Northern Education Trust hit with pre-warning notice for three academies

A pre-warning notice letter has been issued to the Northern Education Trust, due to “unacceptably low” standards of performance at North Shore, The Blyth and Thomas Hepburn Academies.

The Trust was sent the letter on March 11, 2016 by Vicky Beer (pictured left), regional schools commissioner for Vicky BeerLancashire and West Yorkshire, and details of the notice were published on the website on August 26.

The North Shore Academy, which has been run by the Northern Education Trust since 2012, will see Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening appoint additional governors if changes are not made within a “reasonable period of time”.

The academy has come under criticism because attainment for pupils achieving 5 or more A*-C GCSEs (including English and maths) has declined over a three year period.

In 2013, the proportion of students achieving this result was 53 per cent, but this has subsequently dropped to 40 per cent in 2014, and 34 per cent in 2015.

While progress in English has improved over the same period, maths results have fluctuated and Beer concluded that “too few pupils are making the expected progress”.

North Shore came under fire last year, when then principal Andy Rodgers was suspended due to investigation by Pearson, the company which owns exam board Edexcel, into concerns about the way a GCSE maths exam had been conducted and overseen. Rodgers subsequently resigned from his post.

The Northern Education Trust has also been issued with a termination warning notice for The Blyth Academy, which is has run since 2013, due to more poor performance.

If this notice is not complied with in “a reasonable period of time”, then a written notice of intention to terminate the academy’s funding agreement will be issued.

This is due to attainment for pupils achieving 5 or more A*-C GCSEs (including English and maths) remaining significantly below the minimum standard of 40 per cent – the proportion of students gaining these grades has sat at only 29 per cent for 2014 and 2015.

While English progress at this academy has also shown some improvement over the same period, maths has declined and not enough pupils are making the expected progress.

Finally, the Thomas Hepburn Academy has also been issued with a termination warning notice, which again may result in a termination of its funding agreement if the appropriate changes are not made.

The number of pupils achieving 5 or more A*-C GCSEs (including English and maths) at Thomas Hepburn was 37 per cent in 2014, but declined to 33 per cent in 2015.

Both English and maths showed some improvement in 2014, but declined in 2015 to 34 per cent and 43 per cent respectively.

The Trust has fifteen working days from the date the letter was sent to outline the actions it will take to improve performance, and to explain how these actions will be implemented, how their effectiveness will be measured and under what timescales.

The Northern Education Trust was unable to provide a comment by the time of publication.


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  1. The publication of this letter is five months after it was sent. When it eventually appeared it was on the Friday before a bank holiday. Obviously a good day to bury bad news. It raises the question about how many similar letters are in the pipeline.
    Well done Schools Week for discovering this late publication. A cynic might say it was deliberate to avoid negative publicity surrounding the Education Bill.

  2. Mark Watson

    Alternatively, why not actually consider the substance of the story. Three schools have “unacceptably low standards of performance” and as a result the organisation running them has been told that if they don’t turn things around the schools will be taken off them and given to an organisation that will improve them.

    Surely that’s a good thing, and something that can only happen thanks to the academies programme. Back in the day if a local authority school had such low levels of performance it would have been left with that local authority and, as happened to so many schools, the likelihood is it would have stayed at that level.

    I picked one of these schools to look into at random – The Blyth Academy. Before it became an academy it was an LA school and rated as Requires Improvement (in current terms) in 2003, 2005 and 2008. In 2012 it was rated Inadequate and placed in Special Measures – 18 months and three inspections later it was determined not to be making progress towards the removal of special measures. Personally, I don’t think that’s a great example of how to run a school.

    One of the main points of the academies programme is not that all academy trusts are excellent, but that when an academy trust is not good enough to run schools as well as they should be then there is a choice. Before it became an academy the parents of children at Blyth Academy (or Blyth Community College as was) were stuck with Northumberland Council who for more than 10 years hadn’t managed to get the school to a Good rating. Thinks might not be ideal now, but at least they have a chance to change the future.

    • In 2005 and 2008, Satisfactory meant what it said: satisfactory.
      Your argument that being Satisfactory is evidence that Blyth Community College was ‘stuck’ with Northumberland Council which, you imply, didn’t support the school is undermined by inspection reports. 2005 inspection spoke positively of LA support. Ofsted monitoring after the Inadequate verdict in 2012 said LA support had been ‘effective and rapid’ (Sept 2012) and ‘effective [and] strategic’ (May 2013). It was only after external support was reduced (and the school was on the brink of becoming an academy) that monitoring revealed a decline.
      The academy was upgraded to RI in May 2015. Monitoring in October 2015 said NET was taking ‘effective’ action to address weaknesses. NET, then, is behaving in exactly the same way as the LA had done but, according to the Regional Schools Commissioner, isn’t doing enough (just as you imply the LA hadn’t done enough).

      • Mark Watson

        Prior to 2012 ‘Satisfactory’ was the third highest rating out of four possible options. In 2012 I had sympathy with the statement that “Just good enough is frankly not good enough” but now as a parent, with a child who will be starting school next year, I am absolutely certain that ‘satisfactory’ is not good enough. I want the education given to my child to be ‘good’ as an absolute minimum.
        I did not say that Blyth was stuck with Northumberland because of their rating, they were stuck with them because there was no other option until the academies programme. I’m also not saying that Northumberland would not have got the school out of Special Measures eventually (although it didn’t manage to do so for more than 18 months until it became an academy), but given the history of the school before it was rated as Inadequate (ten years of being rated at the equivalent of ‘Requires Improvement) why would anyone think that when it did get out of Special Measures and it wouldn’t just stick at RI for the foreseeable future. That wouldn’t be good enough for me as a parent.
        BTW, you seem to be saying that once the school had decided to become an academy the council reduced their external support which is why the Ofsted report of September 2013 is so damning: “achievement across the school is inadequate”, “levels of achievement declined sharply compared with 2012”, “learning was inadequate in nearly half of the lessons”, “no example of outstanding teaching were seen”. If indeed support was reduced because of the impending academisation then I think that is a frankly disgusting betrayal of the pupils attending that school whose education chances were sacrificed. If on the other hand this was not the case, then it would seem the apparent improvements seen in the previous two monitoring inspections were illusory. Indeed the September 2013 report did say that “the overall level of external support has reduced over time”.
        Any finally why do you think I am in any way supportive of NET? If they can’t do any better with the school than getting it to ‘Requires Improvement’ then I don’t think they’re doing enough. Someone needs to come in and make it a good school – the council couldn’t do it, and if NET can’t do it then rebroker the school and bring in an academy MAT who will finally give the community in Blyth a ‘good’ school.

    • ‘Back in the day if a local authority school had such low levels of performance it would have been left with that local authority and, as happened to so many schools, the likelihood is it would have stayed at that level.’
      This is a generalisation not backed up by evidence. The National Audit Office found the opposite was true – schools which received informal interventions such as local support were more likely to improve that those which received formal intervention such as academy conversion.
      Academy conversion, particularly with a sponsor, is promoted as a magic bullet for school improvement. It isn’t. And it’s expensive. This expense continues when academies change hands – could be anything from £0 to £6m (admittedly an eye-watering exception). If NET loses its academies, any cost will fall to the taxpayer.

      • Mark Watson

        Just go onto the internet, talk to any local communities, and you will find example of schools which have been failing for years and years and years. Everyone knows a school in their town which they wouldn’t want to send their child to. And frankly that’s not good enough.
        Do I agree sponsored academy conversion is a silver bullet? Of course not, no system is perfect and/or foolproof. That doesn’t mean that we stick our heads in the sand and don’t try to improve a system (all schools run by LAs) that has so many demonstrable failures.
        And quoting expenses of £0 to £6m is meaningless. If the average expense is £1,000 then it’s not expensive – if the average is £1,000,000 then it is an unjustifiable expense.

  3. And what about schools with these issues where the local authority has a high proportion of good and outstanding schools and where it provides effective support. Using Mark’s logic it should be possible for such local authorities to be an appropriate support mechanism for ‘failing’ schools perhaps even those in neighbouring local authority areas. Why is academisation a one way trap door – why cannot struggling academies be supported by good local authorities. Unless this is purely ideological of course……

    • Mark Watson

      Nope, I agree wholeheartedly with you. All academies, whether struggling or not, can buy in support from its local authority (with the local authority setting the price for such support). In fact they can also get support from any other authority if they provide better service. That can be done now.
      Indeed, if a local authority has a great record of providing support then it makes perfect sense for them to get involved in providing this support to all schools of any type, as after all at the end of the day the outcome is that education to children is improved.
      I would also support any changes to the system that meant high-performing authorities got more involved.
      Unlike some people (and I’m really not referring to any specific person) I don’t have a fixed dogma on this. I don’t care if a school is an academy, a community school, a foundation school or a VA school. All that matters is they provide the best education possible to their children. Blinkered ideology has no place in education.

  4. But blinkered ideology is a an excellent description of the academies programme. Billions has been invested in it without a shred of evidence it will make any difference. Sure, the LA system wasn’t perfect but it has still delivered a situation where 80%+ of children were in good or outstanding schools. That investment should have been targeted to those struggling schools rather than using them as the lever to bring about a fragmentation and marketisation of the system. What we’ve got now is frankly a complete mess ripe for corruption, nepotism and waste. There is zero logic for putting all schools into ever expanding MATs which are now starting to do what many predicted they would – topslice budgets for central services by double or more than the local authority did, pay their ‘Chief Executives’ double or more what the local Director of Children’s Services earns and cherry picking kids to make them look better. Some MATS are refusing to sponsor the more vulnerable schools because of what they fear it will do to their position in the league table. It’s all nonsense, the lunatics have finally taken over the asylum and most teachers know it!

    • Mark Watson

      I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that the previous system, which had been in place for decades and decades and still was continuing to allow 20% (using your figures) of schools to be below par, was good enough. I’m also not saying that the current academies programme is perfect either and there are clearly changes that need to be made to improve it. The academies programme is not “blinkered ideology”, but some people who promote it have blinkered ideology. This is wrong. However it is equally wrong to simply dismiss it out of hand and not recognise some of the positive benefits it has brought about.
      Also please don’t buy into the hyperbolic dog-whistle nonsense that is thrown out by the idealogues without checking it first – you refer to MATs paying their Chief Executives “double or more what the local Director of Children’s Services earns”. According to Schools Week’s recent story looking at the salaries of the CEOs of the country’s biggest MATs ( the average salary was just over £170,000*. London Borough of Enfield is currently advertising for a new Director of Children’s Services with a base salary of £138,000 plus up to 10% performance related pay (which would come to a total of over £150,000). This was the first link I saw on the internet, so it is highly unlikely this is the highest salary. (BTW Christine Blower of the NUT received a salary of £106,557 and benefits of £43,603 in 2015 – a total of over £150,000.) I’m not arguing that CEOs are not paid a lot, but there is nothing to support the “many times a Director of Children’s Services” argument.
      [* this excludes the salary of the CEO of The Harris Federation which is completely out of line with any other MAT and I agree is far, FAR too high]

  5. You think that an average salary of £170k for a CEO running a handful of schools compared to £138k for a DCS who may run several hundred as well as running all of children’s social care services for an area is appropriate? And some of these CEOs are being paid additional ‘consultancy’ fees beyond their MAT salary.

    If the previous system was not ‘good enough’ then efforts should have been made to improve it – not introduce a divisive and fragmenting policy with no credible evidence to back it up, at enormous cost. If that’s not the very essence of ideology I don’t know what is.

    What are the ‘positive benefits’ the academy programme has brought – I see very little that is not a result of significant additional investment in individual schools (bribes if you like)and collaboration (which already happens extensively between maintained schools). Where’s the evidence of benefit – I’m struggling to see it.

    • Mark Watson

      But I didn’t say that did I?
      I merely pointed out that saying CEOs were paid “double or more” what DCSs were paid was wrong.
      Given that the previous system was in place for generations, and presided over by Labour and Conservative governments of every shade of red/blue, how much longer do you think it should have been given?
      The ‘evidence’ is there on the ground – go and talk to schools who had been failing for decades and who are now rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ having become academies. Yes there are examples where becoming an academy has not been successful (yet) but this is the point I’ve been trying to make. Not all academies are good, not all LA schools are good. No system is perfect, therefore take whatever the best option is to improve the quality of education at each school.

      • Clearly the CEO of Harris is paid more than double any DCS so it’s correct in that regard – and there are many examples where the pay rates in academies are excessive. I don’t think there was anything fundamentally wrong with local authorities maintaining schools – just that not all of them were as good as others at doing so. But that wasn’t a sufficiently strong justification for creating the mess we now have with no evidence base to suggest it would be any more likely to be successful. There are many many schools which have become good or outstanding through the intervention and support of good local authorities – why not share that good practice? why not allow good local authorities to be sponsors of failing schools in other LA areas? why not allow good LA’s to take back failing academies in their area? The only reason why these things are not allowed is a pathological dislike and distrust of local authorities on the part of the current education administration. That’s ideological in my view – it’s not evidence based policy making.

        • Mark Watson

          So when you stated “ever expanding MATs which are now starting to do what many predicted they would … pay their ‘Chief Executives’ double or more what the local Director of Children’s Services earns” what you actually meant was that there was one MAT in the entire country that pays more than double any DCS? I have come across many people (parents, teachers etc) who genuinely think all MAT CEOs are paid many times what DCSs are paid which is completely wrong and is fuelled by statements such as the one you made.
          And I come back to the point I have made time and time again (in this thread and others), we had generations of the previous system under Labour and Conservative governments of every shade of red/blue – none of them managed to make the previous system work so why should anyone think that someone could make it work in the future?

          • You have already accepted that MAT CEO’s earn more than DCS’s – who have a much wider responsibility so we can leave that part of the argument there. You haven’t answered the key question – where is the evidence that backs this policy up? Or if something is not working 100% do we just try any old thing to see if it makes things better, no matter how disruptive or costly. Just pointing to the previous failings of the LA system is absolutely no argument for the academies policy – and you clearly know it or you would have put forward something more persuasive. What is very clear already is that being an academy is not what makes a school good – just as being an LA school doesn’t. What makes the difference is good teaching, strong leadership, sound governance – all of which are just as prevalent in LA schools as Academies. If the Academy policy is no better than the previous one, why carry on with it? Why not focus investment on those things that are proven to make a difference rather than the one thing that has no evidence of creating success….. ? Or is it Academy=Good, LA School=Bad? Personally I would stop any more conversions until there was some evidence it’s working.

  6. Mark Watson

    How can you continue to misinterpret what I am saying?
    I have NOT accepted that MAT CEOs earn more than DCSs, and having comprehensively dismissed your first assertion (MATs pay their CEOs double or more what DCSs get) you are once again trying to make a headline-grabbing statement that has no basis in facts. What I have ACTUALLY said is that SOME MATs (and I have only referred to the biggest 13 in the country, not the 1,000 plus other MATs) pay their CEO more than the DCS of Enfield.
    If I am being pedantic it is because I am tired of reading, time and time again, people who are politically and ideologically opposed to the academies programme attempting to justify their beliefs by making misleading and false statements. The articles written by Schools Week are well researched and well written and it is disappointing that most of the comments below aren’t.

    • Mark Watson

      By the way, having thought I should practice what I preach I looked at the accounts for Northern Education Trust (which the original article above was about). The current CEO, Ian Kershaw, started on 13 October 2014 and in the period until 31 August 2015 received total remuneration of £125,699. This equates to an annual figure of just under £142,000.
      This figure includes everything payable to the CEO, so not only base salary but bonuses, allowances, benefits and pension contributions. Compare this with LB Enfield where the DCS’s advertised base salary is £138,000 on top of which there is performance related pay of up to 10% plus benefits plus pension contributions.
      I make absolutely no comment on the merits of either post, or whether either pay package is reasonable. But hopefully you could agree that Northern Education Trust’s CEO is paid less than LB Enfield’s DCS.
      And by the way, Northern Education Trust is one of the largest MATs in the country (in April 2016 it was the 16th biggest MAT out of 977 MATs in total). I would suggest that it is likely a high proportion of those 977 MATs pay their CEO less than Northern Education Trust.

  7. Mark Watson

    Now to address the rest of your diatribe. You ask me whether it is “Academy=Good, LA School=Bad”. It’s almost as though you hadn’t taken the time to read my previous response to you which said “I don’t have a fixed dogma on this. I don’t care if a school is an academy, a community school, a foundation school or a VA school. All that matters is they provide the best education possible to their children”. I’d also said to you that “Not all academies are good, not all LA schools are good” .
    So no, I don’t have a blinkered view of how things work. I agree with you 100% that the things that matter to a school are good teaching, strong leadership and sound governance. The difference between us is that if these are met by the school being an LA school or an academy it makes no odds to me. It seems however that even if being an academy would result in the school being better you would prefer that option was not available.

  8. How many schools does NET run compared to Enfield?

    Since there’s no evidence that being an academy makes any difference to a school being better then yes I would prefer that the available resources are put to better use – employing and training teachers, supporting school to school collaboration, supporting school leaders and governors. At best conversion makes no difference, at worst it’s a costly distraction. So a resounding yes – remove that option until there’s evidence that the current academies are doing better than LA schools.

    • Mark Watson

      I’m going to try one more time to get through to you. What was so hard to understand when I said “I make absolutely no comment on the merits of either post, or whether either pay package is reasonable” ?
      If you want to argue that CEOs of specific MATs don’t deserve their salary then please make that argument, and again as I’ve said above in some instances I’ll probably agree with you.
      That would be a sensible use of your time. However, when you make blatantly false and misleading statements – and I quote you “MATs pay their ‘Chief Executives’ double or more what the local Director of Children’s Services earns” and “MAT CEO’s earn more than DCS’s” – then you do yourself and your arguments a disservice.

  9. Mark Watson

    As to your second point, you say “at best conversion makes no difference, at worst it’s a costly distraction”. Do you not see how absurd it sounds when you say, without any supporting evidence, that NONE of the 5,442 schools which are academies (as at August 2016) are better off as a result ? Try telling that to the inner-London schools turned around by the likes of the Harris Federation (who, by the way, have been praised by three independent reports recently carried out by the Sutton Trust, Education Policy Institute and the DfE).
    Or are you saying that you would like someone to prove to you that ALL academies are doing better than ALL the LA schools? In which case, if someone was able to show you that Foundation Schools are better than Community Schools, or all CofE VA Schools are better than Community Schools, you would presumably support all such schools converting to Foundation / VA status?
    I believe there are problems with the academies programme – one of the main ones being how you convince a MAT to take on a failing school with crumbling infrastructure. Such problems can, and should, be looked into and the programme challenged so that whatever the future holds is better than what we have now. Objective and reasoned debate is essential.

    • I did not claim that no school has benefited from being an academy – just that there is an absence of any evidence that schools in general benefit from becoming academies. And today’s report by the EPI comes to that very conclusion in respect of KS4 outcomes. That being the case the academies policy should be paused until there is evidence that investing in it represents good value for money. My principal contention is that the status of a school is a red herring – other things are far more likely to make a difference. That being the case there is no objective rational basis for further academy conversion.

      Care to present your evidence that the academy programme as a whole is succeeding to raise standards? No, thought not.

      • Mark Watson

        YES YOU DID !!
        Your exact words were “at best conversion makes no difference, at worst it’s a costly distraction”.
        It is just not possible to have a rational discussion when you change your mind after every post.

        • To be clear. There is no evidence that converting a school to academy status raises standards. On an individual school basis there are clearly schools which have improved since converting. However improvements happen in all types of schools not just academies so one has to assess what difference the change of status made beyond other interventions such as a new head, changes of governors, an injection of cash etc.

          Where is the evidence to suggest that rolling this policy out any further will do anything to raise standards?

          • Mark Watson

            Come on, I’ve called you out on what I see as spouting blatant inaccuracies, so please have the decency to address it.
            You initially said “At best conversion makes no difference, at worst it’s a costly distraction”.
            You then said “I did not claim that no school has benefited from being an academy”.
            I say that these two statements directly contradict each other.
            If you disagree, please explain why the two statements are consistent.

  10. I do disagree. Taken across the board there is no evidence that conversion make a difference. If you have such evidence then produce it. That does not mean that in an individual case a particular school might not have benefitted from particular interventions that have happened as part of the conversion – such as a new headteacher, better governance or more money. But these, money aside, are all interventions that can and are made in schools that do not convert – they are not special to academy conversion, they do not require academy conversion. So the point still stands – academy conversion is not the step, of itself, which is likely the make the difference. And as it has a significant cost and potential disruption involved in it I would argue is not the most important or pressing action to take to improve a struggling school. I’ve answered your point – so please answer mine. Where is the evidence that, as a whole system policy, converting schools to academies leads to an improvement in educational standards……

  11. Mark Watson

    All so much blah.
    You have NOT answered my point.
    Do you think, as you first said, that none of the 5,000-odd schools that have converted to academies have benefited as a result?
    Simple question, only a yes or a no needed.

  12. Geoffrey Reilly

    Where on earth do you two find the time to carry on an argument like this?
    Capital letters too, Mark. Is that you raising your voice? Embarrassing.
    Find something useful to do, please. Use your imagination. Please.

    • Mark Watson

      Yeah, sorry about that. Hands up to feeling a little embarrassed at falling into the trap of using capital letters when frustrated.
      The reason I’ve carried this on like this is having read Schools Week articles for a long time I’d got sick and tired of reading the same old clap-trap in the comments section, with incorrect and misleading statements repeated so many times people start believing them.
      This old canard about what MATs pay their CEOs is a prime example. I’ve seen people state “as a fact” that MATs pay ten times what LAs pay their DCSs. It’s just wrong, plain and simple.
      I want debate about education. Good informed debate where people with different viewpoints discuss the matters at hand and try to persuade others of the validity of their arguments. Unfortunately too much (from all sides) seems to be dogmatic repetition of ideology. Education is too important an area to leave to the zealots.

  13. Mark Watson

    Still here. Sorry to have to break it to you that some of us have lives and have other things to do with our weekends rather than spewing out bile against those people that don’t agree with us.
    The fact is I don’t need to produce any evidence. You yourself have said that the legal status of the school makes no difference to its success. So using your logic there is no benefit in the current system either.
    I could equally ask you to provide proof that the previous system has higher standards than academy schools. And you know what, there are some reports that would back up that position and some that would say the opposite.
    The unfortunate fact is that with something so complicated and subjective as education there is no one-size-fits-all best-for-everyone approach.
    Which is why I adopt a ‘whatever is best for the individual school’ approach – be it community or academy, foundation or VA.
    You’re the one trying to impose your diktat on every school in the country, so you prove why you’re right …

  14. Mark Watson

    BTW, are you planning to respond to the thread where I’ve comprehensively disproved your ludicrous statement about “MATs pay their CEOs double or more what DCSs get” or has that now fallen into your “it’s all gone very quiet” category?

  15. Mark Watson

    Nope, sorry, you can’t try and change the discussion.
    This all started when I picked you up on your statement that “MATs pay their CEOs double or more what DCSs get”.
    Given all the evidence that I’ve set out above (note, that’s actual evidence rather than rumour and unsubstantiated gossip), are you going to acknowledge you were wrong to say that or not?