Bright Tribe Trust abandons failing school with 'increasing financial deficit'

Bright Tribe Trust has backed out of a failing school in Northumberland that it was supposed to convert into an academy over a year ago.

It continues the trust’s record of struggling to take over new schools despite receiving almost £1 million of government funding to aid them.

Bright Tribe has recently had success in converting Grindon Hall School in Sunderland, which became ‘inadequate’ in November 2014, and in June this year took over Haltwhistle Community Campus in Northumberland.

But now the trust has withdrawn from Haydon Bridge High School and blamed the decision on the “significant and increasing financial deficit” at the school and a decline in pupil numbers.

The controversial trust was lined up to sponsor the school in Hexham in 2015, after the school was rated ‘inadequate’ and placed in special measures by Ofsted in December 2014.

A monitoring visit carried out in June 2016 said the school was “on track” to become an academy in September that year and “effective action” was being taken to bring it out of special measures.

In September 2016, Bright Tribe appointed an executive principal and a substantive head teacher for the school, but did not convert it to an academy.

At the most recent monitoring inspection in March 2017, Ofsted reported: “Leaders and managers are not taking effective action towards the removal of special measures.

“The school’s plans to become an academy have been delayed. Currently, the school is aiming to become an academy by September 2017.”

The report referred to Bright Tribe as Haydon’s Bridge’s sponsor, but a spokesperson for the trust insists it was never more than a “potential sponsor”.

A trust spokesperson said: “Bright Tribe has announced that it will no longer be continuing as the potential sponsor of Haydon Bridge High School in the North East. The school has not yet converted to academy status.”

She added that “progress relating to the transfer of the school has been hindered by the school’s significant and increasing financial deficit”, and said the “steady decline” in pupils over the past five years has had “an insurmountable impact on the school’s long-term viability”.

A spokesperson for Northumberland County Council said the local authority would now be “working closely” with the regional schools commissioner “to develop a solution following the withdrawal of Bright Tribe Trust as a sponsor of Haydon Bridge High School.”

She added the council was working with “all involved for the benefit of the children attending the school.”

In March, the council’s deputy chief executive told the Northumberland Chronicle they had been “directed to have no further involvement with the running of the school.”

Bright Tribe was given just under £1 million of government funding in 2016 to set up an academy hub in Northumberland but is yet to take over a single school in the region.

The trust is also currently facing calls to walk away from a troubled school in Cumbria from education select committee member Trudy Harrison MP, who has criticised the trust for “neglecting” the academy and was physically escorted off the premises during a visit on November 23.