Trust seeks legal advice after council claims parents are ‘fearful’ of ‘tough love’ approach

An academy trust is seeking legal advice after an “extremely misinformed” letter from Dorset Council urged the education secretary to halt a conversion because parents are “fearful” of its “tough love” approach.

In an extraordinary letter to Damian Hinds, Sarah Parker, the council’s executive director for children, flagged a host of concerns about the proposed takeover of Budmouth College by the Aspirations Academy Trust.

She said the community has a “negative” view of the trust, including its “tough love” approach, warned the takeover would give the trust a monopoly in the area, and raised concerns about the “financial viability” of the trust.

Budmouth College has a deficit of at least £2.3 million. The college was placed in special measures following an Ofsted inspection in May 2018.

The DfE said schools under the Aspirations Academy Trust’s control have shown “significant improvement” and are confident Budmouth College will do the same.

The council told Hinds it will be “testing the legality” of what it believes was a flawed consultation process for identifying a sponsor. The letter was obtained and published by the Dorset Eye independent citizen website.

But Steve Kenning, chief executive of Aspirations, said the letter was “ill-advised” and “extremely misinformed” and that the trust has written to all staff at the school to “set the record straight”.

He added they are taking legal advice regarding the matter, but declined to provide further context on what type of advice.

Parker raised concerns that the trust would have a monopoly in the area, controlling two out of the area’s four secondary schools (Magna and Atlantic academies), which the council argues “narrows the choice considerably”.

She said: “The community do not want an Aspirations Academy by default of it being the only option available at the time.”

The Department for Education has been warned against allowing trusts to expand in areas that result in “monopolies”.

The Competitions and Markets Authority can intervene if a trust’s prevalence in an area leads to complaints and amounts to anti-competitive conduct.

Parker said, given what parents “have learnt” about Aspiration’s current schools, the “local community is very critical, even fearful, of the ‘tough love’ and ‘unreasonable’ approach with young people that is widely reported across Weymouth.”

She claimed that the “no excuses approach” adopted at the trust had resulted in pupils leaving the school through permanent exclusions, adding Budmouth needs a trust that “will support its present identity”.

The council said it is facing “several highly significant challenges” that have arisen because of a process over which it had “no control”.

Concerns were raised that the consultation on the choice of academy sponsor did not meet the requirements of the Academies Act 2010, which Dorset said it will challenge.

The council said the interim executive board, chosen by the council, was not consulted as was required.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Budmouth College dropped from an outstanding school to an inadequate school when it was maintained under the local authority.

“Aspirations Multi Academy Trust has shown significant improvement in the schools it has taken on and we fully expect this will be the case for Budmouth when it joins the Trust.

“We have received the local authority’s letter and will work with the council and the trust, where necessary, to resolve any issues and ensure the smooth transfer so that Budmouth continues to reflect the needs of its community.”

Schools Week revealed earlier this month that Magna Academy retained its ‘outstanding’ grade despite finding “exceptional levels of pupil movement”.

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    • Mark Watson


      Firstly it’s wrong that any organisation should run two out of the four secondary schools in any area. I mean, technically that’s not a monopoly. A monopoly would be where an organisation ran all the schools, like, I don’t know, Dorset Council used to do. But anyway, a proper monopoly for Dorset Council was good. A quasi-monopoly for anyone else is bad. It’s obvious really.

      Oh, and the fact that the “monopoly” would be caused by Aspirations Academy Trust already running Magna Academy is incontrovertible. The fact that Magna Academy is in Poole (33 miles and a 50 minute drive from Budmouth) does not invalidate in any way that it is in “the area” of Budmouth. Yes, the pedants among you may point out that there are at least 30 secondary schools closer to Budmouth than Magna Academy, 9 local authority schools and 21 academies (only one of which is run by Aspirations Academy Trust) but simply put THE FACTS DON’T MATTER. How dare you question the word of a Council Executive Director.

      It’s also quite right to question the financial viability of the incoming academy trust. And clearly the people we should trust to talk about financial viability are the ones who ran Budmouth College with such fiscal responsibility that it currently has a deficit of “at least £2.3 million”. Proper financial guardians are hard to come by.

      There are four secondary schools in Weymouth, if you count the Isle of Portland. Two of those are run by Dorset Council and both are Inadequate and in Special Measures. This of course is no reflection on Dorset Council which is of course the best organisation to continue to run them.

      (Oh, and just a note to Schools Week, I believe the headline should be “Trust seeks legal advice”, not “Trusts”. Only one of them you see. Singular not plural. Just a little attention to detail …)

  1. You might be interested in this article, which casts much needed further light on the Dorset Academies

    If you investigate the history of Academisation (Part 3 of my book), you will find that LA schools failing OfSTED inspections followed by forced Academisation has been a regular pattern, almost always strongly opposed by parents – strange that: you would think that parents would want the best for their children. In Part 3 of my book, should you be interested, you can find detailed, evidenced accounts of how the Labour DCFS allowed OfSTED to set up special teams to investigate the new Academies and to ‘finger’ LA schools ripe for regional Academisation. There are also extracts from laughably biased OfSTED reports of early Academies. You can read the 100% ***** reviews of my book together with the academic endorsements on Amazon, where, if you have the patience, you can also read Part 3 for nothing.

    You would learn a lot about Academisation from the history of Perry Beeches school in Birmingham and Whitehaven school in Cumbria.

    • Mark Watson

      I’m not interested in your book, which it seems almost every single one of your posts tries to plug. You have eight reviews on Amazon. Eight. For a book that’s been out for four and a half years. Oh, and only one of those reviews comes from someone who’s left more than 7 reviews in total – in online rating terms that makes the overall rating unreliable. But anyway, not interested.

      Way to ignore all the points in my comment though.

  2. Mark Watson

    Seriously, is no-one else interested in why Schools Week seem to be actively collaborating with what looks like an absolute Donald Trump sized whopper from the council’s executive director for children?

    “Parker raised concerns that the trust would have a monopoly in the area, controlling two out of the area’s four secondary schools (Magna and Atlantic academies), which the council argues “narrows the choice considerably””

    Unless I’m missing something, Magna Academy is 40 miles and over an hour’s drive away from Atlantic Academy. There are at least 30 secondary schools closer to Budmouth and Atlantic Academy than Magna Academy.

    It is a patent falsehood to say that Magna and Atlantic academies are “two out of the area’s four secondary schools”.

    Does Schools Week not do any research at all before it prints an article, do they just not care, or is it an active decision to publish inaccuracies if it’s part of a story that fits the author’s preconceived narrative?