U-turn over West Exe academy decision
GOVERNORS at the city's largest school, as well as Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, have welcomed the decision by the Department for Education not to force it into becoming a "sponsored academy" following revelations about its former executive headteacher's salary.
The change would have meant West Exe Technology College being deemed to be under-performing and in need of help from an educational foundation, university, charity or nearby outstanding school.
In August, a representative of the Department for Education attended a meeting of the school's board of governors and met local education authority officials.
Mr Bradshaw and the chair of governors Peter Scott criticised the move, and claimed the official was putting "pressure" on the school.
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The latest announcement is a result of talks between Devon County Council's head of education Sue Clarke and DfE representatives.
It comes after the Echo's publication of a report into the financial management of the school by former executive head Steve Maddern and former chair of governors Paul Smith.
The report, carried out by Devon County Council, looked into the running of the school in recent years and criticised the close relationship between Mr Maddern and Mr Smith.
It stated that Mr Maddern's inflated salary of £156,000 came about after he, at the request of Mr Smith, produced what is described as "misleading" information with regard to national pay scales and potential pay rises.
The £86,000 salary of his wife Beverley, who was senior deputy headteacher, was also deemed excessive by auditors.
Mr and Mrs Maddern both resigned from their posts in the spring.
Although West Exe's results are below the national average, Ofsted inspectors rated the school good with some outstanding features at its last inspection in May 2009.
And this summer's GCSE results were a big improvement on previous years.
Mrs Clarke, said: "I felt it was very important, following the period of disruption that West Exe has experienced, that the governors and the county council should have time to plan its continued improvement together, free from external pressures.
"We have been working with the new governing body and the new college leadership for some months now and I am confident the college has the capability and capacity to move forward quickly and effectively.
"The DfE recognises that the governors and the college staff have co-operated with the council to develop a strong recovery plan."
She said Government officials also acknowledged the strength and effectiveness of the council's advisory team for schools and governor support services.
And the DfE also acknowledged the school's improved GCSE results and believed this demonstrated that there had been "negligible impact" on teaching and learning as a result of the furore surrounding Mr Maddern.
"The decision now leaves the college free to move quickly to the appointment of a permanent new head," Mrs Clarke said.
"Candidates will be completely clear that they will be able to decide the college's future with the governors, free from external pressure."
Mr Scott said he was "delighted" with the DfE's decision and was grateful for the backing of the local education authority on the matter.
He added: "With support from Devon Governor Services, the board of governors have put significant changes in place to ensure governance is strengthened.
"We do need breathing space to do what's best for the students at the college.
"Everyone at the college is starting to feel a lot better as they see West Exe lifted from the turmoil of the last six months."
Mr Bradshaw added: "I am pleased my appeals have been listened to by Education Secretary Michael Gove and the department has seen sense.
"The governors can now make decisions in the best interests of the school without undue pressure."