HPSPC Insights on the United Learning Q&A
Updated: May 30, 2022
The intention of this article is to dive a little deeper into this meeting between HPS parents and United Learning.
In The Room
Arwel Jones, Interim head of HPS, hosted the meeting. Jon Coles, CEO of UL (ex DfE), and Dame Sally Coates, Director of Secondary Academies of UL (previously head of Burlington Danes ARK Academy) both made an introductory address before opening to the floor for questions.
There were approximately 80 parents in the room during the meeting and based on clapping it seems about two thirds valued the well-informed, somewhat sceptical questions submitted by parents in alignment with the HPSPC concerns.
Many parents did not ask any questions, but then it is a first meeting and many people don't know much about United Learning or the situation. There were some voices in the room who were open to United Learning and wanted to hear from them. One in particular seemed angry at those that were obviously unhappy with United Learning and their decision to hold the meeting. This person also made a point about it being a room full of "priviledged parents", later refuted by a number of parents present.
Insights to Key Points from Jon Coles
Jon Coles is originally from the Department for Education and still closely aligned with them, supporting their agenda.
He defined UL's role in relation to the aims of the government and framed HPS in that context. Specifically, multi academy trusts (MATs) will play a key role in addressing issues plaguing the education system in England for twenty years (now described as levelling up).
So he and UL are approaching this from the perspective of the government, not from the perspective of the community, parents or students at the school (they are viewing the school through a particular lens - not personal, but rather as just another school that requires significant support until they move on to the next one).
When pressed about why HPS needed support, he identified in particular, issues of behaviour, and the practice and quality of teaching, suggesting UL would bring in support on behaviour management and teacher training.
He later asked if parents were so concerned currently, would they support UL bringing people in now ? A shocked "No!" was the general response.
Jon Coles clearly played a divisive card at times. For instance, he asked how do we invite everyone in and not just the privileged people. There was some reaction to that in the room, understandably, given we were not a solely priviledged group as he suggested. Again, a key current government modus operandi.
In practice "inviting everyone in" seemed to boil down to opening up the building for use after school (unclear what in reality that would mean), and, of course, the council-run general admissions, which are based on special needs, siblings at the school and proximity to the school (like most other schools). The Art Aptitude Programme also makes room for a number of students regardless of their proximity to the school, and he agreed that needed to be maintained.
Jon Coles did not react well to the suggestion they might support a brake on the process and full consultation - he went for the extreme there, raised fears in the audience about special measures and emphasised perilous state the school was in, suggesting the sooner UL can come in (actually what this means is take over legal and financial control of HPS) the better.
Again, if we analyse his key positions, this is strategic and plays into fears, emotions and confusions in the audience (in the room and of parents with partial information), which shows the conditions in which these critical decisions are being made and the political operation at the bottom of it.
There was a tone overall from Jon Coles of 'I am going to be honest with you' - this is again a political play: there were contradictions and he did to some extent manipulate trust. He is a brilliant political operator and very effective. I'm sure ULT will have over 100 schools within the next few years and go from strength to strength until there's a reaction to the fact that actually trusts aren't very good value for money, they take important decisions about our education system that in a democracy should be accountable to the public, not in closed rooms by people who are not elected or even known widely. (There are a number of published articles to this effect).
Ofsted will continue to inspect schools as this is a statutory duty. If HPS goes into special measures it will be inspected regularly. It is the MATs that aren't inspected at all - there is self-evaluation, but Ofsted are lobbying for a more structured role and the government is now holding a review/ consultation on this as the white paper proposals are discussed in Parliament (starting next month).
Moving to UL will not actually save the school money, it's saving money for the government or addressing the little-known issue of schools having less money due to the funding formula, having to find cuts. Luckily as part of RBKC HPS is better off than many schools (and govt is addressing this in the north in particular by giving more money to disadvantaged schools or most likely to the MATs running them, as it trusts MATs to spend the money, doesn't trust local authorities or individual schools).
The key point is that central funding is being cut in real terms, at a time of rising costs for schools (the government promised teachers a pay-rise after the pandemic but haven't funded it; also inflationary pressures more generally in the economy will affect schools, assuming cost of meals contracts, energy etc will all rise significantly this year).
So - trust's 'efficiencies' and centralisation of services will not mean more money in the classroom in practice.
The HPS BoG (Board of Governors) is currently running a salary review. This started after Easter and addresses the discrepancies in the Senior Leadership Team salaries - adjustments will be made for September to bring these into line, as they have offered the new Head less money than Colin Hall to bring this into line with national averages on executive pay as DfE wanted.
What will be the impact of changing the employment terms and conditions of the current leadership team, while also bringing in more management from United Learning? The HPS BoG are not being open about this.