A turnaround academy trust launched by the government to take on schools nobody else wants is set to be shut down.
Ministers unveiled Falcon Education Academies Trust, as part of a pilot called EdMAT in 2019, with the original remit of absorbing the most challenging primaries and secondaries in the north.
Even though the trust was later given the go-ahead to branch out nationwide, it now has just four schools – spread across Stockton-on-Tees, Leeds, Birmingham and Swadlincote – on its books.
Schools Week can reveal it will now close in the 2023-24 academic year, after the Department for Education decided not to extend the trial.
Government ‘no longer needs’ academy trust
A DfE spokesperson said: “The EdMAT pilot has supported schools facing a variety of challenges and has delivered benefits to pupils, parents and staff and the communities those schools serve.
“The trust landscape has changed since the launch of the pilot, with the growth of the sector and high-quality trusts, and we no longer need a chain focused exclusively on schools requiring intervention.”
Falcon accounts published in March said it was established to “take on and turn around very challenging schools… which MATs have been unwilling” to run.
This is usually because the establishments “have significant sustainability and infrastructure issues that present too great a risk” to a prospective trust.
The DfE-backed chain was intended to secure the long-term viability of the academies, before transferring them to “another successful MAT”. It was hoped this would free Falcon up to then turn around more schools.
Covid blamed for missed targets
Prior to the outbreak of Covid, it was initially planned that the trust would have three academies under its wing by the end of August 2020.
However, it did not reach this mark until last April. It took on its last school – William Allitt Academy in Swadlincote – in September.
Schools Week revealed two years ago that Falcon’s trustees believed its pilot status and small size might “inhibit applications” to become its new chief executive, suggesting its government-backed status failed to tempt recruits.
Applicant numbers for the role were “disappointing”, despite an executive search as well as an advertising campaign.
Falcon’s latest accounts – which showed it had “free reserves” of £1 million at the end of August – noted the delays “will impact levels of funding and lengthen the time before [it] achieves capacity”.
They also mentioned one of its “priorities” was “to ensure it is able to build capacity to support further schools” this year. Another aim was to “effect a successful transfer of one [academy] out of the trust to another”.
Three schools set for new academy trusts
But the DfE confirmed it has “notified Falcon we do not wish to continue the pilot”. It is “working jointly with the trust to agree what will happen to each school”, before taking “the steps necessary to close” it.
Falcon stressed three of its three secondaries – Oulton Academy in Leeds, Thornaby Academy in Stockton-on-Tees and the William Allitt – are “strong enough” to join another chain.
Meanwhile, a decision “has not yet been reached” on its fourth site, the King Solomon International Business School in Birmingham.
Anne-Marie Holdsworth, who heads Falcon, stated her team has transformed academies “many thought could never be improved, whether because of financial, building or academic issues”.
“We will ensure each of the three schools join new trusts that will continue their upward trajectories for the benefit of their students.”