Trust to give up ‘coasting’ schools as first intervention published

Government had concerns over Eastern MAT's 'capacity to deliver rapid and sustained improvements' given its Ofsted 'track record' this year

Government had concerns over Eastern MAT's 'capacity to deliver rapid and sustained improvements' given its Ofsted 'track record' this year

15 Apr 2023, 5:00

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A trust has agreed to give up two of its schools as it becomes the first in England to fall foul of the government’s “coasting” crackdown.  

Bosses from Eastern MAT have been issued with termination warning notices for Queensway Infant Academy and Nursery in Norfolk and West Row Academy in Suffolk. 

They appear to be the first published warnings to an academy trust under new government powers to force “coasting” schools with two consecutive less-than-good inspections into new chains.

Intervention based on Ofsted ‘track record’

Department for Education officials have threatened to transfer the schools to an alternative chain amid concerns for Eastern’s “capacity to deliver rapid and sustained improvements” at the sites, in the letters published today.

It follows Ofsted’s decision to rate the academies “requires improvement” last year, after inspectors witnessed “low-level disruption in some classes” at West Row and lessons that failed to “build on what pupils already learned” at Queensway.  

The missives penned by east of England regional director Jonathan Duff stated worries over the MAT’s ability to turn around the schools stemmed from its “track record in inspections since January 2022”. 

“The trust is currently engaging with the department to transfer the academy to a strong trust,” he said in both letters. 

“Although you have agreed to work with the department on a transfer, I intended to issue a termination warning notice to reflect the academy remains subject to this intervention power, and the trust remains accountable for the pupils until the transfer takes place.” 

Duff said he will consider whether to terminate the schools’ funding agreements and transfer them to alternative trusts if Eastern does not “implement the actions set out” in its own development plan. 

Trust oversaw just one RI rating

The new intervention powers, introduced in September, came despite warnings from Ofsted they could encourage “quick fixes to avoid a second RI”.

Sector leaders were also concerned that inspection grades prior to a school either converting to an academy or joining a new trust also count.

The visits to Queensway and West Row carried out by Ofsted were the first since the schools were taken on by Eastern six years ago.  

Both primaries were rated ‘requires improvement’ prior to joining the trust. Normally, ‘requires improvement’ schools are reinspected within 30 months, but new academies get an Ofsted fresh start.

When reporting on Queensway last April, inspectors noted “leaders have developed a shared vision for school improvement”, having established which areas needed “further work”. 

But at West Row, inspectors stated “trustees have previously been too slow to act to address weaknesses”, despite noting staff were encouraged by the appointment of a new principal. 

Latest accounts show Eastern has 14 academies educating almost 4,900 children in all. 

In the documents, leaders conceded ratings of its seven primary academies had been “mixed” last year, with the Queensway and West Row outcomes “expected”. “Significant capital programmes” were planned for the schools.  

The expected departures of Queensway and West Row from Eastern MAT will take the number to have left the chain in the last two years to three.  

King Edward VII Secondary Academy in Norfolk was taken over by the Inspiration Trust after being rated ‘requires improvement’ twice and ‘inadequate’ once between 2017 and 2021.  

‘Schools adversely impacted by Covid and recruitment’

When asked about the DfE’s decision to issue the termination warning notices, Eastern MAT CEO Paul Shanks insisted he is working “to ensure the very best outcomes for” both schools.  

He told Schools Week both academies “remain on a positive trajectory to good at their next inspection” despite being “adversely impacted” by Covid and recruitment challenges.  

“The trust has been working closely with the regional director’s office and has chosen to voluntarily work towards transferring Queensway Academy to a new trust by May 1,” Shanks continued. 

“We are confident of the sustained improvement in the trust’s academies with the successful recent inspection at Nelson Academy highlighting the effective support leaders receive. Raleigh Infant Academy also achieved a good Ofsted outcome, having joined the trust as inadequate.” 

Figures obtained by the National Education Union under the freedom of information act in February show 218 schools were informed they are “coasting”.

First reported by the Education Uncovered website, the FOI shows just 17 face further intervention. Twelve of those were academies, issued with formal warning notices, while five council schools were issued with academy orders.

The government said “coasting” schools that avoid intervention will “continue to be monitored”.

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