‘Orphan’ school shunned by 3 sponsors rated ‘inadequate’ – again

An “orphan” school that has been waiting nine years for a sponsor after being shunned by three academy trusts has been rated ‘inadequate’ again.

Ofsted inspectors found a “sizeable minority” of pupils at Hanson School, in Bradford, do not “regularly follow the rules”, with disadvantaged youngsters not achieving “as well as they should”.

The 1,600-pupil school was handed an academy order by the government in 2011 after being put in special measures.

Since then, three academy trusts have been commissioned to support the school, but all walked away. The school has been in special measures for six of the past 10 years.

As Schools Week has reported, the issues stem from unresolved talks between Bradford council and a leisure provider on the school’s site, as well as Hanson’s annual £1 million PFI contract and deficit which is now reportedly £4 million.

Since the latest trust – the Gorse Academies Trust – walked away in July last year, Bradford council has been running the school. Ofsted found the council has “begun steps to improve the school”, with leaders “starting to plan the curriculum to make sure that pupils know and remember more”.

But they said: “There has not been the stability and consistency of governance to support the school in moving forward. This means that the school has not improved.”

The current headteacher, Richard Woods who joined in April 2016, has worked with four different governing bodies and five chair of governors.

Ofsted said the current governors are now “clearer about the strengths and weaknesses of the school”.

Concerns raised included pupils’ achievement in English and humanities being consistently low and the number of exclusions being “too high”.

But the report added: “Leaders are aware that they have not won the hearts and minds of a sizeable minority of pupils.”

Jon Hairsine, chair of governors, told the Telegraph and Argus: “The recent judgement seems to me more of a reflection of the troubled recent history of the school, and does not accurately reflect the quality of the current school leadership team and governing board.

“We as new leaders are dedicated to the children who attend the school and want to make sure we give them the best start in life.”

Councillor Imran Khan, portfolio holder for education, employment and skills, added: “We hope that school is now given the chance to continue driving forward with improvements and not subjected to another disruptive move to make it an academy.”

With an academy order first issued in 2011, Hanson has been in take-over limbo for longer than any other school in the country.

The next closest is three schools that were issued orders in 2014 – meaning they’ve been waiting six years for an academy takeover.

When challenged about these schools last year by Schools Week, national schools commissioner Dominic Herrington said: “In that really small number of cases [where there are land issues], the conversations that we have with the local authority are painstaking and at times difficult. We will collaborate as intensively as we can in that situation.

“But the important thing is not to lose sight of the fact that the school has to have an improvement plan and headteachers. The Hanson School [a school in Bradford waiting seven years for a takeover] has improved – and that’s really important we keep up that progress. At the same time we’re working through all those issues… we redouble our efforts and never stop talking the LA to find ways through all those cases.”

The DfE has been approached for comment.

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  1. Philip Watson

    I spent over 20 years as an lea governor
    In my experience the children were
    Never a priority except in numbers
    I am not surprised wealthy parents
    Do not subscribe to state schools
    The school in question needs a super head an adequate budget work with the
    Council and the teachers forget the sponsor policy who only want to make
    Profits out of failure.

  2. Janet Downs

    Ofsted says policy changes have taken place and it’s too soon to see the results. Surely it would be more sensible to wait until sufficient time has gone by especially as the governors ‘are now clearer about the strengths and weaknesses of the school.’
    Hanson was not inadequate across the board: it required improvement for quality of education, personal development and sixth form provision. It was ‘leadership and management’ and ‘behaviour and attitudes’ where Hanson was judged inadequate. But the report said ‘most pupils behave well’ (although a ‘significant minority’ was criticised) and safeguarding was ‘effective’.
    Hanson provides additional provision which surely must have some impact on results, behaviour and attendance. The Additional Resource Centre provides education for 43 ‘pupils who are deaf, hearing impaired or with vision impairment’ from the ‘wider Bradford area’. Ofsted describes the ARC as a ‘strength’.
    As a consequence of taking additional SEND pupils, the proportion of SEND pupils (3.4%) is twice the national average for secondary schools (1.7%). Ofsted said ‘staff support and encourage’ SEND pupils but contradicted this by writing SEND pupils didn’t ‘achieve as well as they should’.
    Three academy trusts have tried running this school. The first, SPTA (now reborn as Delta), was criticised by the Public Account Committee for related party transactions. It hit national headlines when the then head sent pupils home for minor infringements of the school’s uniform policy. The second, WCAT, has since collapsed. The third, Gorse Academies, faced claims which it denied that it had off-rolled Hanson pupils to its own alternative-provision free school.
    It’s surely time to strike-out the academies order and let the local authority build on the tiny shoots of recovery. Keeping the school in limbo will not help. It has already let down two cohorts of young people.

    • Mark Watson

      So “steady as she goes” is the mantra. Anything to avoid the evil academies programme from getting involved.

      However, no academy trust was involved when the school received (in today’s terminology) a “Requires Improvement” rating in March 2008, no was any trust involved when it was rated Inadequate and put into Special Measure in November 2010.

      You say “three academy trusts have tried running this school”, but that’s not the case. According to the article three academy trusts “were commissioned to support the school, but all walked away”. It may seem the same but it’s a massive practical distinction. These academy trusts were contractors, brought in to provide services, and were managed and controlled by the body that made the final decision – Hanson School. If one of these academy trusts, having worked in the school, put together a plan for how to improve things this would go to Hanson School who could enact it or simply reject it.

      Imagine you’re a builder and I ask you to build my house for me. Halfway through the build you say to me you’re going to install PVC windows as they’re cost-efficient and long-lasting, but I turn round and say that I want them made out of pine. You tell me that’s a terrible idea, as pine will rot very quickly. However as the client I insist on them being made out of pine. When the windows fail, who do you blame?

      We don’t know the details, but did the three academy trusts walk away because Hanson School wouldn’t follow the advice they were given and the trusts didn’t feel they could continue to work in an environment which couldn’t be changed?

      You talk about the “local authority’s tiny shoots of recovery”. What about the tiny shoots of recovery in 2013 when, having worked with SPTA for two years it moved up from Inadequate to Requires Improvement and Ofsted said “Progress is improving across year groups”. That didn’t last long, and in February 2014 it plunged back to Special Measures.

      What underlines my position is a line in that February 2014 report that referred to the school being in the process of becoming an academy but stated clearly “At present, the local authority is responsible for the school”.

      Which brings us back to the start, and “steady as she goes”. It seems inarguable that Hanson School has been failing for 10 years. By my rough estimate, that means over 3,500 children have been failed. This is not an academy trust problem – they were not the responsible body for any of this time.

      In the last four years there have been four different governing bodies. I’m sure all of them started with the best intentions and said “this time it will be different”. Why should anyone have any confidence this time is actually going to be different?

      The governing bodies, and the local authority, have failed the children of Hanson School. How many more cohorts will have to be failed before you would support a change? If the next Ofsted report says that the green shoots have withered, would you still advocate for the Council to be given more time?

      And when it comes to a change, if the piece above is correct the reason no academy trust has taken the school on is because of a dispute between Bradford Council and an onsite leisure provider and the financial millstone of a PFI contract (entered into by, yes you’ve guessed it, Bradford Council). So the logic seems to be that Bradford Council have poisoned the chalice so that no-one else can take on the school, and therefore they are the one who should be trusted to run it.

      • Janet Downs

        Mark – when SPTA was commissioned to run Hanson it became known as Hanson Academy. Although Bradford was still nominally responsible for the school, practically it was part of SPTA (see my article linked below).
        You’re right about the curse of PFI. At the time Hanson was rebuilt, education in Bradford was not run by the council but by Serco trading as ‘Education Bradford’. The Labour gov’t awarded a ten year contract to Serco in 2001. This initiative did not improve Bradford’s education.

        • Mark Watson

          I agree with much of what your article says, but disagree strongly in the conclusions you draw.

          So firstly I agree with your position that the school is a Foundation School, not an academy. However having read the whole of your article I can’t find anything there to support your contention that “practically it was part of SPTA”. It was, and still is, a Foundation School. That means that the Governing Body, and to an extent Bradford Council, are responsible for running the school. The fact they may have delegated the task to SPTA via some form of contract does not in any way allow the Governing Body / Bradford Council to avoid their responsibility. If SPTA weren’t up to the job, they should have been removed and another option chosen. Sitting on your hands and saying “the person I got to do the job isn’t doing it properly, but I’m just going to leave them to it” isn’t acceptable.

          As for the PFI, it seems you know more about the background than me. But whether it was a Labour Government or a Labour Council that saddled Hanson School with its current predicament, there is absolute certainty that it wasn’t an academy trust. And given academy trusts don’t have the deep pockets of local authorities, and cannot borrow to prop up a school that loses money, if the payments under a PFI contract make a school financially nonviable then that’s not the fault of any academy trust (whose Board would be breaching multiple legal duties by taking such a school on).

        • Mark Watson

          One request though if you have a moment. Your article which you link to refers to the NAO saying “informal measures such as local support were more effective than academy conversion”. Can you just clarify where they said this as I’d like to look at it in context?

    • exstaff

      Leadership and management failing EVERYTIME in majority of the OFSTED reports- yet they stay the same apart from the everchanging head. The deputy is the most corrupt one goin g and really runs the school- go figure

    • Mark Watson

      Gorse Academies have what?

      If you’re saying that The Gorse Academies Trust have run the school then I’d have to reiterate that’s not the case. If you’re basing your statement on the website you’ve linked to then I’d say:

      1. Those comments are made by people who say they were employed by The Gorse Academies Trust. That academy trust consists of 11 schools – by the looks of is there is no indication that any of the people posting on that website worked at Hanson School.

      2. Assuming The Gorse Academies Trust was commissioned to support the school then they probably brought over some of their own employees and had them work in Hanson School, but the existing Hanson School workforce would have remained employed by the Governing Body or Bradford Council. Any formal employment decision, be it disciplinary, dismissal or redundancy, could only have been carried out by the Governing Body or Bradford Council.

      3. If Hanson School had been failing for 10 years, then (without any specific knowledge of the school) I’d be gobsmacked if there weren’t some people in the school who needed to be moved on to allow the school to change and improve. No organisation fails for 10 years if it only employs brilliant people. And if people were moved on they tend to say it was as a result of a terrible employer – it’s human nature not to admit it might have been their fault.