The resignation of another regional schools commissioner to join an academy trust in their area is “yet another example” of potential conflicts of interest, a teachers’ leader has warned.
The Department for Education today announced that Lisa Mannall would leave her post as the RSC for the South West of England at the end of the academic year to become chief executive of the Cornwall Education Learning Trust (Celt).
RSCs make decisions about academies and multi-academy trusts in their regions, in consultation with a headteacher board (HTB) that advises them.
Celt is a new academy trust that is due to start operating in September 2019, following the merger of the Newquay Education Trust and Peninsula Learning Trust.
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According to the published record of the South West HTB for 15 October 2018, Ms Mannall approved the application for Poltair School in Cornwall to join Peninsula Learning Trust.
RSCs: Fears of conflict of interest
The DfE said the "initial in principle decision" was made by Ms Mannall, but added that "the final decision on this will be taken independently by the interim national schools commissioner, Dominic Herrington".
A spokesperson added: "This decision was taken based on the needs of Poltair and the capacity of local secondary school providers – Penrice Academy, an 'outstanding' school that is part of the trust, is also the most local secondary school to Poltair and therefore a natural partner."
Decisions about both academy trusts also arose when Ms Mannall was a member of the HTB of the South West, before becoming an RSC.
When items relating to the Newquay Education Trust arose, Ms Mannall was either listed as having a conflict of interest and not being involved in the decision, or as giving apologies for the meeting.
However, she was listed as present at two HTB meetings in 2015 where schools were given permission to join the Peninsula Learning Trust.
There is no suggestion she acted improperly in any of these cases.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, told Tes: “Because we’ve generally got such a lack of clarity about what is and is not permissible, it’s inevitable that you will get these perceived conflicts of interest.
“They run right through, from the fact that trustees can make money out of the schools they are supposed to be governing, and RSCs can oversee trusts getting bigger and getting more schools and approve those arrangements and then go and manage those trusts.
“This is just yet another example.”
Dr Bousted said she did not want to comment in detail about Ms Mannall’s case, but said there should “absolutely” be a cooling off period between an RSC leaving their post and joining an academy trust.
She added: “The RSC’s job is basically to broker school improvement and broker academies, and there are real problems about an RSC overseeing an academy chain growing, particularly the number of schools and the make-up of that chain, and then going on to run it.
“The conflict of interest is palpable. It’s very clear, and there should be rules and regulations.”