Disappointing exam results at West Somerset College have brought a storm of protest from parents and students. A petition calling on the principal to resign has been supported by hundreds of people. But Labour says the problem can’t be blamed on one person.
West Somerset Labour Party has called for schools and colleges to be brought back under the control of local education authorities. The branch secretary, Andy Lewis, said:
“The petition calling for the resignation of the head of West Somerset College is an understandable reaction to a worrying situation. But there is a deeper underlying problem, to do with the governance of the college.
Three years ago, it became an academy, outside the control of Somerset County Council. I remember attending a meeting when we were told that this was being done for financial reasons and that the character of the college would not change.
That didn’t last long. Once academy status was granted, the governors were a law unto themselves. They changed the name (dropping the word Community) and launched a grandiose plan to try to take over all education in West Somerset through a federation of schools. A strong-minded new principal introduced ties to the uniform. But all the while, the quality of education for the students was seemingly being neglected.
In the college’s last year as a Somerset County Council school (2011), 55 per cent of students achieved 5 or more good grade GCSEs including Maths and English. That figure began to fall as soon as the college was given academy status, until it hit this year’s low of just 38 per cent.
When I attended a governor’s meeting earlier this year, progress was being reported through spreadsheets and management jargon which gave what now appears to have been an illusory impression of leadership.
There is a balance to be struck here. Governors know local conditions and should have much influence over how a school or college is run. But when they are released from all control, things can go wrong.
We should go back to a system of integrated education, run by an education authority, so that schools and colleges do not blunder into problems without anyone knowing what is going on.”