An academy trust in Cambridgeshire has been warned it faces closure over “unacceptably low” standards at one of its academies.
The Department for Education has issued The St Neots Learning Partnership with a pre-termination warning notice, and suggested it give up one of its schools.
St Neots Learning Partnership runs Ernulf Academy, Longsands Academy and St Neots Sixth Form Centre. The notice, published today, asks directors whether “it would now be appropriate to seek an alternative academy trust” for Ernulf Academy.
A pre-termination warning notice is the first step in a chain of actions taken by the Department for Education to tackle poor performance in academy trusts, including weaknesses in safeguarding, governance or financial management.
In the letter Sue Baldwin, regional schools commissioner for the east of England and north east London, set out a series of failures at the school including performance that is “significantly below the local authority and national averages in Attainment 8, Progress 8, and the percentage of pupils achieving Grade 5 or above in English and maths GCSEs in 2017”.
She noted a lack of improvement over time, and said performance of disadvantaged pupils is “of particular concern”. The trust is also forecasting a deficit, which could hinder its ability to make improvements, she said.
“Previous visits to Ernulf Academy by my education advisers have indicated that improvements were being put in place, but they have had insufficient impact on performance,” Baldwin wrote.
The letter also warned that unless the issues raised “within a reasonable period”, the government will consider terminating the trust’s funding, which would result in its closure.
The trust is now required to respond, outlining the actions that it will take to address pupils’ underperformance at the academy, how these actions will be implemented, how their effectiveness will be measured, and the relevant timescales.
The trust hit back at the DfE’s decision to issue a pre-termination warning notice, in a press release which condemned the action as “a misguided judgment that will put the education of vulnerable children at risk” and “ignores two years of good progress at the school”.
Rick Carroll, chief executive of the St Neots Learning Partnership, said: “We know that further progress needs to be made at Ernulf Academy but we have already transformed the behaviour, attitudes and attendance of pupils and we have robust plans in place to create a step-change in educational outcomes at the school.
“The DfE has been consistently supportive of our approach during the last two-and-a-half years, but we need additional funding to complete our transformation strategy, which the DfE has failed to deliver despite encouraging our approach.”
Carroll added that Baldwin had never actually visited the academy.
“I am calling on the DfE to visit Ernulf, meet our pupils, staff and wider school community and see the difference we have made,” he said.
“It’s not too late for the government to reverse this decision and work in partnership with the school to improve outcomes for the children of St Neots.”