It’s been a wee while since we’ve caught up with the Trinity “case”. In the past couple of weeks we received the result of the external arbiter’s investigation, plus a defiant letter from the Chair of the Board, which once again threatens me with legal action if I discuss my experience with Trinity, and indeed my concerns about the entire process. However last time I checked we still lived in a free country (I mean, thanks to the Tories, only just) and I am completely entitled to publicly discuss my concerns, just as I am entitled to state that I’ve received additional information, so these constant threats of legal action are clearly designed to shut down a dialogue that I’m completely entitled to have. It should be noted the level of detail that I consciously go into in these blogs – I do this to justify clearly and rationally why things just don’t add up, and why maybe another narrative that has been disclosed to me. . . does. Anyway. . .to continue

So the story so far from Trinity’s perspective can be traced hereherehere,  and here. I feel that it’s vitally important for you to read things from their perspective, after all opinions and thoughts are formed when we have all the information.

You might have read in The Stage that the arbiter did uphold our complaint with regard to the process taking so long, however, they didn’t uphold our other concerns, concluding that Trinity operated with appropriate due diligence as a validating body”. As you might imagine I don’t necessarily agree with that conclusion. If we hadn’t pushed our initial complaint Trinity considered our case closed after complaint No 1. However we did escalate it, and our complaint was upheld, therefore is that due diligence? Of course, the counter-argument is that the organisation had a safety net in place which allowed us to proceed with our complaint, however, I would still argue that the complaint should have been taken seriously from the beginning. We had 6 pages of corrections on a 9 page report – is that due diligence? It should also be noted that the majority of these corrections were upheld. We have evidenced some serious concerns which have not been fully investigated – is that due diligence?  

The new narrative from the organisation appears to now be around a complete U-turn on original thoughts after an assessor watched one of our shows. A show incidentally that they had made positive verbal feedback about on the day. According to their records this assessor had clearly gone away and rethought their original praise which of course they are completely entitled to do, and on reflection felt that the show didn’t meet the correct standard, these revised views were, we were told shared by our main assessor, however, they’ve never explained how he actually came to share these views, as he didn’t come to see the show? So when did he watch it?  Given that this one show is pivotal to one of our “issues” surely this is a critical point? It would be great to have a straightforward answer to this given that so many things seemingly changed on these observations. 

Such was the level of their concern the narrative now is that they “diligently” watched additional material online to get greater clarity, oops sorry, that’s now turned into sampled additional material online. The wording changed after we called them out on their original claim that they had watched our productions. Was there an expectation that they would have watched all the shows that they had asked us to send to them – of course not? Life is far too short. Do I think that you can judge the dance standard of a college by watching 6 mins of a show, 2 mins of which is a couple of title screens, 3 mins of which is a whole college dance piece expertly choreographed by Jreena Green as a piece designed to show the true origins of jazz dance, deliberately using set moves to trace that history? As an aside, this piece was part of our commitment after BLM to operate with an anti-racist policy. So the moves that they deemed to be “too simplistic” were an accurate, authentic re-enactment of the origins of jazz dance from the black history perspective! So do I think that they can form an opinion of a standard based on those 3 mins? I think that you can guess the answer. Then let’s not forget at this point that in the classroom observations there were no concerns about the standard.  Is it any wonder that we still have questions?

Anyway. . .back to the concerns, it was noted in the arbiter’s report that on 15th March there appears to have been a handover document between our assessor and the person that would eventually deliver the report to us. Just as an aside it should also be noted that this was the exact day that the original assessor wrote to me apologising for the delay in getting our report to us, stating that the other person (that’ll be the other person that was involved in the handover) had been off work ill with covid for 3 weeks, and they were hoping to return soon. So was it usual practice for handovers to happen when people were off sick? I’m aware that the assessor was waiting to discuss some things with the other person. . .though interestingly nobody has flagged up those specific questions anywhere? Even more interesting to me as they were issues that I had flagged up given that we were the first accelerated programme to undergo a validation process. Anyway, back to the “handover document” it was in this document that the concerns around the standard of dance were documented, having “diligently” sampled more of our online work, but here’s the thing. . . the online stuff wasn’t “sampled” until 8th June. Our main assessor was on “sick leave” from at least 25th March. On 9th June they came to assess a show and assessed that all students had reached the standard required in all 3 disciplines? The dates just don’t add up for the level of concern that was seemingly raised.

They’ve used this perceived “concern” over dance to explain away the absence of any observations from the singing and acting classes on the day of the pre-validation assessment. Of course, this is quite key to our belief that the notes from the main assessor were not handed over in their entirety. The suggestion now is that the report “helpfully” focuses on the area of concern. They weren’t concerned about our singing and acting so they didn’t bother including any classroom observations. So why pop in an observation report about the voice class – that wasn’t an area of concern? Or could it be as we’ve always suggested that two assessors watched that class? The only observations missing are the classes observed solely by the main assessor.

Trinity have created a strong narrative around us needing to put in a structure for formal assessments, and how this would have been a cultural shift for us, but erm. . .via our shows of work and via our productions, we had shifted to an assessment structure back in 2020, the main assessor was aware of that, he had seen the schemes that we were using. The arbiter quite rightly noted the adjustments that we would have had to have made if we were a college that didn’t already have these systems in place eg they asked where these assessment points could come in our calendar, who marked them, what would be the marking guidelines, what grading systems would we be using, how could the feedback be given and in what timeframe. . .all extremely valid points, except that if they’d checked the student handbook all that information existed. Literally, the only thing that was recommended for us to change around assessments was the marking criteria. In fact, what they had asked us to do was far easier than what we had done previously. From 9 subsections of marking looking at personal development as well as industry-readiness their recommendations allowed us to just give 3 marks. We couldn’t believe our luck.  The recommendations made had already simplified our infrastructure. As for when these assessments happened. . . that information was in the handbook too. Our students got marked twice a term – once for technical studies and once for performance. Who marked them (according to the criteria that was clearly set out), the heads of department for the technical studies, and our guest creatives for the shows. When was the feedback given. . .every last Friday of technical studies via four 1:1 tutorials, covering all core disciplines. Zero restructuring needed, and no big cultural change required.

As I’ve kept stating that zoom conversation was predominantly taken up with a conversation around Guided Learning Hours and moderation. The moderation of the course took up the bulk of the meeting, not the change of assessment criteria.  We chatted around various options as in fact, this stuff did have the potential to force us to change the course, and the discussion was around the fact that I wouldn’t risk the integrity of the course for a simple box-ticking exercise.  To both of the assessor’s credit, they agreed with me, and we worked hard to find a solution that we could agree upon. A system that was so simple to implement that we were already running it 4 weeks later. A system that I was informed in the July zoom meeting that they had failed to understand as the other assessor ended up being confused by it? So where were the notes from the main assessor??

I can 100% see how this can be viewed through the lens of the “distraught” Principal, unable to understand how their course could have any faults, maybe acting out of character due to the upset of them losing their college and of course their income as a direct result of this report (whilst also noting that there was another contributing factor). After all, as the arbiter noted, back in Feb & March we did feel that we were home and dry on this one. For the first time ever we could see a clear, attainable route to secure government funding streams for our students. A game changer. However, as a large number of my friends & colleagues have noted often with a wry smile – this is not out of character for me.  Name me the college principal that has shouted louder or more frequently about the need for greater regulation in our industry. . . I’ll wait. I mean here’s the piece that I wrote for The Stage just last year on this very subject, or scroll through the blog to note the recurring theme.

Am I upset that the college has closed? Of course, I am – it would be bizarre if I wasn’t. Am I distraught by it – no. Life moves on and I’m excited to see what the next chapter holds for me. Am I hugely concerned to discover that this entire process is not regulated by anyone? Yes. I’m curious as to why in all their statements Trinity state that they’re regulated and bound by the rules of OfQual, but omits to say that the process to get validated is not regulated by anyone. So what “if” my whistleblowers are correct, what “if” we somehow fell through the cracks of some systemic issues at the only organisation that can open up government funding streams at Level 6? “If” I’m right – how can we as an industry guarantee that this won’t happen to another college?

Shouldn’t the response to this quite simply be – look things went wrong, there are major loopholes here, let’s investigate properly (and by that I mean an external investigation which looks at the process as a whole, with the key people involved in our case all being at least approached to be interviewed etc) silence these rumblings, and then put things in place to ensure that these questions need ever be asked again. Two charities looking to protect their reputations. . .working with total transparency to get to the truth. If that had happened back in July I would not still be blogging about it. Why do simple, reasonable questions get met with threats of legal action?

Transparency was one of the central tenants of The MTA. I guess that these blogs and again the level of detail that I go into in them is indicative of how much importance I put on that value.  Of course, it makes me hugely vulnerable – but by posing questions publicly I’m also allowing myself to be challenged.  For quite some time we’ve been very clear that whistleblowers had come forward to us, Trinity has made it very clear now in both letters to us and indeed to their staff that this sort of dialogue is not welcomed. I find that interesting, as for every single “event” in this day and age of social media forensics, there are people eager to find out the truth. We had it ourselves years ago when that vexatious grievance was made about the college and a certain blogger was publicly asking to speak to students to “find out the truth”. Whilst of course I had feelings about it, I wasn’t anxious as I had nothing to hide, and more importantly, if there was something going on then we needed to address it.  As brilliantly described in a podcast that I listened to the other day, organisations have to understand that they no longer operate within a “black box”, thanks to social media we are all living in glasshouses.

It can’t be wrong to ask these questions. The concerns noted above are valid concerns which have still not been adequately answered or investigated. I believe that the external arbiter did a great job with the information made available to them but I’m still curious why the remit of that investigation did not extend to interviewing the only person that could really answer our accusations – the main assessor. 

Given what was lost as a result of the pre-validation assessment. . . wouldn’t you want to know the full story? Similarly, students, colleagues, and staff – all of whom have seen every bit of documentation that’s been passed between the two organisations are equally entitled to ask questions. That’s not a campaign – as one student wrote in a thread the other day – they are questioning things of their “own volition”, because it wasn’t “my” college, it was “our” college. Over 300 people were directly impacted by the closure of The MTA, it’s just that only one of us blogs 😉