Transfer of struggling academy shows pattern of delays

Analysis shows transfers take twice as long in some regions and that the speed of conversions has slowed since Covid

Analysis shows transfers take twice as long in some regions and that the speed of conversions has slowed since Covid

The transfer of an academy rated “inadequate” three times in a decade has been delayed for three months, with Ofsted warning the limbo has “hampered” improvements.

The delay at Nuneaton Academy, Warwickshire, comes as analysis reveals transfers take twice as long in some regions and that the speed of conversions has slowed since Covid.

The Department for Education also recently updated guidance to encourage “stakeholder engagement” over transfers, a move welcomed by campaigners – although it means transfers could take longer.

Nuneaton opened in 2010 after a merger of under-performing schools. It has since been rated ‘requires improvement’ twice and ‘inadequate’ three times, all under the Midland Academies Trust.

While ‘inadequate’ maintained schools are swiftly ordered to become an academy and join a trust, Nuneaton only received a warning it could be transferred to a new trust last January.

Now a transfer due last weekend to Tudor Grange Academies Trust (TGAT) has been delayed three months.

Transfer prevented ‘long-term decisions’

A TGAT spokesperson said it “became clear” government meetings to finalise details would not happen until at least this month, and revised dates gave certainty without disrupting recruitment and training.

An Ofsted monitoring visit last month found the pending transfer hampered current leaders taking “longer-term strategic decisions”.

But it said trusts were collaborating to ensure “smooth transition”.

A Midland Academies Trust spokesperson said Ofsted also praised recent progress in multiple areas. She called it an over-subscribed “school of choice”, transformed by and benefiting “extensively” from the trust.

The trust previously complained about the ‘inadequate’ rating, claiming Covid’s impact was insufficiently noted. It said Ofsted “upheld some of our objections”.

The inspectorate said it could not comment on complaints.

Schools Week analysis shows the average academy transfer time lengthened to more than six months in the year to August 2020 compared with the previous year, the most recent data available.

In the DfE’s “north” region, since renamed, transfer times more than doubled from 2.4 to 5.5 months. They increased by more than six weeks in five other regions. Lancashire and West Yorkshire had the longest transfer times at almost eight months.

More recent data is only available for conversions. Analysis shows the average gap nationally between application and opening has jumped from under six months in the early 2010s to 13 months in 2019 and 14 in 2021.

Trusts urged to conduct stakeholder engagement

Speeds have improved since Covid restrictions eased, but only to 11 months.

The updated guidance on transfers advises trusts to undertake stakeholder engagement to “explain more about the transfer, listen to questions and address any issues”.

The revisions came conspicuously soon after a High Court battle ended last month over the department’s handling of the transfer of a high-profile London academy.

Campaigners claimed Holland Park School and the DfE did not consult properly. DfE lawyers argued they undertook only limited “stakeholder engagement”, not consultation.

The judge declined to rule on defining consultation, but accepted engagement was intended to be “narrow” and the DfE’s approach had been “fair”. However, she said the DfE should have provided more information.

David Wolfe KC, who represented parent campaigners, said greater discussion would be “welcome” – but noted the DfE was still only proposing it after it signed off transfers.

The changes could alternatively be seen as an attempt to snuff out further legal challenges by defining stakeholder engagement, delineating it from consultation.

But Wolfe claimed the DfE should assume transfers required full consultation or risk further legal challenges, as the judge had “left open the question”.

Melanie Wolfe, a parent governor and no relation, said consultation still needed “real teeth” and legal requirements, with guidance non-statutory. 

Holland Park School’s transfer to United Learning finally took place four months late early this year.

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