Warwickshire County Council: Authority powerless to intervene in Aylesford School crisis

Sections of the secondary school have been closed due to the discovery of asbestos and uncertainty over whether RAAC – a lighter concrete prone to collapse with age – is present.
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The director in charge of delivering education services in Warwickshire admitted the county council is powerless to intervene in the Aylesford School crisis.

Sections of the secondary school section at the Tapping Way site have been closed due to the discovery of asbestos and uncertainty over whether RAAC – a lighter concrete prone to collapse with age – is present.

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It has left entire year groups at home and frustrated parents, who attended a meeting with Warwick & Leamington MP Matt Western on Wednesday, claimed that this was the tip of the iceberg.

Work is underway at Aylesford SchoolWork is underway at Aylesford School
Work is underway at Aylesford School

As well as raising concerns over what the children were missing out on by being away from the school environment for so long and how they will be integrated on their return, it was alleged that many lessons are not taking place, that children are sent online lessons links for subjects they are not taking and that teachers are conducting lessons through computers that are in close proximity to each other, meaning children cannot hear properly.

Safeguarding issues, a lack of consistent communication and dead ends when trying to engage with the complaints procedure were also highlighted.

One parent asked at what stage the council or any other body could intervene to take over the running of the school.

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Mr Western brought in Johnny Kyriacou, the Warwickshire County Council (WCC) director in charge of delivering education services, at that point.

WCC is responsible for ensuring that children across the county can access education but it does not have direct power over academy schools.

Introducing himself, Mr Kyriacou said: “I thought it was important to come so you could see the presence of the local authority because whether or not a school is an academy, your children are our children, you are parents but they are Warwickshire children.

“I am really sorry to hear what you are going through, the anxiety, having coming out of Covid as well, I am sure you didn’t expect something like this to happen in this form again.

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"I really empathise with what you have said and I am really sorry for what you are going through.

“In terms of what you asked, unfortunately we are very limited in what we can do.

“As an academy they have a funding agreement with the ESFA (Education and Skills Funding Agency), directly with the DfE (Department for Education) who are responsible for them.

"They operate independently of the local authority.

“That is not to say we have nothing to do with the school. We work with them and have reached out to offer support, in fact we even brokered a situation where they could access tables and chairs from a school that is vacant down the road.

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“We have been trying to help and we have meetings with the DfE every Monday morning where we try to talk about what is going on and what the updates are.

“They have a separate project lead and it is an entirely separate governance structure in that respect.

"We don’t have any powers or authority to go into the school to tell them what to do.

"What we can do is work with the DfE.”

He went on to encourage parents to see through the complaints process but various voices interjected, stating that attempts to raise matters with the DfE had hit a brick wall because Aylesford School had not responded.

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Guidance on the Government’s website states the DfE “cannot change an academy’s decision about a complaint”, only “make sure the academy handles your complaint properly”.

Complainants are required to “provide evidence” that the school does not have a complaints procedure or has not followed it.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Kyriacou acknowledged that the meeting had thrown up “a lot of things he had heard for the first time”.

Asked what parents should do, he said: “Parents should follow the school complaints system.

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"There is a process for that which should be on the school website.

“Once that has been exhausted, the next recourse is the DfE and they should be getting involved and answering issues.

"That’s the system,

“Where there are potential safeguarding concerns, again they should be raised with the DfE but if we at the council become aware of them, it gives us the opportunity to look at it and potentially have conversations with the school to raise concerns directly.

“Because it is an academy, we don’t have many powers.

"We don’t really have any in this context, in terms of holding the school to account.”

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Asked what his next steps would be, Mr Kyriacou said: “We have heard all of the concerns this evening and we will put those together.

“We will have an opportunity to discuss this with the school, speak with them to offer our support so they can address the concerns, and to hear what they have to say as well.

“We have regular meetings with the DfE and we will be raising these issues with them too, so that they are aware.”

He confirmed that any prospect of temporarily using a vacant school building in Kenilworth would be a decision taken by Aylesford School and the DfE, not the council.

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He concluded: “We are pleased to have been invited and to have heard everyone.

“We want to support all Warwickshire children and our parents here, we will be doing our best to work with the school, DfE and parents for the best outcomes for all children.”

Aylesford School has been approached for comment.

School staff said they were unable to put our call through to headteacher Tim Hodgson or his personal assistant.

We had yet to receive a response from either at the time of publication.