OGAT and Inspiration trustee David Earnshaw to chair DfE's new trust for orphan schools

David Earnshaw, the chair of the Outwood Grange Academies Trust, will chair a new academy trust set up to take on schools shunned by other sponsors, Schools Week can reveal.

Earlier this month, Gavin Williamson, the new education secretary, announced plans to pilot a specialist academy trust to take on those institutions often dubbed “schools no-one wants” or “orphan schools” in the north of England.

Schools Week revealed last September how failing schools are being left in limbo as a result of complex legal issues, with one now waiting eight years to become an academy.

The DfE has also been forced to hand millions to academy trusts to take on schools abandoned or handed over by their previous sponsors.

Now it has emerged that the new trust, the Falcon Education Academies Trust, will be chaired by Earnshaw, a former headteacher and technology company director who also sits on the board of the Inspiration Trust, an academy chain set up by the academies minister Lord Agnew.

According to Companies House, Earnshaw was appointed as a director of the new chain on August 1. Other directors include Christopher Dalzell, also an OGAT trustee, and Margaret Brown.

Earnshaw is also one of three controlling “members” of the new trust, along with Felicity Gillespie, a former adviser to the DfE and director of early years investment fund Aurora and Thomas Attwood, a trustee of the T4 academy trust and a former trustee of The Kemnal Academies Trust.

Schools Week understands the trust intends to appoint other trustees with “extensive expertise” in school improvement and financial management.

Earnshaw’s appointment is likely to raise eyebrows among critics of the academies sector because of his association with two controversial trusts.

OGAT, often praised by ministers, has faced criticism over its use of suspensions and its “flattening the grass” assemblies. Staff told Schools Week how pupils were regularly screamed and shouted at, sometimes until they began to cry, and that pupils were regularly excluded simply for “disrupting” assemblies, even by slouching or not facing the front.

Inspiration has also attracted criticism over the approach of some of its schools to managing behaviour and exclusions. However both trusts specialise in turning around failing schools and boast impressive Ofsted records.

The DfE said earlier this month that the new trust will be “expected” to take on the most challenging schools by “offering a route into a strong academy trust that allows school improvement to begin immediately”.

And today, a spokesperson said Earnshaw’s work at Outwood Grange Academies Trust “proves he has a track record, and the necessary skills, to support and transform underperforming schools – as evidenced by Ofsted’s recent summary evaluation of OGAT”.

“The new trust has submitted an application to the department’s sponsor approval process and further details will be confirmed once that process is completed. This trust will bring additional capacity to our continual efforts to tackle underperforming schools, particularly in areas of deprivation.”

According to OGAT’s website, Earnshaw was a state secondary school headteacher before he entered the private sector as an executive board director and shareholder of two technology companies. He was also non-executive chair of a mid-sized creative design and marketing company, and managing director of a small business management company.

He received the CBE in the 2018 new year’s honours list.