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Shock report warns Birmingham schools’ relations with city council are ‘broken beyind repair’

Shock report warns Birmingham schools’ relations with city council are ‘broken beyind repair’

🕔20.May 2014

Relationships between Birmingham schools and the city council are “broken beyond repair” in many cases, with teachers not trusting the local authority to follow through on any of its promises, a confidential report has warned.

The document, which is not meant for public consumption but has been seen by Chamberlain Files, was drawn up by the council’s education service director Sally Taylor and is based on interviews with over 200 head teachers and governors.

According to Ms Taylor’s discussion paper, Engagement Themes, the schools are fed up with being canvassed for their views on policy by the council and then ignored.

The paper warns: “The overarching message that schools want the council to understand is the lack of trust that they have in the local authority.

“This is partly because of the number of changes of leadership and direction that there has been in recent years and partly because of the perceived lack of follow through on strategies and plans that schools have contributed towards.

“Some schools stated that they have entered into engagement on this review with the expectation that little will change and they will be invited to contribute to a similar exercise in the near future.”

The review comes at an extremely difficult time for the city council. Many schools are choosing to convert to privately-run academies, and Birmingham is also embroiled in Trojan Horse allegations of militant Muslim infiltration of classrooms.

The report suggests that schools increasingly want independence from the council.

“There is widespread support across the system for the principle of independent, autonomous state schools and even many of those schools that remain as maintained schools recognise the advantages that academisation brings.”

The highly critical document talks about a lack of trust that has led many schools to describe their relationship with the council as “fractious” whilst many others feel it is “broken”.

The report continues: “For some schools the relationship is considered as beyond repair and feel that the review has come too late as they have left the local authority behind. This sentiment was particularly strong from a number of schools that felt let down by the council when they were going through difficult times following unfavourable inspection reports.

“Some early adopters of the Academy Programme feel resentment towards the local authority as they believe that the council was not as supportive of the direction that the school was taking as they could have been. Some schools even described the council as obstructive. However schools now feel that the ‘mood music’ on this policy has changed on this.

“There is a broad spectrum of opinions on how much support is required from the local authority. Some schools have moved on and left the local authority behind and strongly advocate that the more resource that is delegated to them then the greater the impact on communities served. Others recognise that there are functions that the local authority is best placed to deliver on.

“Paradoxically, some schools that spoke of the need for greater autonomy from the local authority also highlighted gaps in provision that they felt that the council should be fulfilling that are within the remit of schools to commission. These included support for newly qualified teachers, curriculum development and head teacher mentoring.”

The report is also critical of ancillary services provided by the council to schools.

Two consortia of schools stated that they wanted their overall dissatisfaction with the service that they received from the council noted and reported in as part of the review documentation.

The review paper notes: “The dominant theme however was the variability of service quality and for every school that stated they were satisfied with a particular service another stated that they had had a poor experience. Differences of opinion about a particular service appeared to be dependent on which staff member they had dealt with.

“Many schools stated that they were now buying services from other providers and primary schools were keen to emphasise that the high buy-back rates were not a reflection of their satisfaction but because they did not have sufficient time to go to market.”

A few services were singled out as performing particularly well for example, Human Resources and School and Governor Support.

However, ACIVICO, the independent company set up by the council to provide design and buildings services, was highlighted as particularly expensive where quotes for work were typically at least twice that of other contractors.

The impact of budget pressures and cuts to services was highlighted as “service delivery processes were not as robust as they once were and mistakes were being made” and schools were spending time chasing services to get these corrected.

For some services, for example, educational psychology, low capacity was highlighted as a reason why many schools are procuring from elsewhere with lead times of six to eight weeks highlighted for city council services.


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