THE out-going head of children’s services in North Yorkshire has condemned the Education Secretary’s attack on “under-performing” schools.
Cynthia Welbourn, North Yorkshire County Council's director of children and young people’s services, is leaving her post at Christmas after 17 years in the job and has voiced her concern over a letter from Michael Gove calling for more primary schools in the county to become self-governing academies.
Ms Welbourn, 61, said: “I don’t think the Secretary of State’s letter was justified and as a long-serving local government officer who has always valued the very professional working relationship which we have had with national government departments, it makes me very sad to see a much more intrusive and much less well-evidenced approach to the way national and local government are expected to work together in the interests of local people in North Yorkshire.”
Ms Welbourn said the authority had always led the way in promoting school autonomy so schools wanting to become academies wouldn't necessarily have a bigger budget, saying “nobody does school autonomy better than North Yorkshire”.
As The Press reported on Friday, nine North Yorkshire schools have been given notice to improve by Ofsted or have been placed in special measures by the Government – Bullamoor Junior, in Northallerton, Starbeck, in Harrogate, St George's RC, in Scarborough, Pickering Junior; Brayton Junior; Pickhill CE, Kirkby Fleetham, Colburn and Camblesforth. Mr Gove wrote to all North Yorkshire MPs to air his concern about the results.
But Ms Welbourn said: “There’s no body of evidence nationally as yet that academies make a significant difference in primary schools. The evidence all relates to secondary schools.”
And she said that of almost 330 primary schools in North Yorkshire only nine were considered to be under-performing with many of those currently improving.
She also said that the situation was much more complicated than Mr Gove’s letter would suggest with factors like social deprivation or the transitory populations of garrison towns also having to be taken into account.
She said: “The results gained by our 16-year-olds and 18-year-olds at GCSE and A-level, which is that critical test, put North Yorkshire in the top ten authorities in the country and this is what interests most parents.
“What most parents want to see is not high-level arguments throwing statistics about, but that we have got a good track record of performing well for their children.”
Originally from Lincolnshire, Ms Welbourn lives in North Yorkshire and has no plans to move from the county after retirement. She said she had not made any firm plans for next year, but wanted to spend more time with her partner and family, including her mother.