Oldham College pulls out of academy sponsorship

A college has severed its ties with two academies because it says it is no longer “feasible” to sponsor them.

Oldham College (pictured) is relinquishing control of Waterhead Academy and Stoneleigh Academy, also in Oldham, from the summer break, saying that a move away from vocational education in schools is one reason for the decision.

The college said the “world of education” had changed “rapidly” and, aside from worries about the curriculum, it did not have the “capacity” to cope with school improvement.

A spokesperson said: “The school curriculum no longer embraces any of the vocational or technical subjects which the college teaches.

“Even more significant is that academy sponsorship is no longer feasible on a small scale. Sponsors need to be committed to growing large groups of schools with all the associated capacity that this brings to the challenge of school improvement.”

He said funding and policy changes to the college’s “core business” of post-16 education were “dramatic and disruptive”.

The decision was supported by Richard Atkins, former president of the Association of Colleges, who said that to be successful, multi-academy trusts (MATs) run by colleges needed about a dozen schools.

“Colleges get into difficulty when senior management attempts to run one or two schools on a day-to-day basis. They start to take their eye off the ball and college standards start to drop.

“You need enough capacity, for example, to appoint a chief operating officer, a head of finance and an executive headteacher for the schools who report to the MAT.”

Sir David Carter, the national schools commissioner, said in March that academy trusts with fewer than six schools “will struggle to be sustainable”. Carter said trusts needed between 10 and 20 schools.

Atkins also warned colleges of the difficulties of taking over “one or two seriously failing schools”, claiming that the best MATs will have a mix of outstanding and failing schools.

He added, however, that building MATs could be a “win-win” for schools and colleges.

“Colleges have quite a bit to offer in terms of governance, leadership and management of running autonomous education institutions, so we have quite a bit to bring.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is for colleges to decide whether to apply to become sponsors and for the regional schools commissioner to decide on their suitability based on their capacity and their track record in supporting underperforming schools.”

The two schools will be taken over by Huddersfield-based Moor End Academies Trust. Its website states that it already oversees three schools, and a pre-school.

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