Falcon academy trust set to spread its wings

Trust set up to take on challenging schools is going national

Trust set up to take on challenging schools is going national

21 Jan 2022, 12:01

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The “turnaround” academy trust set up by ministers to take on the schools no one else wants is going national.

New annual accounts for the Falcon Education Academies Trust, published this week, show it is looking to take on schools across the country after its remit was extended.

The trust, set up in 2019 to take on challenging schools in the north, has sponsored just two schools. Accounts say cancelled Ofsted inspections because of Covid led to a “lack of new pipeline schools”.

Anne-Marie Holdsworth, Falcon’s chief executive, told Schools Week the expansion was down to “early indications of success” at its two schools. A “wider geographical reach could potentially benefit more schools”, she said.

The trust’s accounts highlight a “financially efficient curriculum” and an increase of 0.99 in the Progress 8 score at Thornaby Academy in Stockton-on-Tees, one of its schools, as a success measure.

However, comparisons are made difficult by the lack of exams last year and the awarding of generous teacher grades.

Falcon also used the Covid delay to “develop strong, best practice systems and processes that will support future onboard and a move to our national remit”.

The trust aims to transform “higher risk” schools before handing them over to permanent sponsors.

It wanted three schools by August 2020, warning the delay would “lengthen the time before the company achieves capacity”.

But Holdsworth added: “Moving to a nationwide pilot enables wider testing of the ‘turnaround trust’ concept…and ensures that all schools which would benefit from the pilot are able to do so.”

Academy trust looking at a ‘number of schools’

Falcon is carrying out due diligence on “a number of schools”, but would not reveal how many. It has also worked with government to “simplify and streamline the process” for schools to join.

As the trust is likely to target schools with expensive or legally tricky finances, such as private finance initiative arrangements, the rebrokering process could drag on.

Meanwhile, government troubleshooter Nikki King has taken over from David Earnshaw as chair. Earnshaw stepped down in March to focus on his role as chair of the Outwood Grange Academies Trust. He remains a Falcon trustee.

King has previously been parachuted in by government to sort out scandal-hit trusts.

Holdsworth said King saw Falcon as an “exciting opportunity and refreshing change of direction”.

The trust is still reliant on purchasing school improvement services from others. It purchased £443,000 in such services from the Delta Academies Trust last year, up from £271,000 in 2020.

This included secondment costs totalling £172,000 and school improvement support of £260,000.

Gareth Mason, Falcon’s former chief executive, left in unexplained circumstances in 2020. A recent recruitment drive failed to secure a new permanent chief executive.

Chris Mitchell, deputy chief executive of Delta, was brought in as Falcon’s director of education and Holdsworth has been appointed permanently.

Accounts state its improvement plans require a “significant level of school improvement support, which may be challenging to achieve” given Covid and the “needs for trusts to support their own schools”.

Falcon is now working with more organisations to secure support, including regional school commissioners, trusts and teaching school hubs.

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