Bright Tribe academy trust is to give up Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, following intense pressure from school staff and parents.
The secondary school has been at the centre of a row over the way the trust runs its schools in the north of England for over a year, but matters came to a head last week when flooding damaged already “dilapidated” buildings on the school site.
The move to give up the school, which will now be rebrokered to another trust, follows the resignation yesterday of Bright Tribe chief operating officer Mary McKeeman.
The announcement has been made ahead of a community meeting that was to discuss whether locals could forcibly remove the school from the trust.
Regional Schools Commissioner for the north of England, Janet Renou, said she has been working with the trust, Cumbria County Council and the headteacher board to “address the challenges” at Whitehaven.
She insisted she and her team had visited the academy and met with school leaders “on multiple occasions”, and had undertaken “extensive work” with the Education and Skills Funding Agency to address the condition of the school buildings.
She added: “Despite the efforts of the headteacher and his team, it is clear that a new sponsor is required to deliver the improvement needed to ensure pupils get the education they deserve – and the process of identifying an alternative is underway.
“My priority is to ensure all pupils receive the best possible education and I will now be working with the Bright Tribe Trust to ensure a smooth transition with minimal disruption for Whitehaven and its students.”
Bright Tribe took control of the school in January 2014. By October 2016, it was in special measures.
In a recent open letter, staff said that two thirds of the school site is now so dilapidated it has had to be closed. The remaining third is described as having “declined to the extent that the slightest rainfall means that large areas of the building we are in are out of action”.
Whitehaven was one of hundreds of schools that had planned renovations cancelled when the Building Schools for the Future scheme was scrapped by the incoming coalition government in 2010.
During bad weather last week, teachers said water had been pouring through windows and into electrical sockets, and even onto pupils’ food as they lined up for lunch.
There are complaints of “minimal budgets” for textbooks, poor outcomes for learners, broken windows, constant changes in leadership, a lack of teaching assistants and poor support from the trust itself, which they say rarely visits the school.
Local MP and education select committee member Trudy Harrison was physically escorted offsite by trust staff last week when she arrived to check on the flood damage.
In a statement on its website, Bright Tribe said it was ending its sponsorship of Whitehaven after its plans to “develop a hub of schools in Cumbria” had failed to materialise and it now believed “alternative sponsorship” was the “most appropriate route for the school’s continued improvement journey”, although it warned that it may “take some time” before the process is complete.
The trust defended its record at the school, including recruiting a senior leadership team, and insisted the problems with the school’s buildings were the result of “historical underinvestment”. The statement added that Bright Tribe had lobbied “at the highest level” for additional funding to improve the school site but “without success.”
It asked for a “period of calm” and added: “It is essential that the school is able to remain focused on educating the children it serves and driving forward progress around educational improvements at pace.
“This will also allow time for Bright Tribe to continue to work with the DfE to determine the best solution for the school’s future success.”
Last week the trust announced it would also be stepping away from the Haydon Bridge High School in Northumberland, which had been due to convert to an academy back in September 2016.