Writing in his Guardian column, Warwick Mansell asks if a company that oversaw the consultation on a controversial sponsored academy conversion should also have been advising the would-be sponsor on public relations.
The question arises after correspondence was released, through a freedom of information request, between senior figures at the Inspiration Trust academy chain and the man who handled interactions with parents before the trust’s takeover of the Hewett school in Norwich.
Consultant Jonathan Haslam was appointed, through his company HaslamDodd, to collect and report on survey responses and preside over public meetings during the consultation this summer. Most respondents rejected Inspiration, but the Department for Education still allowed the chain to take over the Hewett last month.
Before the consultation, in May, the interim board then running the school told parents HaslamDodd had been appointed to “ensure the consultation process is impartial”. There is no suggestion that Haslam failed to record consultation responses accurately.
However, in an email on 20 April to Inspiration’s chief executive, Dame Rachel de Souza, Haslam said he and his consulting partner, Sheree Dodd, “believe the consultation should be an opportunity for IT [Inspiration Trust] … to share and celebrate success, extend the range of supporters and ambassadors and open up/diversify its profile”.
In an email two days later to Sir Theodore Agnew, Inspiration’s chair, Haslam set out a series of apparent public relations “key messages” for the trust…
Campaigner Lynsey White, who received the Freedom of Information response, said: “The emails show that HaslamDodd were pushing the Inspiration Trust’s agenda. That’s not what we were told during the consultation.”
Haslam denies any conflict of interest…
More (including an update on asbestos in schools) at: Questions over PR firm’s dual role in academy takeover
There is no suggestion Jonathan Haslam failed to record the responses correctly and he points to the 95 page consultation report as evidence of this, but does it seem entirely appropriate for one man/company to be tasked with ensuring the consolation is impartial and then advising one side on their PR messaging?
Incidentally, Warwick Mansell goes on to note that parents who objected to the takeover are likely to be further upset on learning that the new chair of governors has been named as Dame Rachel de Souza.
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