Trust threatens legal action after academies minister terminates school's funding

A trust has threatened legal action after the academies minister ruled an ‘inadequate’ school must be handed to a new trust because the chief executive was not being “held to account”.

Baroness Berridge issued a termination notice to the Khalsa Academies Trust yesterday over Khalsa Secondary Academy, a south Bucks free school put in special measure over safeguarding failures.

During an inspection in December, Ofsted discovered a “serious incident” was “under investigation by the appropriate authorities”. As well as safeguarding failures, Ofsted also criticised the school for starting GCSEs in year 7.

The trust was warned the school could be rebrokered and told to submit an action plan.

But Berridge, in the termination letter published yesterday, said trustees had “failed to show” they have a “robust understanding” of the role of a central leadership team – particularly the chief executive. The letter added there was a “lack of evidence” the CEO, Nick Kandola, was being “held to account”.

Too much responsibility for delivering and monitoring improvements at the academy sits with the headteacher

The letter said “too much responsibility for delivering and monitoring improvements at the academy sits with the headteacher, staff and local governing body” and the trust failed to show it has the “necessary experience or knowledge to improve a failing school”.

Berridge added: “The strong preference of the department is for the academy to transfer to a strong performing sponsor that will respect the Sikh ethos of the school.”

The trust, in a letter to parents, said it was “shocked and angered” at the termination decision, adding: “We will be considering all options, including a legal challenge.”

In a letter sent to Berridge, seen by Schools Week, Khalsa chair of trustees Shaminder Rayatt accused the government of ignoring the findings of an independent review it commissioned by the Confederation of School Trusts that “praised the progress that the school and trust is making”.

Rayatt said the timing of the decision was “very insensitive and wholly inappropriate because we are in the middle of planning the re-opening of our schools in an unprecedented situation”.

She added the trust had also been disadvantaged as they believe the school would now be rated ‘good’, but Ofsted inspections have been suspended because of the coronavirus. An audit report in March was also said to have found safeguarding was “effective”.

The trust added: “We will continue to fight against this injustice and will do everything we can to get the DfE to reverse their decision.”

Ofsted inspectors visited the school after a complaint raised “serious concerns”. While inspectors found “many pupils are very happy”, leaders had “not made sure that pupils are safe” and not followed “essential safeguarding processes when recruiting staff”.

The report stated: “Leaders, including those at trust and governance level, have not learned from serious safeguarding failures. They have not acted with the urgency required.”

The timing is very insensitive and wholly inappropriate

Inspectors found “required polices” were out of date, incomplete or missing. Some staff we not “safeguarding trained” and some working as safeguarding leads “have out-of-date training and qualifications”.

Pupils also focused on GCSE examinations from year 7 which does “not provide them with similar breadth of learning to the national curriculum”.

The trust said it had taken steps to improve following a minded to terminate notice issued in March, including appointing new trustees, an experience headteacher and a “rapid” improvement plan “should reasonably address any concerns”.

However Dame Kate Dethridge, regional schools commissioner north west London and south central England, recommended the funding agreement was terminated.

The decision was escalated to Berridge because of the “level of interest shown by community stakeholders in the future of the academy”.

She said the funding agreement will be terminated on October 31 “at the latest”. It’s one of the first major public decision made by Berridge, who replaced Lord Agnew earlier this year.

The trust, which runs two other schools – one of which is ‘good’ and the other ‘outstanding’ – was also issued a financial notice to improve in February.

It followed concerns the board “failed to act quickly to ensure that the trust had adequate financial skills in place following concerns around the financial performance of the trust” and was ordered to commission an independent review.

Accounts for last year show the trust posted a deficit on general funds of £186,568.

This is due to a prior year adjustment of £256,607 relating to a reclassification of historical capital spend from the general funds to the restricted fixed asset reserves.

The accounts state that auditors Haines Watt have “accepted responsibility for the historical classification mistake”.

The trust said it has a “three-year financial plan in place to resolve the deficit position through significantly increased lettings income and other income generation activities”.