WCAT to give away all 21 of its schools

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”.



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  1. The 21 WCAT academies will now be on the transfer list. This will not just be upsetting for the schools concerned but ‘here we go again’ for those WCAT academies which were already academies when WCAT took them over (eg Willow Academy in Doncaster, Create Studio, Goole High School and Yewlands Technology College.
    And what has happened to WCAT’s share of the £5m given out to “top performing” academy sponsors tasked with “improving performance for pupils in some of the most challenging and disadvantaged areas of the country”?

  2. Catherine

    As a retired teacher this transfer of public money to unworthy and untrustworthy ‘trusts’ makes me feel ill. My grandchildren are caught up in this ‘social experiment’.
    I’m praying for a change of government that uses our money effectively, in a tried and trusted way ie reinstate LEAs.

  3. Karhtyn Southorn

    Appalling. i am far too angry to express my feelings about this sorry situation. I hope that the individuals involved will be brought to justice and their financial gains reclaimed to enable a far better education to be delivered to the children so immorally and cynically abused.

  4. John Connor

    The victims in all of this are the children, of course. How often has this happened, and usually at the beginning of a new school year? It’s really difficult not to say “I told you so”, this sort of chaos is the inevitable result of Gove’s manic drive to impose his skewed vision on the system, and of course he’s not around to be held to account. He should be made to go to Wakefield and explain to parents and teachers just how his academy “solution” has benefitted their children. All too predictable, and a human tragedy that was completely avoidable.

  5. John Fowler

    This feels like a ‘turning-point’ in the Academy experiment. If an Academy Chain of this size cannot be made to work then the ‘new’ school system is not looking sustainable, and only the very big chains can survive. It reminds me of the efforts in the decade after 1993 to make the Ofsted inspection system work starting with 200+ small inspection providers with odd groups of individuals undertaking Ofsted training and setting themselves up in business. Through bankruptcies, just giving up, takeovers, etc this was whittled down to four then two when there was virtually no competition between providers, and eventually Ofsted put an end to this experiment and took it in house. I am sure DfE civil servants believe they have the competence to run a nationalised school system; some of us disagree.

  6. Mark Watson

    I’m prepared for the brickbats, but someone has to point out the obvious.
    The fact that WCAT hasn’t worked out doesn’t lead to the inevitable conclusion that the academy programme doesn’t work in the same way that the numerous examples of specific LEAs having failed in one way or another in the past doesn’t mean that local authorities can’t run schools.
    There are smaller and larger multi-academy trusts than WCAT that are thriving. There are Councils that are doing really well with running schools in their areas and ones which are doing terribly. You can’t extrapolate from one example and damn a whole system.

  7. Mark, you have just pointed out that an LA run system has a range of outcomes. If the solutions evangelised to remedy this also has a range of outcomes how can they be a remedy? No system is perfect so invest in systematic constant improvement. A mixed economy of unproven ideologies always was and remains a gamble at best.

    • Mark Watson

      Because that’s evolution.
      The LA system that we had in place pre-2010 wasn’t the same as it has always been. Systemic constant improvement doesn’t mean that you stay with the original base model, at some point you jump to a different framework. At some point in the process you realise that it would be better to redefine the starting point.
      I’m not saying that where we are today is the correct outcome. But your argument could equally be used to say let’s junk LEAs in their entirety and put everything into academies (which I would argue is also a bad idea).
      As I see it, the part that’s missing in your reasoning is where you refer to (presumably) academisation as “a mixed economy of unproved ideologies” – can you clarify to me how the LEA system, or anything else, is a ‘proved’ ideology?

      • The state education has system has improved relentlessly. One could argue over the adequacy of the rate of change of course. The fact however remains, the UK is wholly different to what it was thirty or forty years ago and state schools have been remarkably resilient whilst other public services have struggled. Change can happen in an infinite number of ways. The ‘structural solution’ is an idealogical one that has no proven basis. Evolution is is based wholly on outcomes in that particular locality over time. Academy, studio schools etc in evolutionary terms are embryonic and do not merit the fervour in which they are promoted and funded. If we are to depart from the status quo our political master need to do so on evidence over time not wishful thinking, blue skies and New Labour’s tired policies. ‘Jumping’ to a new framework is a huge gamble to take with my child’s future and seems altogether revolutionary and not evolutionary. Many thanks for your reply. I appreciate your considered response.

        • Mark Watson

          I don’t think I disagree with you. In particular I agree with your comments about “the fervour in which they are promoted and funded” – my own view is that I think academisation has a significant number of benefits and can lead to better outcomes, but to think of it as a ‘silver bullet’ that will instantly transform a school, a region or the education sector is quite frankly ridiculous. As I have said before on these pages, my main issue is with the zealots on both sides of the argument who, for what I see as personally-held political beliefs, refuse to acknowledge that there may be benefits on the other side of the fence.
          I would also agree with your point about academisation being revolutionary rather than evolutionary, and I think that’s a better way of putting it. History has shown that revolution can be an extremely good thing (think democrary, the NHS etc) but the problem with revolution is that by design it can’t be based on “evidence over time”. Only time can tell if it was the right thing.
          My final comment is another (partial) agreement with you. I agree that academisation is a gamble (in a sense), but in that same sense staying with the status quo is equally a gamble. Doing nothing is never an option – as we move into the future quite clearly education is going to have to move and change from where it is now.
          One of the things I think is often overlooked is that the ‘state education system’ we had before academies came along included foundation schools. To my mind, foundation schools are closer to academies than they are to community schools. If the ‘revolutionary’ academisation programme hadn’t come along would we have seen a much higher take up of schools becoming foundations (an evolutionary process?) which would have had its own repercussions?