Analysing the “Independent Review” into Bradford Council’s Decision to Remove Laisterdyke Governors

LaisterdykeTrojanHaox LiesBradfordCouncil

The saga at Liasterdyke Enterprise and Business College characterised by deception, collusions and a desire to remove Muslim governors, continues. The Telegraph and Argus reported earlier this month that, “an independent review” of the Bradford Council’s decision to remove the governing body in controversial circumstances found that the Council was right in instituting an Interim-Executive Board. The report made little mention of any critique around the Council’s or Senior Leadership Team’s failures. Instead it noted that the Bradford Council was “unable” to supply the paper with a copy of the full report. The following day the paper was able to obtain a copy of the report. It found that the IEB put in place by the Council was lacking expertise in governance procedures.

Why the Council was not keen on supplying the report is not known. However, given the “confidential” watermark on the report, it was not hard to find the full set of findings on the Council’s website – an indication to the many dubious actions and failures on the part of the Council.

The report seems like a damage-limitation exercise, where damning evidence which points to the Council or the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) is “generalised”. It is poorly written, and repeats general claims of the Council in a number of places without regard for clear evidence exposing the undermining behaviour of the Council and SLT. It concludes that the Council acted properly and yet, it finds serious problems in the way it operated at the same time.

Bias

One of the aspects which I have dealt with in detail is the course of events around the “Getting to good” plan. The report outlines that,

“The GB’s failure to resolve this issue [to tackle school improvement] swiftly and judiciously, held back on this necessary action, but also delayed agreement on the Getting to Good plan… to agree with the LA’s position here is not to apportion blame to any individuals or sections of the GB, whether the school’s Senior Leadership & Management Team or the Board. It is merely to say that their collective failure to agree a way forward in a timely manner was damaging to the school and resulted in a breakdown of governance.” (p.16)

I have shown clearly, using evidence which seems to have been available to the review panel, that the “Getting to Good” plan was delayed by the SLT. The report also clearly takes the Council’s view of events here (see here for a detailed discussion on how the Council misleadingly took this line). The plan was first shown to the governing body in an incomplete state, and the Council’s “School Specific Monitoring Group Meeting” (SSMG) noted over a month and half later that it was still being “tweaked” with further input still being made by the SLT. It was not until a further week or so later that the governors were able to view a completed copy. How this is the “GB’s failure” and then a “collective failure to agree a way forward” is beyond me. This was the failure of the SLT in conjunction with the Council’s SSMG meetings which hindered the rate of progress.

Moreover, literally a page before obfuscating blame, the report recognises that from the SSMG,

“…there appears to have been little or no connection or communication between this group and the GB. This was also poor governance, for which both the LA and Governors, one of which was the Principal, bear responsibility.”

Further on, the report lays blame on the governing body for lacking a focus on school improvement and “that evidence from the minutes that Governors were effectively monitoring standards or school improvement in any detail.” (p.16)

I am not entirely sure which evidence set was used but based on the minutes I have scanned through, this is a blatant lie. To better monitor the school’s progress, members of the governing body requested data on four occasions without the information being sufficiently provided. The absence of “behaviour targets” to tackle the issue raised in the Ofsted report about low-level disruptions was raised by members of the governing body and allegedly dismissed by the Principal. The claim in the report also seems to contradict itself:

“It is not only the Board who had responsibility for poor governance… The Board needed focused concise information and training from the school’s Senior Leadership & Management Team in how to interpret it and respond, but there is no clear evidence that they received this.” (p.15)

There is an admission here that the governing body in fact could not operate properly due to the difficulty in procuring information from the SLT. Furthermore, as covered in my first blog on Laisterdyke, the governing body instituted governor training, had visited an outstanding school, and brought an example of a dashboard relating key information for the Principal. The Body had also engaged a National Lead Governor to carry out an interim Review of Governance. This was all done without the support of and to the complete and seemingly deliberate ignorance of the Bradford Council.

In yet another example demonstrating bias in favour of the Council and against the governors, the report regurgitates the claim that the meetings were “overlong” (p.17). I addressed this in a previous blog. The claim was also made by Paul Makin, the Bradford Council’s Assistance Director of Education and School Improvement. Both claims again ignore the impediments created by the SLT: material was not provided by the SLT beforehand which necessitated scrutiny of relevant documents in the meetings. The report, like the Council, chose to ignore this.

Interim Executive Board

Further whitewashing occurs with the assessment of the Council’s determination of the IEB.

The report concludes that “the proper process was carried out” and the decision of an IEB was “reasonable given everything which the LA was aware at that time the lack of response to its communications”. The conclusion is caveated with what the Council was “aware at that time”. A similar caveat is not afforded to the governors. It is recognised in the report for instance, that, Ofsted had not provided any guidance on how to address the governance issues raised (p.22). It also recognises that the Council’s monitoring mechanism were lacking and hence the focus was on school improvement as opposed to governance (p.23). On these mechanisms, the report comments,

“The evidence provided by SSMG and SIO was not transparent and their role and responsibilities were not clear.” (p.11)

The report further notes that whilst being swift in initiating the process for an IEB, the Council failed to give an opportunity for further intervention options to be considered by the governing body and that the LA “could have made their processes and communication clearer to the GB beyond the outlining of options contained in the formal documentation.” (p.12)

Given that failure in providing the necessary support, how can the Council’s decision be deemed “reasonable”? Indeed, if we take the caveat adopted by the report, based upon what the governing body was “aware of at that time”, they too functioned “reasonably”. Who will hold the relevant individuals in the Council responsible for these oversights?

The report again takes the Council’s position and seems to ignore the evidence-based assertions made in my article covering the IEB. Far from providing the necessary support, documented evidence demonstrated that elements within the Council were actively colluding with the Principal of the school to have the governing body removed.

One of the fundamental characters in this sad story is completely omitted from the report. Paul Makin did not contribute to the report as he “had since left the LA” (p.9) The Principal became increasingly uncooperative after meetings with Makin, whilst Makin himself made several inaccurate allegations against the governing body, clearly tilting towards the Principal and violating the “Nolan principles” of integrity and objectivity which the report so passionately encourages civil servants to adopt. Scandalously, one accusation was made based on the supposed statements of the clerking service. Upon inquiry the clerk clearly stated that he had “never spoken to Paul [Makin]”. In the report, we are told on this point that there was “a conflict of evidence as to whether the clerk from the outside agency spoke to the Assistant Director about concerns regarding the Governing Body” (p.11). We are not shown what the “conflicting evidence” is. I have catalogued the shocking levels of collusion and clear intention to not support the governing body here. Most of this is ignored in the report.

Concluding Remarks

The independent review was headed by the educationalist Les Walton. It is interesting to note that Walton was picked by anti-Muslim neocon Michael Gove to lead the establishment of the Education Funding Agency. During the height of the Trojan Hoax fiasco last year, the EFA contributed fully to the environment of anti-Muslim hate by publishing a report filled with inflammatory assertions based upon misleading and/or uncorroborated claims. It is little wonder then that the same traits to some degree exist in this “independent” report investigating the Laisterdyke IEB decision. The report advocates (p.17) the implementation of the Nolan principles of public service (selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty). The report itself demonstrably lacks these noble qualities.

It certainly remains to be seen whether a proper attempt will be made to ascertain the facts. Under the bluster of “moving forward” I suspect there will be an attempt to make this the last word on what happened at Laisterdyke. Even with a brief analysis as enunciated here however, there are problems which indicate towards a lack of impartiality. Perhaps an inquiry into the inquiry is in order!

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