A multi-academy trust for excluded pupils will take over a failing school even though Ofsted rated its first school ‘inadequate’ – in a move that appears to contradict ministerial wishes that trusts must raise standards before being allowed to expand.
One of two alternative provision schools run by the Brighton-based Olive Academies MAT received Ofsted’s worst possible grade in January this year, but has nevertheless had a government go-ahead to continue with its takeover of a failing pupil referral unit in Suffolk from September.
The decision goes against an edict from the children’s minister Edward Timpson, who said regional schools commissioners only want MATs to expand if they have demonstrated a “capacity to drive improvement”, which includes strong inspection judgments.
But Mark Vickers, the MAT’s chief executive, said government advisers visited Olive AP Academy in Essex after it received its grade, as well as its sister academy in Havering, and reassured the trust that it could continue with plans to take over the Kingsfield Centre, a failing pupil referral unit currently run by Suffolk County Council.
The scrutiny has been very thorough. We have welcomed it as a test
Olive AP academy, which was itself a PRU in special measures when it joined Olive Academies two years ago, now has a new headteacher after inspectors found poor safeguarding procedures, low attendance, and not enough pupils integrating back into mainstream schools.
“The scrutiny has been very thorough. We have welcomed it as a test,” said Vickers, adding that the government’s AP advisers and Ofsted’s monitoring inspectors would return to make sure improvements were on track.
But Local Schools Network, a group that supports local authority-run schools, said councils should get the same chance to improve their schools.
Janet Downs, a member of the group, told Schools Week that small MATs with a failing “lead academy” should not be allowed to expand until that school’s Ofsted grade was ‘good’ or better.
Nor, she added, should struggling PRUs be obliged to become academies, since many have a history of improvement under local authorities.
Of 350 pupil referral units in the country, 280 are rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, Ofsted data shows. Thirty-three require improvement or are inadequate; 37 have not yet been inspected.
The second Olive Academies school, an alternative provision academy in east London’s Havering, has yet to be inspected. It joined the trust in September and is due to be inspected within three years.
It is not the first time a MATs with failing schools has been allowed to expand, even when the DfE has banned one from doing so.
Sixteen MATs are currently “paused” from taking on more schools due to poor performance, according to Schools Week analysis.
But the Djanogly Learning Trust, which runs four schools in Nottingham, was given a green light to take over Springfield Primary School in April last year despite being on the government’s pause list, and the school opened under the trust in September.
James Croft, the executive director of the Centre for the Study of Market Reform of Education, said MATs took on serious financial and reputational risks when they opened new schools and needed support in making any improvements.
“If they’re showing they’re on top of the problems, then of course they should be allowed to continue to grow,” he said.