Academy trust co-founded by Tory donor has primary school terminated

A academy trust co-founded by a multi-millionaire Conservative party donor and luxury hotel chain owner will be stripped of one of its schools after “failing to improve” standards.

Landau Forte Academy Moorhead saw only 28 per cent of pupils met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths in 2019, compared to a national average of 65 per cent.

A termination notice published by the Department for Education today says that there is no formal evidence that the support the Landau Forte Charitable Trust “is providing has had, or is having, any impact on outcomes for pupils”.

“There is a very real risk that performance will not improve and children will not receive the education they deserve,” said Carol Gray, interim regional schools commissioner for the East Midlands and Humber.

The school, in Derby, has been judged inadequate twice, most recently in March last year.

According to the trust’s website, its founding sponsors are property developer Martin Landau and luxury hotel group founder Sir Rocco Forte.

The company Rocco Forte Hotels, where his sister Olga Polizzi is director of design, operates hotels around the world. Forte was said in 2019 to be worth £250 million.

Forte donated £100,000 to the Conservative party to back Boris Johnson in last year’s election, according to the Daily Mail.

He is quoted by the Mail said saying: “It is the first time I have given any money for a long time, because until now I didn’t believe in the leadership. I didn’t believe they were true Conservatives.”

His sister Polizzi is deputy chair of the board of directors at the trust.

In the most recent Ofsted report from March last year, inspectors said that leaders “have not acted on the advice they have been given quickly enough” and that the trust “has not provided effective support for the school”.

“Trustees have failed to hold leaders to account. They have been too accepting of information given to them by leaders.”

In the termination letter, Gray said that the school had been with the trust, which has five other academies, for seven years and during that time has “failed to improve Key Stage 2 outcomes”.

“The percentage of pupils achieving the expected standards in reading, writing and maths in the last four years have been below both national and local authority averages. 2019 results show that only 28% of pupils met the expected standard against a national average of 65%”

Despite a meeting in February with the trust, Gray said she remains of the view “that the school would improve more quickly with a stronger trust with a history of school improvement”.

The letter also points points to “correspondence” from the previous academies minister Lord Agnew to Landau, Polizzi and Forte that “confirmed his agreement with the decision to transfer the school”.

The letter says the school transfer is expected to happen by January 1.

A spokesperson for the academy trust said they are “appealing” the notice as the DfE has “failed to acknowledge the significant improvements that have been made over the last two years, not to mention the tremendous efforts of all our dedicated staff in these extraordinary times”.

There’s no route of appeal for such notices, and the trust would not comment further on what it meant by appealing.

But the spokesperson added the “timing could not have come at a worse moment creating dreadful unnecessary turbulence when schools across the country are working tirelessly to ensure learning is not further disrupted by the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

“Our overriding concern will, as always, be the welfare of our children.”