Council intervenes over failing academy – but told by Ofsted it isn’t responsible

A local authority has taken the unusual step of pleading with a regional schools commissioner for an inadequate academy to get a new sponsor.

Wolverhampton council wrote to Christine Quinn, the RSC for the West Midlands, to voice concerns about Wednesfield High Specialist Engineering Academy after the school was rated inadequate by Ofsted last month.

The council said in a letter that a new sponsor must be found for the academy and has stepped in to support the Education Central Multi-Academy Trust (ECMAT), the school’s current sponsors.

The school was handed to the trust, which is run by the University of Wolverhampton, in January 2015.

The university’s first trust, the City of Wolverhampton Academy Trust, was banned from taking on new schools in 2013-14 due to poor performance.

But the university was allowed to continue running ECMAT, which grew from six schools in 2013-14 to
13 this year.

If academies accept local authority help, then they should pay for it

Wednesfield is the second of ECMAT’s schools to be rated inadequate. The ACE Academy in Tipton was rated inadequate for the second time in two years, with inspectors raising concerns similar to Wednesfield over behaviour, safety of pupils, bullying and weak teaching.

The council’s letter to the RSC highlights the blurred lines over local council involvement when schools are not quickly rebrokered by commissioners after being placed in special measures.

Ofsted has criticised local authorities over the past year for the performance of schools in their areas, even where most schools are academies and therefore beyond their powers of intervention.

Bradley Simmons, Ofsted’s regional director for the south west and south east, wrote to Reading council about the poor standards in all secondary schools in its area in April last year, saying the council must “share my disappointment”.

Similarly, Poole council was congratulated in November last year when standards improved, although about three-quarters of schools were academies.

Ofsted said it would not hold local authorities accountable for the improvement of schools no longer under their control.

A spokesperson said accountability for improvement was solely the responsibility of academy trusts and RSCs.

However Phil Bateman, a Labour councillor for Wednesfield North, told the local newspaper, the Express and Star, that the council had written to Quinn asking that the school be rebrokered.

He said the local authority had no controls over the school’s operation, “but the city can make its case to the regional commissioner, which it has”.

Janet Downs, a member and blogger for the Local Schools Network, which campaigns for council-run schools, said it was not fair to expect local authorities to provide free support or services to struggling academies.

“If academies accept local authority help, then they should pay for it in the same way as they would pay an external consultant.”

A spokesperson for Wednesfield High said the school was “disappointed” the council had asked the RSC to find new sponsors without first speaking to ECMAT or the University of Wolverhampton.

The school was in a “poor position” in 2015 and needed “time” to turn around. A new headteacher was being recruited.

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  1. This really is Alice in Wonderland – or better still, Through the Looking Glass. Astonishing! In a nutshell, government wants to kill off LAs by making all schools academies. LAs not allowed jurisdiction over failing academies. Ofsted blames LAs for failing academies. Ofsted and RSCs at loggerheads over who does what. LA pleads to be allowed to intervene in a failing academy. RSC sits on hands. Ofsted tells LA to butt out after failing the school.

    Clearly this is so much better than the old system. God help us all.

  2. Mark Watson

    OK, so first off if ECMAT are not doing a good enough job of operating Wednesfield High then it should be rebrokered to an academy trust that can and will improve the situation.
    However I think it slightly disingenuous for the article to somehow imply Wolverhampton Council are some sort of white knight.
    This is the Council that was responsible for the school before it became an academy. Under their watch it was rated as Inadequate in 2007. Things improved and in 2008 and 2010 it was rated as Good. Then things tanked and in 2013 it was rated Inadequate and put into Special Measures. Two Special Measures monitoring inspections followed in 2014 with the last one finding that “the school is not making enough progress towards the removal of special measures”.
    I don’t know whether ECMAT are any good, but from the above information if I was a local parent I certainly wouldn’t want to be going back to “the old system”. That way madness lies.

    • Janet Downs

      Ofsted wasn’t quite so damning of the LA. In its report which judged Wednesfield to be Inadequate in December 2013, inspectors noted:
      ‘The local authority has provided regular support, and has raised concerns with the school’s leaders regarding the slow progress in English and mathematics.’
      The first monitoring found the LA statement of action was ‘fit for purpose’ and outlined ‘appropriate strategies’.
      The second monitoring noted both the LA and Education Central were involved in supporting the school. ‘External reviews of the school are rigorous and accurate in their conclusions.’
      Unfortunately, the efforts of both the LA and Education Central weren’t enough to stop inspectors saying the school wasn’t making enough progress to get out of special measures. Odd, then, that the school should have become an academy with Education Central.
      That said, the school and academy appear to have been dogged by staff turnover and, lately, a head on long-term absence. Such disturbance helps no school whether it’s LA maintained or an academy.
      The RSC now needs to find a new MAT to take over Wednesfield. Given its recent history, this may be difficult.

  3. Schools go in and out of ofsted categories. ”Twas ever thus. That doesn’t mean that either the council or the academy trust are failures across the board which is why the whole academy policy is such nonsense. It’s not the status of the school that makes it successful, it’s good leadership and governance and great teachers plus properly funded support for schools which struggle. If Wolverhampton Council has good and outstanding schools there is no reason they shouldn’t be allowed to support a struggling academy. It’s only this government pathological and ideological hatred of local government which created this sorry mess.

    • Mark Watson

      I completely agree with your logic but disagree completely with your outcomes.
      Schools do indeed change Ofsted categories and it might be as a result of factors completely outside the control of the operator, be it LA or academy trust – however you only have to look at the trove of SchoolsWeek stories about how an academy has dropped a grade or two to see all the comments about how this shows the academy programme is to blame.
      And yes, the status of a school is irrelevant (anyone arguing that simply becoming an academy makes a difference is naive or brainwashed). Leadership and governance is key, so what everyone should be looking at is whether a school being run by the LA or an academy trust will result in better leadership and governance.
      The proponents of academies believe that they create a better environment for improving leadership and governance. Dismissing their opinions and the whole academy programme as simply “this government’s pathological and ideological hatred of local government” is insulting and equally naive as those who blindly believe everything the DfE says.