Ixworth Middle and Free School Accountability

Closed Doors at Ixworth Middle
As I have stated many times I am a big fan of strong local management for schools. As such I am not opposed to either free schools or academies. However with that strong local control should come a strong accountability. However this seems to be one of the big problems with free schools and academies as in an attempt to provide more local control their accountabilities have been weakened.

Being accountable is about being open and honest about what you are doing. It is about answering questions and providing information. It is about responding to criticism.

My recent dealings with Ixworth Middle School (who are still actually a community school maintained by Suffolk County Council) have seriously concerned me. Now I am sure many people have found the school absolutely fine but the real measure of an organisation is how it responds to people who ask difficult questions and are critical. After all everyone is nice to their friends.

An organisation with strong accountability answers such questions firmly and politely and tries to find as much information as it can to demonstrate its accountability. It might not agree with the criticism but it does not try and hide.

Last Thursday I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Ixworth, Beyton and Blackbourne Middle Schools as well as Suffolk County Council. To date two schools have completely complied with the FOI and the County Council has acknowledged it.

Despite a number of emails as of yesterday I had no response at all from Ixworth Middle School so I telephoned the school. They had received my FOI and my emails requesting an acknowledgement but had not replied. When I asked why I was astonished at the response. You see the School had sought guidance on how to handle the FOI and someone had told them that they did not have to acknowledge the FOI as there was nothing in the Act to make them....

Now the Information Commissioner's guidance on handling FOIs states:
It would be good practice to acknowledge receipt of requests and to refer to the 20 working day time limit, so that applicants know their request is being dealt with. It would also be good practice to let applicants know when they might expect a full response.
I also asked the school earlier by email for contact details for the Chair of Governors and again was treated evasively not even being supplied with his name which I had to find out from another source.

The person on the phone to be fair sounded embarrassed and it was clear that the Headteacher had instructed them to behave in this way. I left my phone number and asked the Head to call me and heard nothing. The Head also appeared unable to comment when asked by the EADT yesterday.

I am still waiting for an acknowledgement email.

Now you might not think it matters (although I do) that a school behaves this way towards an awkward blogger but if your child went to this school and you had cause for concern it would be reasonable to assume they would behave the same way.

Now as I have already said this is still a community school. Free schools have even less accountability and as I have already documented that the proposers have tried to operate completely in secret not even wanting to disclose their names. They are still operating a closed Facebook group of "supporters" and are selective about who they allow to join. Several local teachers have been refused admission and there must be concerns that these people might be treated less favourably if they apply for jobs in the new free school (if it goes ahead).

I am seriously concerned that a group of people who are acting in this way want to be given millions of pounds of public money to open a new school. I have already documented what I think are concerning connections between the group and West Suffolk Conservative Party.

Earlier this year I was involved in a sustained campaign against Suffolk County Council's plans to close libraries  but even at its worst their behaviour demonstrated more transparency than this group.  That is something I was not expecting to write anytime soon.

The complaints policy is missing from Ixworth Middle School's website

Ixworth Free School 5200406542353894133

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