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BCC Chief Exec: “We lost control”

BCC Chief Exec: “We lost control”

🕔09.Sep 2014

In a highly open and personal address, Birmingham City Council chief executive Mark Rogers revealed the local authority had lost control of the Trojan Horse crisis. He admitted the saga was “outwith” his previous experience and admitted “naivety” in not anticipating private meetings with headteachers could be recorded and leaked.

Rogers suggested the affair was reaching the end of the beginning, but believes the furore among media, political and commentariat circles will increase again in the post summer period.

Rogers, who has been widely praised for his engaging approach notably as a regular blogger and tweeter, was speaking to an audience of The Lunar Society at Birmingham Met’s Matthew Boulton Campus. His talk last night had been billed as: Trojan Horse: Making opportunities out of adversity.

Rogers arrived in his job around the same time as the affair became public, particularly through the pages of the Birmingham Mail and Daily Telegraph as well as this corner of the web. He joked he didn’t believe in “cause and effect”. He said: “we weren’t ready for what came along” but said it would be “unfair” even to say “we didn’t quite make this up as we went along.”

It was impossible, he suggested, to control the understanding and the responses to a crisis of the nature of Trojan Horse. The Council couldn’t control media, politics and columnists. His experience to date, he said, meant he had been reactive at all stages.

It is possible that representatives of the media might point to a Council caught in the headlights as they faced the eye of the Trojan storm. Many communications professionals might suggest cabinet members blaming the media for the crisis and press officers putting the phone down on broadcast journalists are not to be found in the 101 book of crisis handling.

His big wake up call, he said, was being recorded in a private meeting. He was, he admitted, “naive.”

However, he cautioned his audience on the evening and beyond the room against taking the moral high ground. No one he had met, he commented, had previous knowledge of all the strands of what has become known as the Trojan Horse affair or had informed the Council of the solution. There was no single and universally agreed narrative of the affair, he continued.

Trojan Horse was, Rogers said, “the worst of all worlds”: local issues that have national resonance. He suggested recent events in Rotherham may partially take the spotlight away from the next phase of Trojan Horse in the short term.

The Council’s chief executive, himself a former teacher, said the authority had been getting on over the summer in assimilating the various reports and their recommendations. He said: “we don’t yet fully understand everything we need to do.” The reports, he suggested, do not have the answer for everything the council now needs to do to deal with the issues arising from the affair. He explained there were a number of “technocratic” things being done, but he expected Ofsted and the Department for Education would not agree with everything being put in place. He underlined his belief that “we need to give ourselves time to think [everything] through”.

Rogers revealed he had come from a meeting with Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief inspector. Wilshaw had earlier visited Park View, the school at the centre of the affair, as part of the inspectorate’s increased monitoring. He revealed the meeting with the Ofsted boss was brief, commenting: “I suspect I’m banned from seeing Michael Wilshaw too often.” He suggested the timing of the Ofsted visit to the school was not entirely “propitious” given the start of term. “See” said Rogers, ” I can do diplomacy.” Later, Coun Barry Henley commented that the visit at the start of the academic year was more helpful than at the end of the last one and said the Ofsted team were “nothing but courteous.”

It was also revealed the Department for Education had not yet appointed a Commissioner, but a team from the department was on the ground and had started their work. The appointment of an Education Commissioner was announced by the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, alongside the Kerslake Review when she presented Peter Clarke’s report to the House of Commons. The Kerslake Review of the Council’s corporate governance published its terms and membership at the end of last week.

Rogers admitted that the culture of Council – “but probably not just the Council” – was a contributory factor. He also indicated that he did not think he had access to the insight, intelligence or advice to respond to the affair. He asked: “how do we get collective intelligence?”

Rogers believes the Trojan Horse affair is the locus for three national debates:

To what degree is it reasonable for schools to reflect their communities?

What is the role of faith schools?

What are ‘British values’ and what is their role in schools?

He suggested the first question was relevant everywhere, not just in east Birmingham. He remarked that there was no such thing as non-faith schools, given the requirement for a collective act of worship of a broadly Christian nature enshrined in the 1944 Education Reform Act. He wondered whether it was British ‘culture’, rather than ‘values’, that should be the question.

The Lunar Society – which positions itself as stimulating ideas, broadening debate and catalysing action – started the debate of the Rogers trio of questions. Those debates will roll on, but many other questions also arise.

Given the scope of the Kerslake Review and what the civil service boss has termed the “flatlining” of Birmingham; the Council’s demand for more freedom; the crisis in education and social services; and what Sir Albert Bore describes as “the end of local government as we know it,” how can Rogers – a model of openness and optimism – transform a closed and defensive culture so that the council can face current and future issues in a transparent and engaging manner? In other words, how does it regain some degree of control?

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