Leading AP academy trust to close

A leading academy trust for excluded and vulnerable learners is to close and give up its seven schools after its financial position became “unsustainable”.

The TBAP trust has confirmed it will relinquish its alternative provision schools in London and Cambridgeshire, and that the move had been approved by the academies minister, Baroness Berridge.

It follows a tumultuous few years for the trust, which already recently relinquished two of its schools in Essex and Warrington.

“As is well known, the trust has undergone a challenging time financially in recent years and despite its best efforts, the trust’s financial position has become unsustainable,” a trust spokesperson said.

“It has therefore reached the difficult decision to enter a process to transfer its remaining seven academies in London and Cambridgeshire to other trusts. TBAP remains committed to delivering strong outcomes for its learners and we believe the transfers are in the best long-term interests of learners and staff.”

The trust was issued with a financial notice to improve in August 2018 after failing to set a balanced budget for the year. The notice came followed a request from the trust for advance funds of £300,000 from the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The ESFA subsequently had to provide a further £650,000.

Schools Week later revealed the DfE had approved TBAP to take over two schools and open two new ones despite it being £1 million in deficit, and that the trust had also needed a bailout to help pay its pension contributions.

The trusts’s accounts for 2017-18, published in February last year, revealed how the trust had unknowingly racked up a £2.4 million deficit because of a “systematic” failure in its financial systems.

Last year, the trust was also criticised by Ofsted after inspectors arrived at one of its schools to find more than a third of staff were missing. The report into TBAP Aspire AP Academy in Harlow, Essex, found the trust had an “inaccurate” view of the effectiveness of the school.

In October, the trust confirmed it would give up Aspire and its New Horizons AP academy in Warrington.

The trust’s latest accounts, published this January, revealed its borrowing had increased to £1.9 million. At the time, the trust disclosed fears about its “ongoing financial sustainability”, and blamed late payments from cash-strapped local authorities for its woes.

Government trouble-shooter Angela Barry even joined the troubled trust to help sort out its finances, but the organisation confirmed today its efforts to recover had failed.

The spokesperson said the education and welfare of learners, as well as the needs of staff, would remain its “top priority” during the transfer of its schools, and that it would work with regional schools commissioners “to ensure each academy joins a trust committed to improving outcomes for learners, while offering excellent professional development opportunities for staff who transfer”.

“The trust will receive financial support from the ESFA until all the transfers are complete. Once its financial obligations have been met in full, the trust will be dissolved as a solvent entity.”

The trust today pointed to its “proven track record of expertise and success”, adding that learners at TBAP academies “have outperformed the Alternative Provision (AP) national average for GCSE results year after year”.

The spokesperson said Berridge’s letter confirming the rebrokerage of the remaining schools “noted in particular the educational strength of TBAP’s executive team”, and the “inspiring vision” the CEO Seumas Oates had brought to the trust.