The troubled Bright Tribe academy trust is pulling out of all but one of its five northern schools because it doesn’t have an “established northern hub”, even though it raked in £1 million in northern hub funding less than three years ago.
The MAT will continue to run Werneth Primary School in Oldham, Greater Manchester, but will give up all of its other schools in the north of the country.
The chain, which also runs five schools in the south, received the cash to expand and set up a northern hub in late 2015, but only took on three schools, all of which it will now pass to other sponsors. Campaigners now want the money returned, but the academies minister Lord Agnew has admitted that the “majority” of the grant has already been spent on senior staff.
Matters involving the trust came to a head last November, when Bright Tribe’s chief executive officer, Mary McKeeman, resigned after just six months, and the chain announced plans to give up the struggling Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, following a protracted battle with parents and staff over the future of the secondary school.
The news came just a few days after the trust announced it was backing out of a deal to sponsor Haydon Bridge High School in Northumberland, where it had been working since 2015, and which it had planned to convert into an academy in 2016.
In December, the trust announced it would also give up Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland and Haltwhistle Community Campus lower and upper schools in Northumberland “in light of the difficulties in providing school-to-school support and delivering rapid improvement without the presence of an established northern hub”.
Last year, the national schools commissioner Sir David Carter told MPs that “conversations about Bright Tribe moving out of the north” had begun in September 2017. However, it appears that those discussions did not include Werneth, which is located in the Lancashire and west Yorkshire region controlled by regional commissioner Vicky Beer, rather than in Janet Renou’s North of England region.
The Department for Education this week refused to comment on Bright Tribe’s decision to keep Werneth, which is at least 200 miles away from its five other remaining schools in Suffolk and Essex, but confirmed it is still searching for sponsors for the five schools relinquished by the trust.
“The department is working closely with Bright Tribe Trust on its withdrawal from the RSC north region. Timescales are dependent on due diligence which covers all elements of an academy’s functions, including educational, buildings and finances,” a spokesperson said.
Werneth Primary School joined Bright Tribe Trust in February 2014. It was rated ‘requires improvement’ at an Ofsted inspection in January last year, which noted that, since the school became an academy, it had gone through three permanent principals and three interim principals.
“The many changes to leadership and staffing have hindered the pace of school improvement,” Ofsted said.
Bright Tribe’s latest accounts, published this week, show the trust paid over £681,000 to firms owned or controlled by board member Dr Mike Dwan in the year to August 31, down from £3.9 million the year before.
The trust insists services provided by Dwan’s companies – North Consulting, Blue Support Services, The Knowledge Network and North & Partners Technical – were all provided “at cost or less”.
“These relationships will not continue moving forwards,” it added.