Ministers must ensure academy trust growth is “secure and sustainable”, leaders have warned, after two recently expanded trusts received school performance warnings.
Katherine Cowell, the regional schools commissioner for the north of England, has issued termination warning notices to Hope Sentamu Learning Trust over Barlby High School, and to Ebor Academy Trust for Ebor Academy Filey.
Both North Yorkshire schools were placed in special measures in November, with the warning notices published last week. The notices can lead to academies moving to new sponsors.
Hope Sentamu trust is made up of 15 schools and was formed through the merger this year of the former Sentamu Academy Learning Trust and the Hope Learning Trust. Of Hope’s original ten schools, six, including Barlby, joined since 2017.
Ebor Academy Trust has 24 schools, 15 joining in the past five years.
The government wants all schools in “strong” trusts by 2030, and “expects” most trusts to work towards having ten schools, or 7,500 pupils.
Don’t push trusts towards ‘unrealistic’ expansion
Julie McCulloch, the director of policy at the ASCL leaders’ union, said the expansion envisaged by ministers must be “secure and sustainable”.
She warned the DfE’s target must not lead to “expectations being placed on trusts to expand at a pace and scale which is unrealistic”.
The DfE must be careful that trusts expanded at a realistic pace and scale.
Inspectors criticised safeguarding at Barlby High School. They said governors and trustees “do not know what behaviour is like in the school”.
A spokesperson for Hope Sentamu trust said the new organisation’s academies “are benefiting from increased size and scale”, adding that the trust was “working exceptionally hard” to improve Barlby High.
Two new experienced senior leaders and other specialist staff have been appointed.
When Ebor Academy Filey was placed in special measures, inspectors said the trust had “identified that the trust does not have the necessary experience of secondary education to be able to provide the support that the school needs to improve”.
Ebor has already agreed to transfer the school to the Coast and Vale Learning Trust, but Cowell said she had issued the warning because she was “concerned that there is a need for swift improvements”.
Primary-focused trust to give up only secondary academy
Gail Brown, the chief executive of the Ebor Trust, said Filey joined in 2015 when the trust was hoping to recruit more secondary schools. But none joined, and in 2019 Ebor began discussions with the regional schools commissioner about finding a new trust for the school.
This would be “better for the school and the community”, Brown said, adding that her trust had “expanded by focusing on the primary phase”.
The government has been criticised for allowing some trusts to grow too quickly. In two high-profile cases, ministers had to “pause” the growth of E-ACT and the Academies Enterprise Trust, both prominent chains.
Alice Gregson, the executive director of Forum Strategy, warned that a “race towards bigger numbers of schools joining trusts, without a sufficient focus on capacity building and organisational sustainability, is a huge risk”.
However, she said that medium and smaller trusts had “huge potential”.
“Providing these trusts with the necessary investment and doing more to signpost them to the support that already exists, means they too can grow sustainably, realise their potential and play an even bigger role in serving their communities.”
The DfE was approached for comment.