was Sir Thomas Boughey (Ofsted report attached) Mr Henshaw was head at Newcastle Academy previous to that. This was a genuine mistake at the time of writing and for that we apologise. I am sure you understand that Governors are unpaid volunteers with full time jobs, and as such errors do sometimes occur.”
I take note of the fact that Ms ZANELLI freely admits that:
“Governors are unpaid volunteers with full time jobs, and as such errors do sometimes occur.”
They certainly do. Parents and carers may be concerned that their children’s futures rest in the hands of unpaid (i.e. amateur) “volunteers”, however well-meaning – not that I am decrying amateurs in general; I perform my voluntary work as an investigative journalist, in the public interest, as an ‘amateur’, in the sense that I am not paid for my endeavours.
Nevetheless, I would be happy to accept Ms ZANELLI’s apology; parents and carers may take a different view – especially if they do as I did and examine the most recent (and only) OfSTED Report for the Sir Thomas Boughey Academy, at which Mr HENSHAW was employed following his departure from the Newcastle Academy. The header appears here below:
It is possible that, as a layman, I have misunderstood the last line in the image above: “Not previously inspected under section 5 of the Education Act 2005”. This signifies to me that it was the new Academy’s first OfSTED Report. I apologise if I am mistaken.
I struggle to reconcile Ms CROSSLAND and Ms ZANELLI’s assertion (in their 22nd May 2022 letter to parents and carers) to the effect that Mr HENSHAW “led on school improvement for both pupils and staff“ (albeit, accepting that the Co-Chairs identified the wrong school), with an OfSTED Report which, being the first of its kind for the Sir Thomas Boughey Academy, does not, by definition, identify any “school improvement” upon which Mr HENSHAW may (or may not) have “led”.
I quote here, for convenience of reference and so that readers may draw their own conclusions, directly from that 22nd May 2022 letter to parents and carers:
“Mr Henshaw is leaving his post as Executive Principal at Newcastle Academy, Staffordshire, where he has led on school improvement for both pupils and staff, ensuring the school achieved a Good rating at the most recent Ofsted inspection.”
[my highlighting in blue bold type]
How can the step from ‘Not previously inspected’ to ‘Good’ amount to Mr HENSHAW having “led on school improvement“?
I struggle to to attribute the Co-Chairs form of words to “a genuine clerical error” and “a genuine mistake at the time of writing”, unless such fundamental errors are commonplace amongst “unpaid volunteers”?
I can only reiterate my earlier comment – as it appeared in my Open Letter:
“In my view, there is a compelling appearance that Mr HENSHAW’s credentials have been ‘mis-sold’ to parents and carers by the Co-Chairs.”
Ms ZANELLI’s explanation does little to dispel that appearance. Her assertion that “due diligence” was performed in the matter of the Executive Head Teacher’s appointment (to a position commanding a reputed salary of ‘one-hundred-and-plenty thousand pounds per annum‘), in a “rigorous 2 day process supported by NYCC” is also cause for concern; Ms ZANELLI (a Head Teacher in her own right) admits that the Chairs of Governors, as mere “unpaid volunteers”, are capable of error. This much we know.
I can only comment that it would take me more than two days to appoint a gardener or a window-cleaner.
Ms ZANELLI concludes by admitting that, at the time of the screenshot featured in my Open Letter, the WSP website was “not up to date” in respect of Mr HENSHAW’s Trusteeship at YEAT, but was rectified after I pointed out the crucial omission of Mr HENSHAW’s undisclosed interest. I am happy to have been of service, and would have happier still had Ms ZANELLI expressed her thanks to me.
I regret to report that my request to the Co-Chairs and the Executive Head Teacher to verify the authenticity of the documents I attached to my emails has been totally disregarded.
I am far from convinced that parents and carers of present and future Whitby school children will be comforted to learn that what many regard as a ‘rush to judgement’ single-option proposal, instigated (reportedly) by only four attendant Board members (on 13th December 2022). They appear to have done so without having first solicited other opinions, and other options, from other interested parties.
But there can be no doubt that NYCC has an urgent financial interest in the Board’s proposal – having announced a £30 million Budget deficit. Wre the Governors acting under duress?
The abiding question remains:
Was this crucial and irreversible decision best left in the hands of self-declared amateurs who have apparently given no regard to seven alternative proposals, at least one of which fully resolves the WSP’s “financial issues”?
Readers will find my response to Ms ZANELLI below hers to me.
——– Original Message ——–
Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2023 08:50:46 +0000
From: CEO <CEO@yeat.co.uk>
CC: Jamie Henshaw <email@example.com>, Su Crossland <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Dear Mr Ward
Thank you for your e mail
In answer to your concerns I would first address your sentence ‘ the attempted privatisation by stealth’ I presume by this you mean the consideration of academisation by the Governing Body? As 80% of Secondary Schools nationally are now academy trusts we would be remiss in our duty if we did not consider this option. Two secondary Trusts were approached by the Governors in September, but the Regional Schools Commissioner has made it clear that the schools have to sort out their financial issues before any academy application would be considered. Should the amalgamation proposal be successful the earliest the new school would be considering applying to join an academy would be September 2024.
Concerning the letter – this was a genuine clerical error. The school that Mr Henshaw was executive head of before joining us was Sir Thomas Boughey (Ofsted report attached) Mr Henshaw was head at Newcastle Academy previous to that. This was a genuine mistake at the time of writing and for that we apologise. I am sure you understand that Governors are unpaid volunteers with full time jobs, and as such errors do sometimes occur. The recruitment process was a rigorous 2 day process supported by North Yorkshire County Council. All due diligence was done. The Governing Body continues to be pleased with Mr Henshaw’s appointment.
The Governing Body page of the WSP website was not up to date at the time of your photo – but this was immediately rectified when the error was pointed out. Mr Henshaw is a Trustee of YEAT – this is because the vast majority of YEAT pupils go to Caedmon and Eskdale so having him on the board supports transition for our pupils. Mr Henshaw has always been listed on the YEAT website – this was not hidden. Sadly errors are occasionally made – but there was certainly no deliberate attempt to hide anything
We look forward to seeing you at the public meeting in March
Headteacher – Lealholm Primary School
CEO – Yorkshire Endeavour Academy Trust
Strategic Lead – Yorkshire Endeavour English Hub
We are part of the YEAT Thank You Initiative. If you have received good service from a member of Team YEAT and would like this to be recognised, please email email@example.com or visit the Thank You page on our website.
My Response to Ms ZANELLI:
——– Original Message ——–
Subject: My response to your email marked ‘reply’
Date: Mon, 27 Feb 2023
To: Christina Zanelli CEO <CEO@yeat.co.uk>
IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
Thank you very kindly for your prompt response. Having addressed you primarily in your Whitby Seconday Partnership role, I am a little surprised to receive your response from your YEAT email client.
Forgive me, but I must take issue with your attribution to me of remarks made by others (whom I have quoted in good faith). I have never stated that the WSP Board’s amalgamation proposal is ‘akin to a hostile take-over bid’ amounting to ‘the attempted privatisation, by steath’ of Whitby’s secondary education provision. I would be grateful if you would be so good as to withdraw that imputation. Thank you.
I accept your apology for the error made by you and your Co-Chair, Ms CROSSLAND, in your letter to parents and carers, dated 22nd May 2022. Thank you.
I am at a loss to understand how your view that, notwithstanding the fact that your letter identified the wrong school in regard to the newly-appointed Executive Head Teacher’s previous position, any reasonable person might construe a first OfSTED Report of ‘Good’ as a reliable indicant that Mr HENSHAW had “led on school improvement” at the Sir Thomas Boughey Academy. I can only reiterate my view that there is a compelling appearance that Mr HENSHAW’s credentials have been ‘mis-sold’ to parents and carers.
I thank you for ensuring that the erroneous information on the WSP website (the omission of the Executive Head Teacher’s Trusteeship at YEAT) has now been corrected.
May I respectfully remind you that I asked you and/or your colleagues to verify the authenticity of the documents I attached to my emails to each of you? Could I ask you, please, to remedy this oversight? Thank you.
I look forward to meeting you. You are more than welcome to join me for a coffee and a sticky bun for an informal chat – my treat – in Whitby, at a time and date of your choosing.
Thanking you again for your consideration in these matters, I remain
Yours, with very kind regards,