Bright Tribe, the academy chain at the centre of a row over the running of schools in the north of England, is to close, Schools Week understands.
The under-fire trust, which had already announced plans to walk away from four of its northern schools following a row over performance, will now give up all ten of its schools and shut down, following increasing pressure from the government, according to a senior figure familiar with the situation.
Reports of the trust’s proposed closure have not been denied by either the Department for Education or Bright Tribe itself.
The news follows a recent shake-up of Bright Tribe’s management which saw the trust part ways with its founder Michael Dwan and the appointment of two school leaders who specialise in the winding up of failing trusts to its board.
On Wednesday, Angela Barry and Nikki King, who have both previously been parachuted into trusts which subsequently closed, became trustees at Bright Tribe.
In 2016, both leaders joined the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust, which closed months later amid allegations of financial mismanagement. Barry and King are also currently working with the doomed Schools Company Trust, where Barry is interim chief executive and King is interim chair of trustees.
Bright Tribe also has three new controlling members.
Teresa Tunnadine, a director at Middlesex Learning Trust and The Compton School Trading Company, Kathryn Brunt of the Rivers Church of England multi-academy trust and independent consultant Ruth Dolan, have taken over as “persons with significant control” of the trust.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said all new trustees at Bright Tribe and its sister trust Adventure Learning Academies Trust were appointed “based on recommendations by the department” and described them as “experts in supporting academies to improve.”
However, she did not deny reports the trust is due to be wrapped up.
A spokesperson for Bright Tribe confirmed only that Bright Tribe is “moving forwards as a self-standing MAT” which will work “in continued close partnership” with Adventure Learning Academy Trust, its sister trust which until this year had many of the same directors.
Bright Tribe’s new members and trustees “will drive the strategic direction of the trust into the future”, the spokesperson said, though she would not be drawn on what that direction would be.
Last week, Bright Tribe confirmed that plans to merge with ALAT would no longer be going ahead. The proposals, first set out in May, would have meant Bright Tribe effectively ceased to exist, but were shelved after strong opposition among schools run by ALAT.
For now, Bright Tribe still runs 10 schools. Officials announced on Friday that the Cumbria Education Trust will take on the troubled Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, while Haltwhistle Community Campus Upper and Lower Schools in Northumberland and Grindon Hall in Sunderland are also in the process of being rebrokered.
Werneth Primary School in Oldham was the only school in the north of England due to remain with the trust, which also has four schools in Suffolk and one in Essex. All six will now go through the rebrokerage process, Schools Week understands.
- November 2015: Bright Tribe receives £1 million ‘northern hub’ funding from the government. The money was to “drive up standards” in schools in the north of England
- September 2016: Former education secretary Justine Greening refuses to reveal the details of a financial investigation into the academy trust after then academies minister Lord Nash said it had been ordered to revise its 2014-15 accounts to include previously undisclosed payments.
- November 2016: Investigation into both Bright Tribe and ALAT reveals rules over payments to trustees had been breached, with nearly 80 per cent of their trustees in receipt of related party transactions. The government decides not to issue a “financial notice to improve”.
- November 2016: Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, Bright Tribe’s first school, is put into special measures. More than 50 staff members write an open letter criticising the trust.
- December 2016: Bright Tribe pulls out of a sponsorship deal for two struggling schools in Durham – Fyndoune community college and Durham community business college – as it said the level of financial support required by the schools was “not viable”.
- November 2017: Bright Tribe makes headlines again as Copeland MP and education select member Trudy Harrison is physically escorted from the Whitehaven Academy site during a visit to check flood damage.
- November 2017: The trust pulls out of sponsorship deal for Northumberland’s Haydon Bridge High School, citing a “significant and increasing financial deficit” and falling pupil numbers. In response, the Northumberland Council takes legal action and consults on plans to close up to 14 schools
- November 2017: Officials announce plans to rebroker Whitehaven Academy to a new sponsor following intense pressure over the state of “dilapidated” school buildings.
- December 2017: It emerges that “the majority” of Bright Tribe’s £1 million northern hub funding was spent on senior staff.
- December 2017: Bright Tribe would be pulling out of all but one of its five northern schools because it doesn’t have an “established northern hub”.
- May 2018: Senior civil servants told the public accounts committee that Bright Tribe would be held to “maximum account” over failings at Whitehaven Academy following concerns about asbestos levels in school buildings
- June 2018: A report from the Education Policy Institute identified Bright Tribe has having the lowest performing secondary schools in the country
- June 2018: Education secretary Damian Hinds said it was “really important that we learn lessons from Whitehaven and from Bright Tribe.”
- July 2018: Bright Tribe confirms planned merger with ALAT will not go ahead