Academies Enterprise Trust stripped of two more schools

The country’s largest academy chain has been stripped of two schools – and is in talks about rebrokering more – despite recently hinting at expansion following a government ban on taking over new schools.

Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) will rebroker Everest Community Academy, in Basingstoke, and Cordeaux Academy, in Lincolnshire, in September at the request of their relevant regional schools commissioners.

The trust was put on the Department for Education’s (DfE) “pause list” five years ago – meaning they were not allowed to sponsor new schools – after running into trouble following quick expansion in the early years of the academy programme.

The chain grew rapidly to run 74 academies, but had to offload eight schools from December 2014 to April 2015 after government intervention.

AET has been taken off the “pause list” this year, and was again considering expansion following a leadership overhaul.

But Schools Week has now learned the trust has been told to rebroker both Everest and Cordeaux academies.

A trust spokesperson added that “further discussions” are under way with the DfE concerning a “small number of other AET academies, yet to be confirmed”, meaning more of its schools could also be rebrokered to other academy trusts.

A spokesperson for the trust said the rebroker changes will allow AET to “focus its resources and attention on those schools where the organisation believes it can most add value, and to expand in areas of strength while addressing areas of historical weakness”.

She added it will also enable the DfE to bring in other sponsors where they believe “there are strong strategic reasons for this, or where AET is not considered to have been delivering improvement fast enough; or in other cases, to adjust the provision of school places in areas of over-capacity”.

AET confirmed today that Everest will transfer to Bourne Education Trust, taking effect from September 1, while Cordeaux will be taken over by Tollbar Multi-Academy Trust on the same date.

Both schools were given ‘requires improvement’ ratings from Ofsted last year.

AET is also currently engaged in a consultation regarding proposals to close down the ‘requires improvement’ rated Sandown Bay Academy, on the Isle of Wight.

Under the plans, pupils at the school would transfer to another AET academy – Ryde Academy, rated ‘good’ by Ofsted. But parents and councillors have heavily opposed the plan.

Despite the transferring of existing academies, AET claims it is “preparing” to bring a number of primary schools into the trust.

The spokesperson said AET has had a “troubled history”, but is going through a “strong turnaround” and is preparing for a financial notice to improve to be removed, alongside being taken off the DfE’s ‘pause list’.

Three new trustees were appointed to the chain’s board last week, which followed the appointment of Jack Boyer as chair of the organisation last year, and Julian Drinkall who became chief executive in January this year.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We continue to work closely with AET to ensure all pupils in the trust are supported to achieve their potential. This includes looking at the structure, performance and capacity of the trust as a whole, as well as individual schools.

“The Regional Schools Commissioners and the trust have agreed that Everest Community Academy and Cordeaux Academy should move to a different sponsors. We are working with all parties to ensure a smooth transition.”

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    • Mark Watson

      I agree there should be more transparency about the costs of transfers, but it should be dealt with appropriately and sensibly. As I see it there is a difference between a MAT being paid a sum of money simply to encourage it to take on a difficult school (which instinctively I’m not in favour of), versus that MAT being protected against taking on financial liability, e.g. for defects in the school buildings which result from decades of neglect.
      The simple fact is that a MAT’s income comes from the schools within its chain. If it were to take on a school and that school came with a financial liability, then there is only one place the money needed to plug that gap can come from – the other schools in that MAT.

  1. Mark Watson

    Without any real insight, other than what I read, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the AET-approach to how a MAT is set up. (This doesn’t just apply to them). If any MAT is not doing a good enough job for the pupils in one of its schools, then that school SHOULD be taken away from them and rebrokered to another MAT. Clearly it’s not a simple process – you can’t turn round a failing school in five minutes, and how long you give a MAT to show progress is a difficult question. You also don’t want any school to be passed around like an unwanted hot potato.
    However I see this process of forced rebrokering as showing that the MAT model is working, not that it is failing. If I was a parent at Everest Community Academy and felt AET weren’t doing a good enough job then I would be very glad that someone else was going to be responsible for improving the situation (though of course I would have to be happy that Bourne Education Trust was the right MAT to do it). Rewind to ‘the old days’ and if a parent didn’t think that their local authority was doing a good enough job of running the school then there was no option to change anything.

    • Mark – Academy conversion, particularly with a sponsor, was sold as a magic bullet for school improvement. But it was wrong to think merely changing a school’s structure would automatically result in improvement. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t. By the same token, some LA schools improved without being converted. Yet millions has been spent, and continues to be spent, on academy conversion and transfer – an expensive option when local support has been found to be more effective.

      • Mark Watson

        As I’ve frequently said on these boards, anyone that thinks that converting to an academy is a silver bullet that will cure all ills by itself is as misguided and foolish as those conspiracy theorists that think all people involved in academies are evil and only interested in lining their own pockets.

    • Mark – Parents can actually do very little if they think the authority running their child’s school isn’t ‘doing a good enough job’. But parents of pupils in LA schools can at least complain to local councillors. That option is closed to parents of pupils in academies who have to go through the academy’s complaints procedure before complaining to the EFA. Even then, the EFA won’t deal with certain issues eg education quality or leadership (Ofsted), discrimination (Equality and Advisory Support Service) or SEN Statement (First Tier Tribunal).

      • Mark Watson

        I agree with everything you say, but it’s not addressing the central principle here.
        Under the ‘old system’ you could indeed complain to local councillors. But whatever the outcomes of those complaints, or any other complaints, the one thing that would not, and could not, change is that the school would continue to be run by the same council. Even if the council could be shown, with absolute certainty, to be doing a terrible job that would not change.
        And yes, the EFA will only investigate a limited set of circumstances, but as you say there are other bodies such as Ofsted and the EASS who can help. There’s also the RSCs, and even the court of public opinion. I’m not saying it is easy for dissatisfied parents to force a change in the academy trust running their school (and although I think this is an area that should be improved I don’t think it should be too easy), but the point is that it CAN happen.
        As I see it, that’s what the academy programme gives us – a system that means that if any entity is not doing well enough in running a school it will be taken away and passed to someone who can do a better job.

        • One big spanner in this ‘musical chair’ dance – local support has been found to be more effective than academy conversion. There have even been academies which have improved without transfer because of local authority help (eg Batley Grammar School). And not all transfers are because an academy was doing poorly. Some (eg Stamford Queen Eleanor) were moved because the chain running them claimed they were ‘geographically isolated’ (surely the MAT knew this before taking over the school?); some (eg the six run by Prospect) had to be transferred because the MAT wound up; some transfers were stand-alone academies joining MATs (something which is likely to become more common – the days of the single-academy trust are numbered).

          • Mark Watson

            And local support can also be provided by a local MAT.
            You have provided specific examples which may (or may not, I don’t know the details) support your point of view. You have then extrapolated that to make a generic statement – what I think would be correct is to say that “local support has been found to be more effective than academy conversion IN SOME CIRCUMSTANCES”. (Apologies for using caps, but I can’t underline to show emphasis).
            I’m sure that an ardent academy proponent at the DfE could come up with another set of examples which show academy trusts have been more effective than local authorities, but again this would be cherry picking case studies to support an opinion.
            I’m not actually saying either of the above is correct, all I’m saying (and it’s a point you don’t seem to be addressing) is that under the academies programme it is possible to change who runs a school if they don’t do it well.