Bright Tribe shelves plan to merge with sister trust

Plans for the beleaguered Bright Tribe Trust (BTT) to merge with its sister chain are now on hold – as the future of both trusts is under review.

The 10-school BTT revealed plans to merge with Adventure Learning Academies Trust (ALAT) in May, in a move that would have seen the former chain “cease to exist”.

Under the plans, ALAT, which runs one secondary and four primary schools in Cornwall, would take over BTT’s six schools in Suffolk, Essex and Oldham. BTT is currently in the process of walking away from four other schools in the north of England.

However, the proposal was met with fierce resistance at ALAT’s schools, where parents and governors proved unwilling to take on the ailing chain.

Following a consultation period over the past month, both trusts released a joint statement today stating: “Given the strength of feeling evident in the volume of questions and concerns raised by parents in a number of our schools, the board has determined that it will now take the time needed to reflect on next and future steps concerning the organisation and operation of both trusts.”

The original merger timeline of September 1 has now been “withdrawn” and a BTT spokesperson confirmed the plan is indefinitely postponed.

The future of both trusts if the merger does not go ahead “is currently being reviewed,” the spokesperson added.

Originally, the merger was envisaged by the trusts to help the schools “pool resources and skills to ensure the best possible provision and education for pupils”.

But today, Philip de Grey-Warter, chair of the local governing board at the ALAT-run secondary school Fowey River Academy, described the announcement as a “positive interim outcome”.

“The trust issues – especially a lack of financial transparency, lack of support and flawed governance – still remain. So we will continue to press the trust and authorities for a better solution for our school,” he said.

Bright Tribe has faced numerous setbacks in the past two years, finally announcing at the end of 2017 that it would walk away from four schools it had been given extra funds to take over – Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, Grindon Hall School in Sunderland, and Haydon Bridge High School and Haltwhistle upper and lower schools in Northumberland.

Both trusts were set up by property mogul Michael Dwan and have seven trustees in common, including education support services company Adventure Learning Schools and Dwan’s charity Helping Hands Trust, which are both also listed as “persons with significant control” of both trusts.

Dwan, a former chair of Bright Tribe, is listed as one of the directors of Adventure Learning Schools, as is the consultancy firm North Consulting Limited, which is run by Dwan, his brother Andrew and his daughter Jessica.