York MP Rachael Maskell has raised serious questions over the mental health implications of what she described as new ‘punitive’ policies at a York schools trust.
Ms Maskell told Parliament that the disciplinary policies brought in by the South Bank Multi Academy Trust were impacting children’s health.
However the trust has hit back, saying that the York Central Labour MP had made “assertions about our trust which are simply untrue” which may “adversely affect the wellbeing and morale of our wonderful colleagues”.
South Bank MAT has been in the headlines over the last 12 months. A year ago, pupils and parents staged a protest against the trust’s plans to cut their teaching assistants’ pay.
Then, in September, all the governors from Scarcroft Primary School resigned after what they called the “appalling treatment” of one governor, Cllr Jonny Crawshaw.
Now Ms Maskell is raising another concern, this time about the trust’s disciplinary approach.
South Bank Multi Academy Trust
- Carr Junior School
- Knavesmire Primary School
- Scarcroft Primary School
- Woodthorpe Primary School
- Millthorpe School
- York High School
She said: “For over a year now, I have had many concerned parents writing to me to share their deeply worrying stories about the impact on their children’s health, wellbeing and education, through the decisions being made by the leadership of the South Bank Multi Academy Trust.
“I have heard about the impact the newly imposed punitive and disciplinary policies have had on children’s day to day lives in school; I have been told of how the cuts and subsequent loss of trusted teaching assistants at the schools has impacted on neurodivergent children; it is clear that something urgently needs to change.
“I have previously raised my concerns with the trust leadership directly, and will continue to engage with them on this.”
She added: “It is clear that not enough is being done to alleviate the concerns of children and parents in the community, and they feel nothing can be done to hold those responsible to account for the harm caused.
“I know there are fantastic staff in the South Bank MAT schools who continue to do all they can to support the children there. The trust leadership needs to understand that children are suffering, parents are worried, and the community has lost trust in the trust.
“Such is the extent of my concern for the children and young people within the South Bank MAT, the wellbeing of staff and the lack of accountability, not least following the resignation of the governing body at one of the schools as a result of the conduct of the leadership of the MAT, that I will be taking this matter further in Parliament until children are safe.”
She raised it with the Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, with this question:
Punitive, disciplinary policies within schools are having a significant level of harm on children’s mental health, and also particularly on neurodiverse children.
It seems that Multi Academy Trust leaders are not accountable for their actions and are impossible to hold to account, not least at South Bank MAT where children are experiencing significant harm, school refusal, and an escalation in their own mental wellbeing.
Can we have an urgent debate around calling leadership of multi academy trusts to account, and to ensure that the governance structures are fit for purpose?”
‘This is extremely saddening’
Here is the South Bank Multi Academy Trust’s full statement in response to Ms Maskell’s claims.
“South Bank MAT, like all MATs, is held to account and very much welcomes a wealth of scrutiny from Ofsted, the Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency, as well as internal and external audits and significant scrutiny from our committed trust board.
“Our governance arrangements are in line with the requirements of the DfE and our articles of association.
“Over the last week Ms Maskell has made assertions about our trust which are simply untrue.
“Our trust and our schools do not apply a one-size-fits-all approach. Each school within our trust has its own behaviour policy and its own system for managing behaviour, which are designed to support all children to learn and thrive while at school.
“Such policies are not ‘punitive’, they do not cause harm, nor are they mandated centrally; in fact, our behaviour policies are very carefully considered by our committed and experienced school leaders and are approved by our schools’ local governing bodies, all of which include parent governors.
“We are concerned that Ms Maskell’s comments may adversely affect the wellbeing and morale of our wonderful colleagues and distract from their key purpose in educating our children. This is particularly concerning in the midst of a teacher recruitment crisis.
“As we have reiterated on numerous occasions since the support staff consultation concluded in January 2023, the trust has not cut the number of teaching assistants.
“In fact, the provision for our most vulnerable pupils has improved significantly across the trust over the last 18 months.
“Staff in our schools are justly proud of the support offered to all children, including neurodiverse children and those with special educational needs. Our Ofsted reports confirm that our provision is not as Ms Maskell describes.
“All staff members, leaders and schools together make up our family of schools and we all work together for the benefit of our children.
“’The MAT’ is not a separate entity; we are all ‘the MAT’ and so when Ms Maskell makes statements which are not reflective of the reality of the wonderful things which happen in our schools, this is extremely saddening for us all.
“We are very concerned that Ms Maskell has stated in the press that children are “experiencing significant harm… and an escalation in their own mental wellbeing” while details of these allegations have not been provided to the schools or the trust.
“We have asked that Ms Maskell informs us urgently of the names of children who she is asserting are unsafe so that we are able to take immediate action in line with our safeguarding procedures.
“The trust has in place clear processes for parents and carers to raise concerns and complaints relating to their children.
“The trust is unable to resolve such matters when they are raised in public forums. We are always very willing to engage with any parents who have genuine and specific concerns to share with us, however it is imperative that they raise these via the appropriate channels – directly with their child’s school.”