England’s largest academy trust gives up struggling school

United Learning academy school

England’s biggest multi-academy trust is set to hand a struggling Leeds school to another chain, ending a seven-year effort to turn around its fortunes.

United Learning will transfer John Smeaton Academy to The Gorse Academies Trust (TGAT) in September.

Sir John Townsley, TGAT’s chief executive, told parents in a letter that pupils would benefit from its “intimate knowledge” of the region, as it had other schools near by. The academy was “somewhat geographically removed” from other United Learning clusters of schools.

Jon Coles, United Learning’s chief executive, also highlighted geography in his letter, and apologised that the transfer had taken so long. Proposals were first made in November 2019, following an ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report that January.

Ofsted repeated concerns raised at a previous inspection over behaviour, low attendance and high fixed-term exclusions.

There had also been considerable staff turnover and governors were replaced by a school improvement board.

A more recent Ofsted monitoring visit said leaders were taking “effective action”, but highlighted limited support for remote SEND provision, including from the trust.

The school became an academy under United Learning in January 2014. But later that year the trust signed a five-year deal for Rodillian Multi Academy Trust to provide school improvement services.

The 2014 conversion marked the school’s fourth attempt to become an academy. The conversion was also delayed over Smeaton’s private finance initiative contract.

Coles later said United Learning was unlikely to take on any more PFI schools as “the cost is too high”.

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