A London council plans to offer a single-academy trust it co-sponsors a £1 million loan to help its bid to take over Holland Park School, as the Harris Federation also reportedly throws its hat into the ring.
The high-profile London academy had been on track to join England’s biggest trust United Learning, its board’s preferred option following a bullying and discrimination scandal – despite local opposition to the move.
But it then received an “inadequate” rating from Ofsted earlier this month, which parent campaigners said moved decision-making power from its board “into the hands of the Department for Education”. Parents are attempting to sue the inspectorate.
Regional schools commissioners have far greater intervention powers in “inadequate” academies, with the power – though not an obligation – to strip control from the existing trust and decide which multi-academy trust replaces them.
It comes as the DfE published a termination warning notice issued to Holland Park last month, following its Ofsted downgrading. Such notices are issued when the government is considering terminating an academy’s funding agreement and transferring it to a new trust.
Three trusts in race for scandal-hit school
Now the local RSC is considering a shortlist including not only United Learning, but also another large trust, the Harris Federation, and a local academy co-sponsored by Kensington and Chelsea, according to the council’s documents.
The local authority announced today it would step up its battle for a “local” MAT to run the school, by offering a £1 million loan over three years to standalone Kensington Aldridge Academy to show it has resources “equivalent” to its larger rivals.
They said Kensington Aldridge, located near Grenfell Tower and also sponsored by Aldridge Education, was “outstanding” and could help HPS, despite only having one school and not yet having formed a multi-academy trust. The loan would be secured against the £3.26 million reserves held by Holland Park.
Schools Week analysis suggests the level of reserves makes Holland Park the 20th wealthiest single-academy trust nationwide, with the pot almost five times higher than the average SAT.
United Learning recently told parents it would allow the school to keep its own reserves, rather than pooling them with trust-wide funds. It also promised it could keep its uniform and elected parent governors.
Large reserves, large resources needed
Council documents say the DfE has indicated “significant resources” are needed to address issues exposed by a recent school investigation into wide-ranging failures flagged by staff and pupil whistleblowers.
Both Harris and United Learning have indicated “they can mobilise 15 members of staff” to do this, it states. But the council claims no large MAT would have “sufficient spare resources” to inject cash, and would “likely” tap reserves eventually to fund it too as any successful bidder could.
The loan is intended to address fears KAA “does not have the upfront resources” to tackle issues “at pace”.
Councillor Catherine Faulks, lead member for family and children’s services, said: “Parents and staff have been clear – a national MAT is not a fit for Holland Park.
“We are choosing to back our communities, listen to local teachers, and make the best possible outcome for the school viable.”
The council acknowledges parent campaigners’ first preference is avoiding a MAT, but claims their preference if needed is for KAA. Some parents do back United Learning, but it is “not clear how many”, the council says.
Holland Park School, the Harris Federation, United Learning and the DfE have been approached for comment.