Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Holding academies to account

"Reporter Tom Belger asks why no one will speak to him over Halewood Academy's controversial sixth form closure."

"Halewood Academy first announced proposals to close its sixth form on March 3."

"One sixth form student emailed the ECHO to let us know, angry and uncertain whether he would have to complete or even restart his studies elsewhere. I immediately called the school, hoping to speak to a senior member of staff about the proposed closure."

"A receptionist said no one was available, and told me to visit the schools website. I was surprised the school did not want to further explain such a huge decision, but I made do with the statement online."

"I called Knowsley council too, as the closure would leave Knowsley with no A-Level provision, and was partly because of poor GCSE results. I was told the local authority did not plan to comment either, as academies were responsible to central government rather than the council."

"But it was important to get the news out swiftly, so I made do with the schools online statements about funding cuts, falling student numbers and the consultation plans."

"It became clear over the next few days how widespread the anger was over the closure, with hundreds joining an online campaign. I decided to run a follow-up story, and again contacted the school to raise parentsand pupilsconcerns about the closure and how it was being handled."

"I was even more surprised to be directed to the website once again. The person at the other end of the phone agreed to pass my message on to the relevant staff - but no one called me back."

"Knowsley council later told me that `regional schools commissioners` were in fact responsible for overseeing academies, on central governments behalf.  I hadnt heard of them and suspected I wasnt the only one, but eventually found an email address for our local - or as it turns out, Lancashire and west Yorkshire - commissioners office."

"The commissionerswebsite says they are responsible for approving changes to academies, monitoring academiesperformance and taking action when they underperform."

"I asked what commissioner Vicky Beersinvolvement and views were on the increasingly controversial withdrawal of A-Level provision, hoping to finally find someone willing to be held to account."

"But I got the now predictable response that I should direct my queries elsewhere - this time to central government, via the Department for Education."

"Which was a little bizarre, because central government had already rejected a petition from Halewood parents because - you guessed it - `the government and Parliament aren`t responsible. ` ".

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