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Midland academy sponsors banned from opening more schools

Trusts told they can’t open new free schools or academies until they prove that pupils at their existing colleges “get a good education”

Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire Primary School children at work in a classroom.
Primary School children at work in a classroom.

The sponsors responsible for 24 academies across the West Midlands have been barred from opening any more because of serious concerns about the education being provided to children.

They have been told they can’t open new free schools or academies until they prove that pupils at their existing colleges “get a good education”.

A total of 14 sponsors are included in the ban, including five responsible for schools in the West Midlands region.

The sponsors run schools in Birmingham, Solihull, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Stoke, Tamworth and Burton.

Critics said it calls the whole issue of proper governance of academies into question.

Trusts involved include E-ACT, which runs nine West Midland schools and was ordered in February to hand over some of its schools to a different provider after a number of them received damning reports from education watchdog Ofsted.

Ofsted has since conducted spot inspections on 16 of the trust’s schools and found 11 were failing to provide a “good” education although one, Heartlands Academy in Nechells, Birmingham, was “outstanding”.

In its letter to E-ACT boss David Moran, Ofsted warned that “an overwhelming proportion of pupils attending the E-ACT academies inspected were not receiving a good education.

It said: “The evidence collected during these inspections indicates that intervention and support provided by E-ACT was ineffective overall. For those academies judged to require ‘special measures’, the Trust failed to take effective action to improve performance.”

It has now emerged that ministers also imposed a new schools ban on a number of other providers on February 27, which only came to light after questions were raised in the House of Commons by Labour MP John Denham.

Education Minister Edward Timpson said in a written Parliamentary answer: “The number of approved sponsors with open academies that have been restricted is reviewed regularly in the light of the latest assessment of performance.

“At 27 February 2014, 14 sponsors were restricted in full from sponsoring new academies or free schools out of a total of over 350 approved sponsors that currently support academies.”

The Department for Education said the ban was designed to ensure trusts focused on improving existing schools.

A spokesman said: “When we do have concerns about the performance of academy sponsors, we act quickly – we stop them from taking on new projects, so that they focus on their existing schools, and ensure pupils there get a good education. When they have demonstrated this, they are able to take on new academies.”

But Birmingham Labour MP Steve McCabe (Lab Hall Green), a Shadow Education Minister, said the decision would raise questions about the quality of school management.

He said: “There is no good in the minister publishing a list of sponsors he has doubts about unless he is willing to tell us the nature of those doubts. If they are not good enough to take on any new schools why are they good enough to run existing schools? His announcement provides more cause for concern than it does reassurance.”

Academy schools are state-funded schools which are entirely independent of local authority control. Many are run by trusts or foundations which may manage large numbers of schools.

Mr Timpson named the 14 sponsors, but did not name individual schools that ministers had concerns about.

The sponsors include the Academies Enterprise Trust, which runs five academies in the Midlands, the Academy Transformation Trust, which runs three, the City of Wolverhampton Academy Trust, which runs two, the Grace Foundation, which runs three, and E-ACT which runs six schools.

David Moran, E-ACT chief executive said: “Ofsted’s inspections confirm that E-ACT’s performance must improve and that standards in some of our academies are not acceptable.

“No-one should be in any doubt about E-ACT’s commitment to the task of improvement. That commitment is driven by E-ACT’s mission to break the link between poverty and under-achievement.

“Substantive change began last May, following the Financial Notice to Improve, resulting in significant changes to E-ACT’s financial controls and governance.”

A spokesman for Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) said: “AET is by far the largest multi-academy sponsor with 77 schools. DfE says that we have reached our capacity and we fully accept this.

“In terms of performance based on the 24 AET secondary schools established before October 2012, the proportion of students with five or more passes A*-C including English and Maths increased from 47 per cent in 2012 to 52 per cent.

“Clearly the challenge set for us is to seek sustained improvement across all schools, and this we are determined to achieve.”

Ian Cleland, CEO of Academy Transformation Trust said: “We are committed to transforming the learning opportunities and aspirations for all our pupils who are at the heart of everything we do.

“With this at the forefront of our minds, we have worked closely with the Department of Education (DfE) to grow Academy Transformation Trust in a stable and sustainable way that offers all our academies the best chance to become outstanding schools.”

He added: “Following discussions with DfE in Autumn last year, we have focused our expertise and time on consolidating our 16 academies.”

 

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