The Wakefield City Academies Trust is giving up all 21 of its schools, shocking staff, parents and pupils as the first term of the 2017-18 school year begins.
A statement from the trust’s board said that after a “robust period of review and evaluation of all aspects of the organisation”, it had “requested that the Department for Education work with [the board] to place our academies with new sponsors”.
A new board was appointed as recently as July 2016 to address “significant challenges”, particularly concerning “the quality of education provision”.
The trust “does not have the capacity to facilitate the rapid improvement our academies need and our students deserve”, the statement continued.
“Together with the DfE, we will ensure that our academies get the support they need now, and as part of new trusts, to secure the educational experience of children in the schools,” it said.
“The board recognises this announcement will cause uncertainty, particularly for our staff. It will work with them to ensure the transition to new sponsors is as seamless as possible.”
It added that “our students’ best interests, as ever, remain our focus” and parents should be “reassured that this decision will have a positive impact on education provision”.
In May, WCAT appointed a new chief executive, Chris Pickering, to replace Mike Ramsay, who had stepped down as chair of the trust to act as interim chief executive in March 2016.
The government later conducted a finance and governance review into the trust, highlighting concerns over Ramsay’s pay and forecast budget deficits.
Annual accounts revealed the trust had breached rules over payments to an IT firm run by Ramsay, Hi Tech Group Limited, which rose from £140,605 in 2015, to £295,926 in 2016.
WCAT also came under pressure from Ofsted in January to turn around its schools after two were put into special measures in the space of three months.
Willow Academy, in Doncaster, was rated “inadequate” in January, with inspectors pointing to weak leadership that had caused a decline in the effectiveness of the school.
It followed the “inadequate” rating issued to Brookfield Primary Academy, also in South Yorkshire, in November last year.
WCAT, which the government once labelled a “top-performing” sponsor, walked away from sponsoring Hanson Academy at the start of this year.
At the time the trust refused to explain why it had stepped back from the Bradford based academy, which was in special measures, after it finishes a 12-month “try before you buy” period in which it provided support to the school.
It also pulled out of sponsoring another West Yorkshire school, University Academy Keighley.
Back in 2015 WCAT had been handed a slice of a £5 million government fund to set up academy hubs in underperforming northern regions and drive up standards.
Then education secretary Nicky Morgan named five “top performing” academy sponsors as beneficiaries of the funding, and tasked them with “improving performance for pupils in some of the most challenging and disadvantaged areas of the country”.