A regional schools commissioner is “hopeful” she has found an academy trust that is “ready and able” to take over an orphan school left in academy conversion limbo for ten years.
Since being put in special measures and issued an academy order in April 2011, Hanson School in Bradford has been shunned by three potential sponsors and was last year rated ‘inadequate’ again.
Issues relating to a private leisure provider on the site, an annual £1 million PFI contract and a deficit which is now expected to have surpassed £5 million have scuppered academy conversions.
Challenged by MPs today, Beer – who is the RSC for Lancashire and West Yorkshire – revealed she was “really hopeful that we have a sponsor identified that is ready and able to take the school”.
Pressed on three trusts already being lined up to take over the school but later walking away, Beer added she was “hopeful that if I was to talk to you in the not too distant future I’d be able to confirm a sponsor and give you a conversion date”.
It potentially marks a big breakthrough for the local authority-maintained school – which has been waiting by far the longest of any school to be converted into an academy after deemed to be failing. The school has been in special measures for the majority of the past ten years.
The Department for Education said it could not name the trust, or provide further details of when an announcement would be made.
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns raised the issue of “orphan” schools at an education select committee today. National schools commissioner Dominic Herrington said finding sponsors for such schools is “our top priority”, adding they had been working “ferociously” to do so.
He revealed that two years ago, 200 schools were going through the conversion process. That’s now down to 76, and “most of those will open this year as academies… We’re getting down to a very small number,” he added.
But Mearns later pointed out the committee previously raised concerns when there were 40 orphan schools, adding: “Now there are over 70 it is less of a problem, apparently?”
Herrington said there was often “very complicated” land or capital issues in such schools, with questions that “go back years on who owns the land in that space. These things take a long time. In this situation we will always ensure there is a plan for improvement.”
It has also emerged that the Falcon Education Academies Trust – the “bad bank” trust set up by the government to take over such schools – has since taken on a second school, Royds Academy in Leeds.
When asked about the effectiveness of Falcon, Herrington said it provides “one extra tool in the locker” for RSCs.
On Hanson, Beer said the school had been supported through emergency funding and by the region’s opportunity area programme. It has been reported the school’s deficit is now expected to have risen to £5.1 million.