Revealed: Scale of parent shut-out on academy decisions

Transparency concerns as analysis shows just one in 10 advisory boards had public representations

Transparency concerns as analysis shows just one in 10 advisory boards had public representations

19 Jun 2023, 5:00

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Just one in 10 regional director meetings had representations from the public, backing up concerns important academy decisions are being quietly determined with little input from parents.

Fifty-eight of the 65 advisory boards convened since September did not receive a single representation, Schools Week has found.  

The government this week delayed plans to academise Sheffield’s last council-maintained secondary, King Edward VII School (KES), after a fierce local backlash.  

The proposal was only spotted when education professor Mark Boylan, whose daughter Sophia attends the school, stumbled upon a copy of an advisory board’s agenda online a week before it met.  

System ‘completely unfair’ 

Parents who challenged the decision said this left them with just three days to make their views known. They also claimed KES was not made aware it could be absorbed by the Brigantia Learning Trust until this point.  

Parent power has pushed back plans to academise Sheffield's last maintained secondary school
King Edward VII School in Sheffield

Boylan said the current system “seems completely unfair. The schools need to be told that it’s on the agenda and it ought to be a requirement that they then inform the parents it’s happening.” 

Our analysis shows about 25 comments were lodged in all. Eight of these were made at an East of England advisory board in March, seemingly opposing a proposal to move the Ortu Federation MAT’s last two schools into a separate chain. The proposal was rejected by the regional director. 

It was the only item to be refused after attracting critical comments. 

‘Involve parents in academy process’

Leora Cruddas, the chief executive of the Confederation of Schools Trusts – who did not want to comment on the Sheffield situation – said there should not be system “where people are left to accidentally find out” about advisory boards.  

Leora Cruddas

While she cautioned against “parents everywhere” starting to get involved with boards, she said they should be told if there was a change of a school’s legal status and a trust put forward by the regulator.  

“The regional director should ask the school to communicate with its parent body. They’re core stakeholders and therefore have a legitimate interest in the legal status of a school.” 

Guidance published by the Department for Education says agendas – released 10 working days before boards meet – “all contain information on how anyone can make representations about any of the projects due to be discussed”.  

‘Academy decision-making not transparent’

Mark Boylan

Boylan said representations had to be submitted not less than five working days before the meeting. “That needs to be longer. It’s not very transparent and doesn’t make for very good decision-making because the parents may have information that should be known.”  

Parents at KES questioned whether Brigantia was the right choice after learning two of its five schools had received back-to-back ‘requires improvement’ Ofsted scores.  

They argued that the move contradicted the government’s “coasting” crackdown to force schools with two less-than-good inspections into new trusts.  

Regional director Alison Wilson deferred any decision “to allow further analysis to be carried out, comparing a number of suitable multi-academy trusts, including Brigantia”.

DfE promises improvements 

But the attempts to academise KES have since been paused while waiting for the results of a follow-up Ofsted visit. 

A DfE spokesperson said new “commissioning guidance” to “clarify the role of advisory boards” is due to be published.

“We will also improve the transparency and consistency of meetings and published decisions as the revised commissioning approach is implemented.” 

Our analysis found minutes from meetings in April and May are yet to be published by the north-west, south-east and Yorkshire and Humber advisory boards.  

Guidance adds they are published once “key stakeholders”, such as schools and trusts, have had a chance to respond to the regional director’s decisions.

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