An academy trust has become the first in the country to give up all its schools, after financial problems and concerns from Ofsted over poor outcomes for pupils.
The Education Fellowship Trust, founded by Sir Ewan Harper, an architect of academies policy under Tony Blair, asked the government to terminate funding for its 12 schools across Northamptonshire, Wiltshire and Maidenhead. The schools will now all be rebrokered.
Lizzie Howe, chief operating officer of The Education Fellowship Trust (TEFT), said the request to transfer its schools was caused by “financial constraints facing the education sector and the misalignment of values with the Department for Education”.
The DfE said it had “agreed to a request from the trust to terminate their funding agreement.” TEFT, which has 6,500 pupils, will now be dissolved.
We see this as an exciting journey that we will embark on together
The trust was threatened with having funding scrapped for one of its schools, the Wrenn School in Northamptonshire, by schools commissioner Martin Post in January, after Ofsted inspectors rated the school “inadequate”.
Schools Week revealed that the school had racked up a £1.3 million deficit last year – nearly four times the average deficit for secondary academies in the red.
A letter to parents published on the Wrenn Academy’s website this week states that the transfer is seen as “an exciting journey that we will embark on together.”
It reads: “We guarantee that we will continue to give your child the very best education and opportunities both now and in the future.”
Howe added the trust’s priority is now to “ensure a smooth and timely transfer that minimises impact on the pupils, staff, parents and local communities at the schools”.
Five of Education Fellowship Trust’s schools are rated “inadequate”, three “requires improvement”, and just four have been found to be “good”.
Risdene Academy and Rushden Academy near Kettering, Ruskin Junior School and Wrenn School in Wellingborough, and Blackthorn primary academy in Northampton, are those rated “inadequate”.
A spokesperson for the DfE said the department had “agreed to a request from the trust” to terminate its funding following ongoing concerns about educational performance at “the majority of its schools.”
“Our priority now is to work with the trust to transfer its schools to new sponsors to drive up standards and ensure all pupils receive an excellent education.”
Schools Week reported in July last year the chain was told by the Education Funding Agency to close a linked commercial company and “closely monitor” its finances.
Concerns were raised over the trust’s relationship with The Education Fellowship Limited, which at the time was the chain’s private limited company owner, with the government finding the trust’s organisational model was “not acceptable”.
The probe said the structure “could be used to benefit the directors”.
At the time, Rowe insisted its structures had been approved by the DfE in both 2012 and 2014, and questioned the use of public funds for the investigation.
There have been ongoing concerns about educational performance at the majority of schools
A number of academies were also found to be operating in-year deficits totalling £344,000. The EFA said these deficits were putting pressure on the trust’s free reserves, which totalled £1.1 million as of August 2015.
The chief executive said at the time savings plans and revised projections based on rising pupil numbers would “rectify this situation over the coming years”.
An earlier investigation by the EFA in 2014 had also highlighted concerns over governors’ expenses of £45,000, including for a fact-finding trip to New York, and unadvertised jobs that went to family members.
Government league tables have previously revealed the Education Fellowship Trust to be one of the worst-performing trusts in terms of progress and attainment of pupils at key stage 2.