Mexborough School bosses are hoping to pull the failing school out of Special Measures, by turning it into... a Co-op!
They hope to join up with schools in Edlington and Balby to form a Co-operative Trust, run by partners and businesses INCLUDING the international store chain.
But headteacher Mirjam Bühler-Willey is at the centre of a secrecy row, after she called a “public consultative meeting” to inform Mexborough residents about the plans... but FAILED to invite them to it.
Just TWO members of the public attended the tea-time meeting at the Maple Road school last Thursday, which Mrs Bühler-Willey had set for 4.30pm.
Now Mexborough councillor and former chair of governors, Sue Phillips, is calling for the meeting to be held again – after “proper publicity”.
The two residents, plus the South Yorkshire Times, joined the headteachers of Edlington’s Sir Thomas Wharton Community College and Balby Carr Community Sports College to hear a presentation by the Co-operative College as part of a “public consultation” exercise.
But the meeting swiftly became bad-tempered when Mrs Bühler-Willey was berated by a resident for holding it at “a time when people are working and can’t get there”... AND after a Dearne Valley College boss claimed the Manvers establishment had been “left out” of the scheme “because of its Rotherham postcode”.
Under the proposals, Mexborough School will change from being a community school to a foundation school and will leave Doncaster Council’s control.
Together with the Edlington and Balby schools, it will become part of the “Tri-Schools Co-operative Learning Trust”.
A fourth school, Campsmount Technology College, at Norton in Doncaster – which burnt down in 2009 – is also in talks to join the group.
Mexborough School’s buildings, land and assets will transfer to the charitable Trust – which will be run by a governing body made up of existing governors, plus “partners” – and businesses.
Among those with seats earmarked on the Governing body will be The Co-operative, PFI school builders Vinci Construction UK, Doncaster College and Doncaster Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise.
The school will become part of the “global Co-operative family” and will also be expected to adopt the values and ethics of the Co- op, which include “self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity”.
Alongside its many businesses – which include a travel agency, funeral services and supermarkets – the organisation runs an education arm, The Co-op College.
But Dearne Valley College’s director of curriculum, Richard Butcher, spoke out to express concern at the “Doncaster-centric” arrangement, which had omitted his establishment from the plans.
He said DVC had a long-standing relationship with both Mexborough and Balby Carr, but had been “left out by the local authority”.
He said: “We are a Rotherham postcode – but we are just one mile down the road. We want to be friends. We want to be part of what you are doing.”
The plans are now subject to feed back from residents and parents – who were invited to their own meeting last Thursday – which will help current governors and Doncaster Council form a view over whether or not to proceed.
At the meeting, Mexborough resident Mr Lawrence condemned Mrs Bühler-Willey for “not publicising such an important meeting properly”.
He added that he only found out about it “by chance” and said the school should have “advertised it properly in the media”.
But the headteacher replied that she had sent out “1,700 pieces of literature” about the meeting – including letters to parents and governors – and had advertised it on the school’s website, saying it had “open access to people, if they wanted to look”.
However, this was attacked by vice-chair of governors, Jeff Wademan.
He said: “We are being asked to make a momentous decision. We can’t do that in just an hour today.
“And it is not right to only advertise a meeting on a website, when we are in one of the poorest parts of the country and there are many people in this town who do not have access to the Internet.”
Mr Lawrence then raised concerns that Mexborough – itself tipped into Special Measures earlier this year, after a surprise, damning Ofsted report – was teaming up with two more “failing schools”.
But both visiting headteachers were quick to defend Balby and Edlington as schools which had made a strong recovery after failings in previous years.
Mr Lawrence also attacked the Trust’s ownership and its powers to sell off assets and “non-playing-field” land, and spoke out against greater involvement by Vinci Construction on the board of governors.
The firm rebuilt the school as part of a multi-million pound Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deal, which is currently being repaid by Mexborough and Doncaster taxpayers.
Vinci has control over the use of the school buildings and can determine what activities take place at the school, out of school hours.
Mr Lawrence said: “When the land and assets are transferred to the Trust, who continues to pay the debts? If it’s the council, then the council and taxpayers are paying the debts for something they will never own.”
But Mrs Bühler-Willey defended the plans and Vinci, saying the builders had a “thorough history of working with schools” and the school had “no land that wasn’t playing fields”.
If the plans are approved, the headteacher said she hoped the school will have formed the Trust by this September.
Former chair of Governors, Coun Sue Phillips – who quit her post after the Ofsted findings – did not attend the meeting.
But she told the Times this week she was troubled that only two residents attended.
And she called for “another public meeting, advertised properly”, adding: “The public need to know what is in store for Mexborough School”.
Coun Phillips also expressed concern that Dearne Valley College had been omitted from the plans, along with a further “outstanding school from outside the area”.
She said: “When this plan was put together, Dearne Valley College was definitely included, and so was another school rated as ‘outstanding’.
“I want to know what has happened to them because they were the main reasons I went along with this idea.”
The consultation period is now open until noon on Wednesday, June 15.
Forms are available on the school’s website at www.mexborough.doncaster.sch.uk