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School forced to re-run academy consultation after “conflict of interest” row

PUBLISHED: 12:00 12 March 2020 | UPDATED: 11:38 13 March 2020

Cyril Jackson Primary School faced backlash from parents over its plans to become an academy. Picture: Google Streetview

Cyril Jackson Primary School faced backlash from parents over its plans to become an academy. Picture: Google Streetview

Archant

A Limehouse primary school has been blocked in its first attempt to become an academy after a Tower Hamlets Council investigation.

Cyril Jackson Primary School faced a welter of complaints from parents last summer after it proposed to join the multi-academy University Schools Trust.

The school consulted on the plans for just four weeks, at the same time as its then-headteacher Gill Kemp held a paid position as co-chief executive of UST.

Another Cyril Jackson governor is still a paid employee of the trust.

Despite declaring the interest, Ms Kemp - who has since resigned to become UST's full-time CEO - was able to vote in the ballot in July 2019 that gave the green light to academisation.

Parents at the school in Limehouse Causeway also claimed the consultation process had not been balanced and they did not have enough time to understand the plans.

As a result, Tower Hamlets Council commissioned an independent investigation in November into how the process had been run.

In a final report dated January 25, consultant Peter Stone recommended that governors consider extending the consultation, or re-running it outright without the involvement of anyone paid by UST.

A council spokeswoman said: 'Following a number of parental complaints that prompted an independent review, the local authority has raised concerns about the school's consultation with the chair of its governing body.

'The local authority has also shared the independent review findings and its concerns with the DfE, requesting for these to be considered before a decision on the School's academy conversion is reached.'

Parents later learned from a Tower Hamlets Council officer that the review had been conducted, and that governors disagreed with the findings and had decided to press ahead with an application to the DfE for an academy order.

The school did not tell parents or staff that it had been investigated, or of the outcome, in its recent newsletters.

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A Cyril Jackson parent, who was one of 220 to sign a petition against the plans last October, said he felt the whole operation amounted to 'privatisation by stealth'.

He added: 'We are very disappointed. The school appears to have brushed it aside as an irrelevance without informing anybody.

'To not be told about the investigation, or the findings, which were not favourable, seems to indicate a lack of democratic process. We are also concerned this is privatisation by stealth.'

Last week Cyril Jackson's leadership did not comment on the record but referred the Advertiser back to the council for comment.

Then on Friday, March 6 parents were told in a letter from the headteacher that the bid to the DfE had been unsuccessful.

Headteacher Hodo Dirir wrote: 'On Monday March 2, Sue Stollery, Chair of Governors, received a letter from Sue Baldwin (Regional Schools Commissioner) informing the school of the decision taken in relation to the academy order.

'At this time Cyril Jackson's application for an academy order has not been granted.

'Although it was acknowledged that the governing body had already undertaken a lengthy consultation, Sue Baldwin has advised that this be extended in light of therecent leadership changes at the school.

'The governing body is taking this advice on board and will reconvene in the coming weeks in order to discuss next steps and information will be provided as soon as available following this.

'The governing Bbdy has always put the best interests of the children and staff central to any decision taken in relation to the status of the school and will continue to do so in the future.

The school's governors did not comment but referred the Advertiser back to the council. UST did not comment.

A council spokeswoman added: 'Following a number of parental complaints that prompted an independent review, the local authority has raised concerns about the school's consultation with the chair of its governing body.

'The local authority has also shared the review findings and its concerns with the DfE, requesting for these to be considered before a decision on the School's academy conversion is reached.'

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