Academies giant AET gets second school improvement warning in a matter of weeks

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Another school run by the Academies Enterprise Trust is in hot water and may be rebrokered to another sponsor because of falling standards.

Dominic Herrington, the national schools commissioner, has issued another “minded to terminate” notice to AET warning the trust over performance at the ‘inadequate’-rated Bexleyheath Academy in London.

If there is no clear improvement at the school…our default position will be to remove the school from AET

The school was given the lowest possible Ofsted rating following a visit in November after inspectors found the school failed to deliver an “acceptable standard” of education and warned of falling standards over “several years”.

The minded to terminate notice is the first step in a process which could see the school change hands if no improvement is seen either in the school’s outcomes or its Ofsted rating.

“As the national schools commissioner acting on behalf of the secretary of state, I need to be satisfied that this academy can achieve rapid and sustained improvement,” said Herrington. “If I am not satisfied this can be achieved, I will consider issuing a termination warning notice.

“If there is no clear improvement at the school in its 2020 educational outcomes or in the next Ofsted section five judgement, our default position will be to remove the school from AET.”

It is the second warning notice issued to AET in recent weeks. The trust was warned last month that it could lose control of Offa’s Mead Academy in Sedbury, Gloucestershire, which was also recently rated ‘inadequate’. It also follows an announcement in November that the trust would voluntarily be giving up two of its academies.

A spokesperson said the trust was “disappointed” to receive the letter, but said the notices were “procedural” and that leaders have “every confidence that we are able to make the changes that are needed at the academy”.

“With this in mind, we appointed David Moody earlier in the year as our executive director overseeing our five London academies. David has joined us from [the Harris Federation], where he established an impressive track record in turning around failing schools.

“In addition to David’s leadership role, we have put in place a comprehensive support plan for Bexleyheath Academy, addressing a range of areas including assessment, curriculum and behaviour management. We proactively shared this plan with the DfE and are also working collaboratively with the London Borough of Bexley. We are clear on what needs to be done, and we will be monitoring the plan closely to ensure it delivers.”

With 62 schools, AET is one of England’s largest academy trusts. But the organisation’s growth in recent years has not been without controversy.

AET was banned from taking over more schools in 2013 after it was deemed to have grown too quickly. A number of the trust’s schools were moved to other sponsors at the time.

However, in July 2017, the government lifted a financial notice to improve issued to the trust, and it was removed from the ‘pause’ list last year to allow it to take on more primary schools.

The news also follows a move last week by seven unions, including the National Education Union and leadership organisations ASCL and the NAHT, to threaten action against AET in a dispute over job cuts, low wages and outsourcing. Last ditch talks will now take place at conciliation service ACAS.

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  1. AET’s most recent accounts say it received over £4m in an ‘interest free’ loan from ESFA for the trust’s ‘turnaround strategy’. It doesn’t have to be repaid until AET’s general reserves plus borrowing exceeds £15m.
    ESFA gave AET £773k in an ‘exceptional grant’ relating to Plumberow Primary Academy, Hockley, in financial year 2017/18.
    The accounts also show that AET’s CEO C Drinkall received between £290-£295k in 2017/18, up from between £190-£195k in 2016/17.
    Perhaps Lord Agnew, in his campaign against high CEO salaries, should consider whether Drinkall’s £100k rise is justified.

  2. Ofsted said: “Teachers’ expectations of what pupils are capable of are too low. Pupils are typically given the same work to do, regardless of their ability. The most able are given work that is too easy for them.

    “For example, in Key Stage 4 mathematics, pupils are given activities typically associated with the primary school curriculum.
    It seems that some of the teachers are primary school trained and lacks the subject knowledge to teach in a secondary school.
    It is high time the govt takes over for good