Star Academies, I wrote yesterday, received a letter saying the Department for Education was ‘minded to terminate’ funding for Highfield Leadership Academy following an inadequate judgement.
The letter was sent on 13 February 2019, just three working days after the area's Regional Schools Commission (RSC), Vicky Beer, received notification of Highfield being placed in special measures*.
This swift response isn’t typical.
None of the eleven other academy trusts sent warning letters since the start of the academic year 2018/19 have received letters as quickly as this.
Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT), wasn’t sent a ‘minded to terminate’ letter until well over a year after Cuckoo Hall Primary Academy was placed in special measures in July 2017. The local RSC, Martin Post, had agreed to monitor Cuckoo Hall’s progress for one academic year.
By November 2018, he wasn’t satisfied and issued a ‘minded to terminate’ letter. Ofsted monitored Cuckoo Hall in December and found the academy was ‘taking effective action towards the removal of special measures’. This simultaneous action by the RSC and Ofsted has led to CHAT being threatened on the one hand while being encouraged on the other.
Judged by the eleven other academies issued with warning letters since September 2018, the average time between an RSC being told about an inadequate judgement and issuing a letter is roughly six months. There are, however, wide variations: one month gap (excluding August) for Brookfield Academy Trust to about sixteen months for CHAT.
It appears Vicky Beer has acted rather hastily. It surely would be better to allow academies time to turn themselves around unless there are exceptional circumstances..
The different ways in which academy trusts have been treated following an inadequate rating shows inconsistency and hints at ad hoc action. It also reveals a lack of co-ordination between Ofsted and RSCs.
It could be argued that RSCs are showing flexibility. But compare this with the rigid treatment of inadequate LA schools forced by law to become academies.
LA schools are given no time to improve after an inadequate rating. They are slapped with an order forcing them to become academies. These are rarely rescinded even when schools improve before conversion.
Resistance against government bullying is growing. There are calls for the government to ‘rethink’ its policy of forcing inadequate LA schools to become academies after the DfE cancelled an academy order for William Torbitt Primary School when it was upgraded from inadequate to good.
Inadequate schools, whether academies of LA maintained, need supporting not threatening. They should be given that support and the time to implement it.
*Inspection took place in December but the report wasn’t published until 15 February 2019