Academies, Ofsted

Whitehaven leaves shadow of Bright Tribe with ‘good’ Ofsted rating

School once at centre of one of the largest academy trust scandals now 'at the heart of the community'

School once at centre of one of the largest academy trust scandals now 'at the heart of the community'

The Whitehaven Academy, a school once at the centre of the Bright Tribe scandal, has been rated ‘good’ by Ofsted, almost five years after it moved to a new sponsor.

The secondary school in Cumbria was placed in special measures in 2016 after inspectors found pupils made ‘inadequate’ progress, and warned of “insufficient improvement” work by its then sponsor.

For years the school was the focus of a bitter row over the state of its buildings and the support it received from Bright Tribe, which was set up by businessman Michael Dwan.

The Cumbria Education Trust took charge at the school in late 2018, and Ofsted has now upgraded the school to ‘good’.

Inspectors said leaders had “placed The Whitehaven Academy at the heart of the local community”, described pupils as “kind and considerate towards each other” and said “necessary steps” had been taken to ensure “most pupils now achieve well”.

Leaders have “established an ambitious suite of subject curriculums”, and “most teachers use their strong subject knowledge effectively to make regular checks on what pupils know and remember”.

Teachers also “deal effectively with any incidents of low level disruption that may occur”.

School was focus of national academy scandal

Bright Tribe agreed to give up the school in 2017 amid growing calls for its removal as sponsor. Matters came to a head after flooding damaged already “dilapidated” buildings on the school site.

An investigation by Panorama in 2019 alleged Bright Tribe had received hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants to carry out improvement works that were never completed.

Accounts for the trust in 2019 revealed the government was looking to take action for “potential improper use of historic grants”. The matter was referred to fraud police, but the investigation was subsequently dropped.

The trust finally closed in 2019 after giving up all its schools, and after Department for Education troubleshooters Angela Barry and Nikki King were parachuted in as trustees.

Cumbria Education Trust was handed over £300,000 in government funding to aid its takeover of Whitehaven, and a £20 million rebuild was initiated by the government.

Nigel Youngman, the school’s head, said they had “wonderfully supportive parents who simply want the best for their children”.

“It’s vital we match their high expectations and I am lucky to have a brilliant staff team who do exactly that, and we invest in them. We now have a strong and innovative curriculum that is helping students progress to their next step.”

‘We will keep getting better’

He said the school had “bucked the national trend” of declining standards of attendance, and results were “on the up” with progress up around half a grade per subject since 2019.

“There is still more to do – but we will keep on getting better and better. This is just the start.”

The report found Whitehaven ‘good’ in every area, but called for improvement to improve pupils’ understanding of some subjects.

In a “small number of subjects, some of the activities that some teachers design
do not help pupils to develop a sufficient depth of understanding”, the report warned.

“Leaders should ensure that teachers receive the support that they need to further embed the curriculums in th ese subjects so that all pupils are well prepared for the next stage of their learning.”

Bright Tribe, alongside sister trust Adventure Learning Academies Trust which Dwan also founded, are yet to be wound up amid ‘finalisation of outstanding matters’.

Accounts published last month for ALAT state it is “subject to a number of external investigations into capital spend in previous years and a contingent liability of £330k has been disclosed within the accounts on the basis of improper use of historic grants which would be reclaimed by the DfE”.

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