A regional schools commissioner held one-to-one talks with 17 Redditch school leaders over fears that his decisions could “decimate” the town’s education system – and then pulled out of a meeting with parents just 24 hours before it was due to take place.
Pank Patel (pictured), regional schools commissioner for the West Midlands, approved applications for two secondary schools in the Worcestershire town to expand the age range of their pupils, moving them from a “three-tier” system that includes middle schools to “two-tier”, where pupils go straight to secondary school from primary school.
The controversial decision prompted some school leaders and parents to claim that it could ruin education in the town.
Other Redditch schools are now consulting parents on plans to similarly convert their intake, while others have reiterated their commitment to the three-tier model.
After lobbying from local Conservative MP Karen Lumley, Mr Patel agreed to go to Redditch last Friday for a day of 20-minute talks with representatives from local schools, including Rev Clive Leach, head of Walkwood C of E Middle School.
He told Schools Week that the meeting was “cathartic and I felt I was being listened to”.
Rev Leach is one of six headteachers – from both local authority maintained schools and academies – committed to the three-tier system. “We are determined it can survive and flourish. We have been putting together arrangements for working together.”
Local MP Ms Lumley said that all planned changes to the Redditch school system would be led by the schools themselves. “It’s now for schools to go away and look at what they want to do and take that forward.”
She also said the meeting with Mr Patel was “very positive. The schools had the chance to put forward their thoughts and, although Mr Patel makes the decisions, it was beneficial to outline their thinking for the next few years on the future of education in Redditch.”
Mr Patel said that his meeting with the heads and chairs of governors was positive. “We will continue to work with schools on this and other proposals.”
But Adrian Ward, headteacher at Trinity High School, wrote to parents last week to say Mr Patel’s decision was “ill advised”.
“All Redditch high schools are deemed good or better. It would be a disaster for the schools, students and parents of this town for this to be put in jeopardy just because two schools have acted unilaterally without consideration for the impact on the education of all students in Redditch.”
Schools Week understands that some headteachers regretted that the discussions with Mr Patel only happened after ill feeling surfaced, and that insufficient structures were in place for constructive dialogue with the RSC.
Mr Patel also pulled out of talking to parents just 24 hours before they were due to meet on Friday.
Campaigner Sharon Harvey was told of his no-show in an email, sent on behalf of schools commissioner Frank Green, at 5pm on Thursday last week.
“Having been in consultation with Mr Patel and Ms Lumley this afternoon … I have decided that it would be inappropriate at this stage for the meetings to take place.”
She instead took up the offer of a phone conversation with Mr Green. “He said it was for schools to decide where they are going to go next.”