Concern over teaching conference at luxury hotel

Stapleford Park Country House Hotel and Sporting Estate, in Leicestershire. Photo supplied
Stapleford Park Country House Hotel and Sporting Estate, in Leicestershire. Photo supplied
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Concern has been expressed over the choice of a luxury hotel as the venue for a conference for deputy head teachers in Peterborough paid for with public money.

Deputy and assistant headteachers in the city have been invited to the two-day event in February at Stapleford Park Country House Hotel and Sporting Estate, in Leicestershire, with 35 having signed up to attend.

The cost of the conference, organised by Peterborough City Council, is £350 per delegate - a sum which will come out of the schools’ budgets.

A deputy headteacher, who asked not to be named, said he was concerned the bill for schools could be closer to £1,000 per delegate when the cost of supply teachers and expenses are taken into account.

He said: “There is a massive recession and everyone is making cuts and then there’s a possibility we could be wasting so many hundreds of pounds of taxpayers’ money when that could go towards paying for five teaching assistants.”

A council spokeswoman said that all schools have delegated responsibility for their budgets and it is up to headteachers and governing bodies to decide how to spend funds. She added the venue was chosen by members of the Deputy Headteachers’ Network, only one council officer would be attending at a reduced day rate of £158 to facilitate the event and free alcohol would not be available to delegates.

But Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson has criticised the spend and the council for facilitating it.

He said: “It’s council taxpayers’ money which should be going on frontline services in education, not for swanky shindigs in rural Leicestershire.

“I’m quite surprised and perturbed by this. I’m not sure this is an entirely appropriate and timely use of public money.

“I think the city council can’t absolve themselves of responsibility. It does have a responsibility as a local education authority.

“It should think very carefully about the guidance it gives to senior teachers about things like this.”

Robert Oxley, a campaign manager for The TaxPayers’ Alliance echoed Mr Jackson’s views.

He said: “Taxpayers will think that the education budget could be better spent on pupils than days away at four red star Stapleford Park.

“Teachers sharing information about the best way to help run a school is one thing, but many will be left thinking that a more austere location could have been chosen for a conference that did not need to span two nights.”

But Jonathan Lewis, the city council’s assistant director for education and resources, defended the principle behind the event to support deputy headteachers in their role and development.

He said: “The deputy headteacher role is a highly demanding one and the conference is all about producing great leaders and demonstrating that our deputy headteachers are highly valued and appreciated.”

He also described the cost as “substantially cheaper” than similar events.

Councillor John Holdich, cabinet member for education, 
said he felt there was value 
in the conference but added 
it would have been more “considerate” if a “less palatial venue” had been chosen for the event.

He said: “I’m sure it will be good value, but I understand the concern that it doesn’t look right.”

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A deputy head supports event

Kira Nicholls (36), deputy headteacher at Woodston Primary School, in Celta Road, described the conference as “invaluable” for its impact on delegates’ career and their school.

She defended the spend, pointing to the quality of career development and guest speakers at the event, and strongly denying that it is a “jolly”.

She said: “If anyone asked me if it was worth going I would give it a 100 per cent stamp of approval.”

She also defended the choice of location, arguing that contacts at the venue means a booking could be made at a reduced rate.

She said: “It’s definitely not the case of ‘let’s go find a five-star hotel’. We were just very, very fortunate we can get the rates we can with that particular company.

“In some ways it’s a thank you to our deputy heads for the work they do.”