A decision to sack the governing body and change the status of Moseley School is in danger of provoking a serious rift in the six-year partnership of Birmingham City Council’s ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
Liberal Democrat councillors in the south of the city launched an unprecedented personal attack on Tory cabinet member for education, Les Lawrence, effectively accusing him of running scared of debating the school’s future in public.
The row simmered during the General Election campaign, while both parties tried desperately to give the impression of unity.
But a leaked copy of draft minutes from the March 23 meeting of the Hall Green Constituency Committee shows another story.
The committee, chaired by Lib Dem Sparkbrook councillor Jerry Evans, tore into Coun Lawrence and city education officials for refusing an invitation to attend.
Members voted to “note the disrespect” shown to the committee and local residents by the cabinet member and called upon Tory council leader Mike Whitby to formally “censure” Coun Lawrence over his conduct.
It is unlikely Coun Whitby will do so, but the tone of the language suggests that relations in this part of Birmingham between the Liberal Democrats and their Conservative partners are at an all time low.
A spokesman for Coun Lawrence said the cabinet member was “baffled” by the constituency committee’s angry comments. He said Coun Lawrence could not be at the meeting on March 23 because he was given only a week’s notice and had accepted an invitation to attend a meeting to discuss the Building Schools for the Future programme.
The row began last year when Coun Lawrence signalled his intention to improve standards at Moseley School.
Moseley had already fallen under the scope of the Government’s National Challenge Programme, which targets schools where fewer than 30 per cent of pupils gain five “good” GCSEs including English and maths.
Coun Lawrence’s proposal to turn Moseley into a Trust School – a state-funded foundation school supported by a charitable trust – was bitterly opposed by the 12-strong Governing body.
In November 2009, the council obtained an order from the Department for Education sacking most of the governors and replacing the body with an Interim Executive Board.
Coun Lawrence also approved a short-term partnership between Moseley School and nearby Queensbridge School under the leadership of Queensbridge head teacher Tim Boyes. It is intended that the two schools will work together until Moseley becomes a Trust School. The decision triggered a public campaign to “save” Moseley School.
Sacked parent-governor Dr David Simones-Jones accused the council of conducting a “hatchet job” on the school and pointed out that GCSE results at Moseley were already improving before the decision to go for Trust status was approved.
Coun Evans, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hall Green at the General Election, told the constituency committee he had gone out of his way to persuade Coun Lawrence to attend the committee meeting and had even tried to get Mr Whitby to intervene.
A spokesman for Birmingham City Council said: “After issuing two statutory warning notices over a period of eight months, the local authority applied to the Secretary of State to remove the governing body of Moseley Road School. The application was based on the governing body’s refusal to implement a plan to secure improvements in standards. This resulted in a breakdown in relationships between the governors and the acting head teacher, and between the governors and the local authority.
“The Secretary of State recognised this was severely hampering progress at the school and agreed the appointment of an interim executive board was essential to lead the school to the major changes required to improve standards significantly.’’