An academy trust will take its legal battle to keep hold of one of its schools to the High Court in a claim which, if successful, could create “new possibilities” for trusts in similar positions.
Khalsa Academies Trust has won permission to apply for a judicial review of a government decision to terminate the funding agreement for Khalsa Secondary Academy, a Sikh free school in Buckinghamshire.
The school was placed in special measures in January last year after Ofsted inspectors found it was ‘inadequate’ and raised safeguarding concerns.
It was then issued with a termination warning notice in February, followed in June by a termination notice issued by Baroness Berridge, the academies minister, confirming plans to strip the school from the trust.
In her letter, Berridge said the trust had failed to show it had the “necessary experience or knowledge to improve a failing school”, and that there was a “lack of evidence” that Nick Singh Kandola, the chief executive, was being “held to account”.
But the trust claims the government acted irrationally in terminating the funding agreement in light of the “impact of Covid-19 and the steps that had been taken by the trust following the Ofsted report”.
Trust claims DfE breached equality act
The trust also claims that the government failed to properly consult with the Network of Sikh Organisations and breached the Equality Act 2010 by treating the school differently to Catholic or Anglican academies.
Kandola said the DfE’s decision “simply did not recognise the circumstances under lockdown or the work being done to improve the school”.
The trust filed a claim for a judicial review in August last year, weeks after the Sikh Academies Trust was announced as the government’s preferred sponsor to take over the school.
The funding agreement was initially due to be terminated no later than October 31, but the trust and the DfE agreed to a court order that means the department will not take any “irreversible” steps until the claim is determined by the court.
Khalsa’s initial judicial review request failed, but the High Court confirmed its second attempt was successful last week.
Successful outcome will create ‘new possibilities’ for other trusts
If the challenge succeeds, it may set a precedent for similar future cases.
Simon Foulkes, a business consultant specialising in education at Lee Bolton Monier Williams, said such claims were “rare”, but that if the trust was successful on any of its grounds it would “certainly create new possibilities for trusts in similar positions, although each matter will be dealt with on its merits as circumstances will never be exactly the same”.
“Any trust considering such action should consult with expert solicitors who have good links with appropriate accountancy expertise so that early advice can be taken.”
A DfE spokesperson said it had identified a “strong sponsor that protects the Sikh religious character of Khalsa Academy” and that the decision to issue a termination notice “was taken with the best interests of pupils, parents, and staff in mind”.