Academies

Academy could transfer to fourth trust in a decade

Figures obtained by Schools Week reveal more than 50 schools have been run by three different trusts

Figures obtained by Schools Week reveal more than 50 schools have been run by three different trusts

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An academy could be transferred to its fourth trust in under a decade in what critics dub a “taste of the chaos” to come under a fully academised system.

Figures obtained by Schools Week reveal more than 50 schools have been run by three different trusts. Some transfers were trust-initiated, others forced by the government.

Twenty-two were transferred within four years of the previous move, and six within two years.

Dr Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said it provided “a taste of the chaos, churn and top-down interventionism” likely under the government’s all-academy vision.

She said a “fixation on structural change” created fear and pressure that undermined schools’ work.

However, others said the movement of failing schools showed the system “is working”.

Last month the government confirmed it had threatened to transfer Pembroke Park Primary School in Wiltshire to its fourth trust – unless Magna Learning Partnership (MLP) could deliver “rapid” improvement.

The school, rated ‘inadequate’ three times since 2012, lasted five years in The Education Fellowship and two years in Salisbury Plain Academies before joining MLP in 2020.

The Education Fellowship faced two regulatory investigations in three years, including governors’ £45,000 expense claims and a New York “fact-finding” trip.

It was one of the worst-performing trusts nationally in 2014-15 and became the first to relinquish all schools.

Then Salisbury Plain Academies also agreed to close, with accounts highlighting low pupil numbers.

Inspection highlights ‘significant’ leadership changes

This year, Pembroke Park’s first inspection under MLP highlighted “significant changes” in leadership and other areas, but accused senior leaders and trustees of not tackling declining standards “quickly enough”.

Ricky Rogers
Ricky Rogers

Ricky Rogers, a former governor and local Labour councillor, said parents were “fed up” and “cynical” over past changes, and claimed uniforms had changed twice.

The multiple transfers showed academisation was a “disaster that’s done nothing for my community”, he said. “There are dedicated staff but they desperately need more support.”

Sarah Busby, the chief executive of MLP, said the school had faced unspecified “historic issues” plus Covid, but issues raised by inspectors were being addressed.

“They also noted progress was being made. Conversations with our stakeholders are very positive.”

She invited Rogers to see improvements “first-hand”, noting he had not visited recently and MLP had not changed uniforms.

Lime Tree Primary Academy in Greater Manchester was also transferred for a second time last year following a financial scandal, although the move was the result of a merger.

Regulators found the Dunham Trust had paid tens of thousands to related parties.The school had, at local governors’ request, been allowed to leave its previous trust in 2017.

Not all transfers reflect school challenges

But not all transfers reflect school-level challenges. Lime Tree was rated ‘outstanding’ and winning three awards this year. It is the lead primary for new trust Bright Futures’ teacher-training provision.

A trust spokesperson said the Dunham-Bright Futures merger, aimed at scale and sharing skills, was handled “carefully” and reflected shared values.

In 2017, just two academies had been rebrokered twice.

In total, 1,489 schools – more than one in seven academies – have been moved at least once since 2013, official data shows.

Academy transfers graph

Helen Josue, who has campaigned against Holland Park School’s planned transfer to United Learning, said parents, children and staff were “completely powerless” in transfers, with consultation not legally required.

The west London standalone academy is embroiled in a legal battle over whether stakeholders were properly consulted, while NEU members walked out and the local council spoke out over joining England’s largest trust.

Academy transfers ‘no panacea’

Matthew Clements-Wheeler.
Matthew Clements Wheeler

Matthew Clements-Wheeler, a consultant and former chair of the Institute of School Business Leadership, said transfers alone were no “panacea”, but were a “sign the system’s working”.

They allowed a “reignition of momentum” to get the leadership schools needed, although he was concerned that rebrokering was “breaking leaders along the way”.

He said trust strategies successful elsewhere might not work because of a “difficult” context, personality clashes or lack of community confidence, “even with the best of intentions”.

Jonathan Simons, the head of education at consultancy Public First, said “dynamic” systems needed movement, and multiple transfers were likely to reflect schools in “tricky” financial positions.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Only a small number of academies are not meeting the required standards, but when concerns do arise, we will always explore ways to secure rapid and sustained improvement.

“This may include transferring the school to an alternative trust when it is in the best interests of pupils.”

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