AN EDUCATION boss whose authority spent more than £1m hiring a superhead to raise standards at two struggling schools said it would only use the scheme again in exceptional circumstances because of the “unsustainable cost”.
North Yorkshire County Council was one of three authorities across the North of England that commissioned Outwood Grange’s chief executive Michael Wilkins to raise standards at troubled secondary schools through the National Leader in Education (NLE) programme.
Mr Wilkins is one of a group of superheads who are parachuted into under-achieving schools and the Wakefield head teacher has been feted by successive Education Secretaries as an outstanding school leader.
The payments surrounding Outwood Grange’s NLE work have, however, been investigated by Wakefield Council auditors who have questioned whether councils knew exactly what they were spending their money on.
A Yorkshire Post investigation earlier this year revealed Outwood Grange has received more than £3.2m for school improvement at five secondaries since 2007 – including two in North Yorkshire.
North Yorkshire County Council’s director of children’s services Cynthia Welbourn has told the Yorkshire Post that it only contracted the Wakefield school head’s services as its own school improvement team was “exceptionally stretched” at the time.
She said the spending of more than £1.2m for work at Harrogate High and Scalby School in Scarborough was “justified” because of the number of schools in North Yorkshire which required school improvement work in 2007 and 2008.
The council is now, however, adopting a new strategy which will see it rely on its own school improvement staff and a network of heads, deputy heads and advanced teachers drawn from schools around the county.
The council is planning to rely more on its own resources despite budget cuts to the school improvement service which have resulted in 30 jobs being cut.
Ms Welbourn said the cuts were part of savings which have shrunk her department’s budget from £26m to £23m.
“National Leaders in Education form part of a nationally advocated additional resource for intensive school improvement. School improvement is done in an inverse ratio to the performance of the school
“NLEs provide a comprehensive package of school improvement. The costs tend to be higher because its an intensive package of support.
“What we are saying is that it would be unsustainable to rely on NLEs for school improvement because of the high cost. We could never rule out using NLEs in future but it would only be under exceptional circumstances.”
The intervention of Mr Wilkins as an NLE has been credited with improving the schools’ performance. Earlier this year, however, North Yorkshire Council was one of three councils - along with Doncaster and Stockton, near Middlesbrough, which were unable to give a detailed breakdown of what they had actually agreed to pay for. Now Ms Welbourn said North Yorkshire’s focus was on providing its own school improvement work despite budget cuts.
She said: “We have a track record in North Yorkshire of delivering our own light touch school improvement service which allows our schools to feel known but that they are not being overlooked.”
Ms Welbourn said that as part of the council’s Savings and Transformation Strategy North Yorkshire would look to rely on its own school improvement officers and a network of local school leaders.
She said that at any time around 20 to 40 staff from North Yorkshire Schools would be seconded to other schools in the county.