Dave McNamara (Director of Finance and Resources, Children’s Services) introduced the report – noting that the Headteacher at the time of the audit had been away for an extended period due to maternity leave and the school had been through a period of changes that had contributed to the issues found in the report. A new permanent Executive Headteacher, Karen Wyatt, was now in place and had attended the meeting with the Head of School, Joanne Breslin, to answer the Committee’s questions.
Councillor Guy Vincent asked the school’s representatives if they had found the audit a useful process and if the issues found in the report now resolved. Joanne Breslin, Head of School, said they did find the audit useful and all recommendations in the report had now been implemented.
Councillor PJ Murphy thanked the school’s representatives for attending. With reference to page 310 of the agenda, he asked for some background on the additional payments to the Headteacher. He also asked if the school was now obtaining the correct references for new starters. Joanne Breslin responded that the systems at the school were far more stringent now and they were making sure all background checks were being carried out on new staff. Councillor Murphy asked if a teacher had been hired today but didn’t have a reference – would they be allowed to start? Karen Wyatt, Executive Headteacher, said they would only be allowed to start if they had an up to date DBS check and at least one reference. In answer to Councillor Murphy’s questions about additional payments – Joanne Breslin said the payments were because the Headteacher had reached the top of their pay-scale but continued to get increments. The additional payments had been agreed with the school’s governors.
Councillor Donald Johnson asked if the Governing Body acknowledged responsibility for the issues raised in the report. Karen Wyatt said they had, and a number of processes had been put in place in response to the audit. Joanne Breslin said there would be a skills audit of the governors and training offered where necessary.
Dave McNamara noted that officers would put together a summary of areas where there were consistent failings in schools.
Councillor PJ Murphy asked if there was sufficient challenge and robustness to the processes in the school and the governing body. Karen Wyatt said she had only been in the role for a couple of weeks but the audit did flag several systems issues that needed to be addressed. There were areas that the governing body still needed to work on. Councillor Murphy noted that it may be a cultural issue – systems exposed those weaknesses. Joanne Breslin added that the Chair of Governors had recently resigned and new Foundation Governors had been appointed so there was an opportunity for a newly invigorated governing body to take on these challenges.
Councillor Mark Loveday noted that having the Executive Headteacher and Head of School attend the Committee showed they were serious about the issues raised by the audit. He asked if there was anything they felt the Council could do to support the school – additional training for example. Karen Wyatt said they would benefit from more specific training for governors – particularly around financial controls and sign-off.
The Chair noted that he recently became a school governor and found that other governors were very negative about the audit process. Karen Wyatt said the report showed that auditors were asking the right questions – but said it was a common view amongst colleagues that auditors found it difficult to understand the school environment. David Hughes said that was helpful feedback and he would take it seriously – auditors needed to be pragmatic when doing their assessments. Councillor Donald Johnson suggested the Council asked its external auditor, KPMG, to do some skills sharing with local governors as part of their social responsibility contribution.