Bury St Edmunds: Council accused of ‘conspiracy’ theory over staff departures at pupil referral unit

EDUCATION chiefs have been accused of engaging in a “conspiracy of silence” after it emerged nearly all staff at a centre for vulnerable children had left in the wake of a damning report by Ofsted.

Inspector Bill Stoneham, who went into the Albany Centre, a pupil referral unit in Beard Road, Bury St Edmunds, earlier this month has revealed how “most teachers and learning support assistants” at the centre had “been in post for less than a term”.

The staff changes – which have included a new headteacher and the appointment of an acting executive headteacher – come in the wake of a decision by Ofsted late last year to serve it with a notice to improve after finding the centre inadequate.

On the previous inspection in September last year, Ofsted found the centre had endured a “period of turmoil” which included what inspectors described as “significant staffing issues”.

David Lockwood, the previous chairman of governors, said he felt the damning Ofsted report had been unfair and had ignored the “fantastic” job staff there at the time were doing despite the shortage of staff.

Mr Lockwood, who quit the governing body when he was asked to step down as chairman, voiced his dismay that nearly all the staff had departed since the Ofsted report of September.

“It was a good unit,” he said. “They were getting the results. The main thing was attendance – but the pupils came from all across west Suffolk.”

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It is understood a number of the former staff were offered a redundancy package which came with a confidentiality clause gagging them from speaking about their experience at the school – although Suffolk County Council has refused to comment on this, claiming: “We deal with all HR matters in line with county council policies, including only discussing details with the individual concerned.”

But the county council, the local education authority, has come under fire for what critics claim is a conspiracy of silence.

County councillor Mark Ereira, in whose division the Albany Centre sits, said: “We’ve not been given any information about the Albany Centre since this started. This looks like a public service not delivering to some of the most vulnerable people in the county.

“But rather than the county council being open and transparent and saying things have gone wrong here and this is what we’re doing about it they worry about people finding out.

“The council has had a conspiracy of silence.”

Graham Newman, Suffolk County Council’s portfolio holder for children, schools and young people’s services, responded telling him he had referred to the Albany Centre in his December portfolio holder report two months after the original Ofsted inspection last September.

In a statement to the EADT, Mr Newman said: “Following Ofsted’s inspection of the Albany Centre in September last year, a number of improvements were required. This included the resolution of all long-standing staffing issues together with embedding new leadership and management arrangements.

“The county council’s Learning and Improvement team have been working closely with the Albany centre and Ofsted to address these issues and have helped to implement a number of solutions. This includes appointing an acting headteacher, an executive headteacher and a new chairman of the management committee.

“Since their intervention, Ofsted has returned to the Albany and are satisfied that the action being taken by the county council is good and is helping to drive sustainable improvement.”