An MP who is calling for a controversial academy trust to withdraw from a failing school has been physically escorted off the school’s premises during a visit to check on flood damage.
Trudy Harrison, MP for Copeland and a member of the education select committee, has called for Bright Tribe to step aside from the ‘inadequate’ rated Whitehaven Academy and accused them of “neglecting” their responsibilities to the school.
At present, academies cannot remove themselves from a sponsor, but a sponsor can choose to hand one their academies to another trust.
But Bright Tribe has no plans to quit the troubled school, a spokesperson told Schools Week.
The school was closed on November 22 following torrential rain and widespread flooding in the North West.
Harrison said she visited the school the next day following concerns about the suitability of the buildings.
During her visit a child had to be taken to hospital after an injury from falling debris, and Harrison said she witnessed flooded classrooms, broken windows, water damage and an “unbearable” smell of damp.
The MP claims she was then asked to leave by a member of staff from the Bright Tribe Trust and escorted offsite. She described the experience as “appalling” and that she had “never experienced anything like it”.
Harrison added: “I can only suspect I was asking questions they didn’t want to be asked and seeing parts of the building they would prefer I didn’t see.
“I knew it was bad, but I didn’t expect it to be this bad. My overwhelming emotion is shock that they would behave like that to an MP carrying out their constituency duty.”
A spokesperson for Bright Tribe Trust said the school’s principal Warren Turner “operates an open door policy” and on this occasion Harrison was asked to “book an appointment to return to the school site at a more convenient time”.
The spokesperson confirmed a student was taken to hospital “as a precaution” after being hit by “a fallen coat peg and piece of wood”.
The Bright Tribe Trust took over Whitehaven Academy in January 2014, and was given a slice of £5million government funding in 2015 as a “top performing sponsor” to help drive improvements in northern schools.
But an Ofsted inspection at Whitehaven in October 2016, published that December, condemned the school as “inadequate” and placed it in special measures.
In November 2016, Schools Week reported that more than 50 members of staff signed an open letter criticising the trust and issuing an official vote of no confidence in Bright Tribe’s ability to improve Whitehaven.
Since then confidence has remained low, with a community meeting scheduled next week to discuss what should be done about the school.
An Ofsted monitoring inspection in May identified “effective progress”, but the provisional progress 8 scores for 2017 show Whitehaven scoring well below average on -1.4, with just 11 per cent of pupils reaching grade five or above in maths and English GCSE compared to a local authority average of 41 per cent.
The current Year 12 cohort are all now studying level two qualifications after too few received good enough GCSEs to continue to A-Levels.
Although Harrison acknowledged the trust had “taken on a difficult school”, and commended the work of teachers put in “an impossible situation”, she said she had now run out of patience waiting to see “some kind of demonstrable progress”.
She has been in talks with the regional schools commissioner and the Department for Education about appointing a new multi-academy trust to take over from as early as Christmas.
Harrison added: “These young people’s hopes and dreams have been spoiled and every day Bright Tribe Trust is running that school is another day we are failing our students.”
A spokesperson for the trust said it had put in place “positive measures” including new leadership which showed in improved A-level results this year.
She also disputed Harrison’s claim that the trust do not visit the school, insisting a representative visits every week including a recent progress monitoring visit by the trust’s director for secondary education and a principal from another Bright Tribe Trust school. She also said the trust is carrying out “numerous works” to fix the problems with the school building.
She added: “As part of the Trust, the school leadership team intends to continue working with staff and the wider school community to continue these improvements and see Whitehaven Academy become an outstanding school for the area.”