Troubled UCAT academy trust to close, shedding seven schools

The University of Chester Academies Trust (UCAT) will close and give up all seven of its schools after leaders admitted it “cannot continue to operate financially”.

After announcing plans to walk away from four of its schools last month, UCAT has confirmed this week that it will also give up the remaining three.

Leaders say it “cannot continue to operate financially and provide the education we would wish”.

In May, the trust agreed to walk away from University Primary Academy Weaverham, University Academy Kidsgrove, University Primary Academy Kidsgrove and and University of Chester Academy Northwich.

It will now also surrender University of Chester CE Academy, University Academy Warrington and University Church Free School.

A spokesperson said the board was reconfigured in early June and had worked alongside Christine Quinn, the regional schools commissioner for the west Midlands to appoint five new trustees “to help address the challenges faced by the trust”.

However, following the decision to rebroker the University of Chester CE Academy, UCAT’s board “has taken the decision that the trust cannot continue to operate financially and provide the education we would wish with only two schools and has therefore asked the DfE to rebroker all its schools, before the trust formally winds up its activities”.

David Wootton, the newly-appointed chair, said the trust’s focus was on improving the life chances and education of pupils and supporting local communities, and “as such it needed to address where this fell short”.

“We needed to plan the best way forward for the future. Given the situation, the board has reached a view that the trust cannot continue,” he said.

The trust’s three primary and four secondary schools are located across Chester, Warrington and Staffordshire. UCAT said it will work with the DfE to help find new trusts for the schools and make the transition “as smooth as possible”.

A spokesperson for the DfE said all seven schools would be transferred to new trusts “with the capacity and expertise to rapidly improve standards for pupils”.

“We are now working to find alternative trusts as quickly as possible,” he added.

In January 2017, the trust was slammed by Ofsted for failing in its school improvement strategies and “below average” standards in some of its schools. In May this year it received a formal warning from the Education and Skills Funding Agency to get its finances in order after racking up a £3 million deficit, and confirmed it was considering cutting 24 support staff and 19 teaching roles across its schools.