Wakefield trust walkout leaves special measures school in six-year limbo

A second trust given a slice of £5 million northern academy hub funding has walked away from a school in special measures – meaning it has now been in limbo waiting for a permanent sponsor for six years.

The Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) will no longer sponsor Hanson academy, in Bradford, after it finishes a 12-month “try before you buy” period in which it provided support to the school.

WCAT, which was handed some of £5 million government funding given to five trusts to take over failing schools and drive up standards in the north, has refused to explain why it is now walking away from Hanson.

It is the second of the northern trusts to pull out from schools in the region.

Schools Week revealed last month that Bright Tribe withdrew from sponsoring a federation in Cumbria. However, it said these schools did not fall under the extra funding remit.

Children aren’t cans of beans that can be left on the shelf.

WCAT’s rejection follows a similar move by School Partnership Trust Academies, now renamed Delta Academies Trust, which pulled out of a promise to sponsor Hanson in 2015.

This latest drop-out raises serious questions over how the government can ensure schools deemed too toxic for an academy takeover will get improvement support.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “This shows the dangers of leaving education to the market – it’s a rational market response because it jeopardises your brand.

“But children aren’t cans of beans that can be left on the shelf. There doesn’t seem to be a coherent strategy to ensure ministers can ensure these schools get the support they need and that they aren’t left floundering.”

Hanson first planned to convert to an academy after being put in special measures in 2011. It was rated as “requires improvement” in 2013, but put back into special measures in 2015.

Former education secretary Nicky Morgan once famously said “a day spent in a failing school is a day too long when their education is at stake”. But the year 7 Hanson intake in 2011-12, the first time it was rated inadequate, left the school last year without ever seeing a permanent sponsor.

WCAT has refused to comment on its reasons for not staying with Hanson. It will also walk away from University Academy Keighley, also in Bradford.

The organisation would not confirm whether the abandoned schools were covered by the northern academy hub deal. A spokesperson said the trust had converted three primaries in Bradford.

Morgan said the northern hub funding was for “top performing” academy sponsors to “improve performance for pupils in the most challenging areas”.

Imran Khan, Bradford council’s executive member for education, employment and skills, said the decision was not a reflection on the schools, but a result of the trust’s “organisational structure”.

Dr John Hargreaves, WCAT chairman, said the trust’s focus was on improving standards in its current 21 academies, and pledged to work with the government to limit disruption during the “transition”.

The education department is yet to publish the findings of financial and governance investigation into the trust.

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  1. Mark Watson

    Yet again another hopelessly biased and slanted piece of ‘journalism’. Why not actually try an objective and sensible approach to what is clearly a very important issue.
    The first point it would have been helpful to make clear for readers from the start is that Hanson Academy, despite its name, is not actually an academy school. It is a foundation school – something that is not explained anywhere in the article.
    As a foundation school, its abysmal record is not down to an academy trust but to the foundation body and the local education authority. The school was rated as Requires Improvement (in current terminology) in 2008, Inadequate in 2010, Requires Improvement in 2013 and Inadequate in 2015.
    So when Mary Bousted starts ranting on about “the dangers of leaving education to the market” I’d have liked the author to have actually challenged her about the quite apparent problems of leaving this school in its current ‘not-in-the-market’ incarnation (which presumably Bousted approves of).
    If the foundation and the local education authority had been capable of pulling the school out of the problems it has been in then there would be no need to be talking about sponsorship, academies or anything else.
    The most important thing, which the article does indeed point out, is that the children are, and have been, failed. As I say above this failure lies at the door of the foundation and the local education authority. But instead of looking at this, the article tries to use the scenario to fling mud at WCAT and the academies programme to support, presumably, the author’s personal agenda.

    • It may well be a biased article but nevertheless makes an important point. The education of our children ,if left to the market, will mean sponsors will ‘cherry pick’ schools and are free to abandon more difficult schools that demand more money, work and effort. What everyone has to face up to is that the education of the young is a difficult and demanding long term job- there are not always quick solutions to difficult problems especially with Special Needs children.That is why the State should be responsible for educating the next generation and not hard headed business folk with their eye on the bottom line and their reputation to think about.

      • Mark Watson

        “The State”, as you refer to, has been running Hanson Academy since 2008 when it first started having problems. It is still in a completely unacceptable position 8 years later. How much longer would you like to give the State to fix it?
        I completely agree with you that turning around schools is difficult, demanding and can take time. Which is why it’s so disappointing that the opponents of academies jump all over them as soon as anything goes wrong or their schools don’t magically improve in 6 months.
        We also don’t have a ‘free market’ when it comes to academy sponsors. The RSCs have to approve any schools entering a MAT, and they will not allow MATs to grow by simply taking on the ‘easy’ outstanding schools. This just doesn’t happen and I challenge anyone to prove the contrary. What about The Harris Federation which specifically looks to take on challenging schools?
        I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy this rose-tinted nostalgia which seems to thing that going back to having LEAs run everything again would be better. I remember schools when I was growing up that had been effectively abandoned by the LEA and had been badly rated for years.

    • RogerOThornhill

      Foundation schools were described to me just now as a non-fath version of Voluntary Controlled schools. They own their own land and employ their own staff. As far as I am aware, the LA therefore have limited powers of intervention in them.

      There needs to be questions asked about what happens in a world of academies to the schools that no sponsor wants.

      There is also a question about what strings were attached to the deal that gave WCAT money for expansion. Presumably we are not allowed to know due to ‘commercial confidentiality’…

      • Mark Watson

        All of these are good points and valid questions. But they do not address the central and most important point which is that Hanson Academy has been a failing school since 2008. This is nothing to do with WCAT or any other academy-related body. The school was failing before the ‘world of academies’ really started in 2010 so why does this have anything to do with it?
        If the Academies Act 2010 had never happened the strong likelihood is that this school would still be in the same mess it is now. So why is the focus on academies and academy trusts when we should be looking at the foundation body and the LEA?

        • Tubby Isaacs

          Hang on.

          The DfE handpicked this lot to the tune of £5m. They’re as near as it gets in some areas to a “flagship” chain. I agree with you, it looks like there are deep, longstanding problems. So it could take a few years of incremental improvement, nobody much would criticize that. But this looks like a very rapid failure or government not giving them time. I think of it less as a “market” (Central Government is too involved for it to be one) but like a football manager model.

          It might confirm what lots of people suspect- that there are nowhere near enough competent academy chains to drive up standards in the way the government wants.

          • Mark Watson

            I just don’t think we have enough information to go on in order to come to any sensible conclusions. This is my whole problem with this article which should have taken the opportunity to do some proper journalism rather than skim the surface and throw some mud.
            According to the article WCAT “was handed SOME of £5 million government funding”. We don’t know how much of the £5 million WCAT was given, and we don’t know how much of that slice was allocated to this specific school if any (note there is no certainty over whether this school was covered by the funding at all). Given that the total sum of £5 million relates to failing schools over the whole of “the North” I can’t imagine each individual school gets a massive amount.
            We also don’t know what WCAT were allowed to do during their 12 months of providing support. Say, for the sake of argument they identified that the main problem was the headteacher (this is just hypothetical, I know nothing of the specific details of this school) – the head is employed by the Foundation and if they wouldn’t dismiss him then there is nothing WCAT could do about it.
            What if the school building needed £2 million worth of work doing to them to make them safe?
            What if the culture and ethos of WCAT and how they run their schools fundamentally clashed with the culture and ethos of Hanson Academy and its teachers, governors and community?
            I don’t think the article gives anywhere near enough information to be able to judge whether WCAT made a positive or negative difference, but it definitely does ignore the main culprits – letting the Foundation and the LEA completely off the hook.
            All that being said, I do agree with your concern about there being enough competent academy chains. Far more work and support in this area is needed.

        • Being judged Grade 3 (satisfactory) in 2008 does not mean the school has been ‘failing’ since 2008. As I make clear in my long comment below, inspectors judged Hanson in 2008 to be providing a ‘satisfactory education with some good features’.
          As my long comment shows, the school prematurely called itself an academy and appeared to be being run by SPTA (logo, uniform, SPTA governors on governing body). I wrote about this unacceptable situation in June 2015:

  2. We ought to be pleased that issue is being raised whatever the accuracy of the money involved. The most important issue are students who only get one chance at school. When you take into account that being in the north these days is considered a disadvantage to start with, It’s all the more concerning.

  3. A careful look at Ofsted reports from 2008 reveals a complex picture of a school beset by, initial disruption caused by new building, high staff turnover, temporary staff and high turnover of heads (May 2016: ‘A Year 12 student accurately stated that she has had 11 different headteachers while at the school.’) as well as problems caused by delay in converting to an academy. But the support of the LA hasn’t been as dire as claimed above as this review of Ofsted inspection shows:
    2008: Grade 3 ‘satisfactory education with some good features’
    2010 Monitoring: ‘Inadequate progress for making improvements’; ‘satisfactory progress in demonstrating a better capacity to improve’
    2010 Full inspection: Inadequate. Inspectors noted that the LA had ‘intervened and set school challenging targets’
    Feb 2011 Monitoring: ‘Education Bradford submitted a statement of action outlining how it would improve the school. This plan was judged by Ofsted to fulfil requirements. The school is appreciative of the good-quality, targeted support provided through consultants, the associate headteacher and the School Improvement Partner. The January 2011 impact of this carefully planned support can be seen in the improvements to teaching, aspects of leadership and the work undertaken to secure academy status.’
    July 2011 Monitoring: ‘Progress since being subject to special measures – satisfactory. Progress since previous monitoring inspection – satisfactory’. Hanson School is scheduled to close at the end of August and reopen as Hanson Academy in September 2011.
    Sept 2011 Monitoring: ‘Progress since being subject to special measures – inadequate. Progress since previous monitoring inspection – inadequate’. ‘The local authority is providing appropriate interim support to the school as it deals with the delay to academy status.’
    March 2012 Monitoring: ‘Progress since being subject to special measures – inadequate. Progress since previous monitoring inspection – satisfactory’
    ‘Hanson School was expecting to become an academy on 1 September 2011 but this has been deferred by the Department for Education. Consequently, the local authority remains the appropriate body until the academy sponsor takes over at a date yet to be confirmed.’
    July 2012 Monitoring: Progress since being subject to special measures – satisfactory. Progress since previous monitoring inspection – satisfactory. ‘Hanson School was hoping to become an academy on 1 September 2011 but this continues to be deferred due to a series of issues. Consequently, the local authority remains the appropriate authority until the academy sponsor takes over at a date to be confirmed.’
    Feb 2013 Full inspection: Requires Improvement. ‘The school is in the process of becoming an academy, sponsored by the School Partnership Trust, and has been for over two years.’ ‘Much of the focus of the work of the governing body has been on managing the transition to academy status.’ ‘The local authority is currently providing effective support…’
    May 2013 Monitoring: ‘…the Local Authority has undertaken performance reviews of the school and supports the governing body. The Schools Partnership Trust is also working with the school to support teacher’s professional development.’
    Feb 2015 Full inspection: Inadequate. ‘The school is in the process of becoming an academy under the sponsorship of the School Partnership Trust and has been for over four years.’
    ‘The local authority’s support for the school has increased since September 2014 as they believed that the performance of the school could be inadequate. This work is recent and it is too soon to see any impact. Overall, since the previous inspection, the local authority’s support has been ineffective and has failed to help the school to improve.’
    July 2015: Monitoring: ‘The school was made subject to an academy order in 2011, when the school was previously in special measures. Since then, the school has had a nominated academy sponsor and has been calling itself an academy, with students wearing an academy uniform. It has the academy sponsor’s website and logo and has had academy trust governors on the governing body. However, due to unresolved financial and legal issues, the proposed sponsor did not ultimately take over the school and has withdrawn. An interim executive board replaced the governing body in June 2015. The local authority and interim executive board are in the process of discussion with the Regional Schools Commissioner to resolve financial and legal issues and to identify and appoint a new academy sponsor.’
    Nov 2015: Monitoring: ‘Plans are in place for the school to convert to an academy sponsored by the Wakefield City Academies Trust. A parent consultation ended on 20 November 2015. The conversion is proposed for the spring term 2016.’ ‘Local authority-funded appointments have strengthened school leadership… Local authority officers and consultants have provided accurately targeted and constructive support for leadership and teaching in English and mathematics… The local authority and the proposed academy sponsor have built a positive working relationship which is supporting the transition to academy status.’
    Feb 2016: Monitoring: ‘Leaders and managers are taking effective action towards the removal of special measures.’ ‘Financial and legal obstacles to academy conversion have not been resolved and decisions are awaited from high-level discussions between the local authority and the Regional Schools Commissioner.’ Inspectors noted that WCAT and the LA were supporting the school. The LA did so ‘effectively’
    May 2016: Monitoring:’ Leaders and managers are taking effective action towards the removal of special measures.’ ‘The school did not convert, as planned, to a Wakefield City Academies Trust academy on 1 May 2016. The remaining obstacle to conversion is close to resolution.’ ‘The local authority, the IEB and WCAT are working effectively together to bring about the academy conversion.’

  4. What this debacle demonstrates is that the way the Academies programme is set up is not conducive to getting the sort of support into a struggling school to ensure it is stabilised and starts to improve quickly. It is totally at odds with all the DfE rhetoric which they used to justify the programme in the first place about the poor record of some local authorities. Whatever the shortcomings of the local authority (and clearly they have struggled to make any headway with the school) we simply can’t have the situation where schools are left to languish in limbo between LA and various potential sponsors for years. It’s understandable that the local authority might not feel too inclined to put a lot of effort into a school they’ve been told they have failed! It simply shouldn’t be the decision of individual academy trusts whether or not they ‘take on’ struggling schools. There’s already far too much horse trading going on behind the scenes with schools being passed like parcels from sponsor to sponsor. That’s not a recipe for stability or success. There was actually not much wrong with the LA model in the first place and what we’ve got instead is not demonstrably any better and arguably worse.

    • Mark Watson

      “It’s understandable that the local authority might not feel too inclined to put a lot of effort into a school they’ve been told they have failed”.
      You really think that is understandable and acceptable in any context whatsoever?
      Words fail me.

      • Then you are hopelessly naive Mark. Local authorities are made up of human beings who react in a human way to being told that they are not good enough – which is effectively what the Academies programme is all about. Individual advisors may have spent months or years supporting particular schools only to have them handed over to a sponsor, potentially one without any proven track record of school improvement in that area.

        It’s also extremely difficult for a school to have advisors from multiple organisations trying to support them at the same time. Once an Academy sponsor is in a school working with leaders and governors the tendency is for local authority advisors to step back and allow them to get on with it and to refocus their resources instead on other struggling schools. Sometimes they have to step back in if those efforts fall apart. But increasingly local authorities don’t have the resources to continue supporting school improvement anyway, in spite of their ongoing responsibilities. The government needs to decide who is responsible for school improvement and to properly fund it.

        • Mark Watson

          So I’m sure that you would have the same understanding in the situation where an academy trust has been told it’s not doing well enough for a particular academy and the RSC will be rebrokering the school to another trust. Academy Trusts are made up of people too, so in those circumstances you would find it acceptable for the academy trust to stop trying to do the best they can for the pupils?
          Of course not, and what you have said is highly offensive to the vast majority of LEA staff who try the hardest they can for every school within their family whether or not they are planning to become academies or not. Rather than fixating on your polemic rants against the academies programme it might be a good idea to remember that everyone involved with schools should be doing their absolute best for the children whatever the structure the school finds itself in.