Thirteen free schools taken over by new trusts in 2017/18:  Part two

Janet Downs's picture

Following yesterday’s article about eight of the thirteen free schools rebrokered in the financial year 2017/18, details of the remaining five are below:

St Martin’s Academy, Chester, a primary free school opened in September 2013, transferred to North West Academies Trust Limited.  The move was initiated by North West Academies (St Martin’s) Limited whose trustees said moving the free school into a multi-academy trust would encourage ‘economies of scale in relation to cost and shared working practices’*.

Venturers’ Academy, a special free school opened in September 2016, transferred from Merchants’ Academy Trust to Colston Girls School Trust.  This followed the merger of Merchants’ with Colston Girls’ under the name of Venturers Trust.  

Pioneer House High School, a special free school opened in September 2016, transferred from Piper Hill Learning Trust to Prospere Learning Trust.  This was the result of a merger between Piper Hill and Chorlton High School Learning Trust to form a new trust: Prospere.

Polam Hall School, a former independent school, became an all-through free school in 2015.   Its inspection report from April 2018 criticises the school for being unprepared to accept larger numbers and a wider range of pupils. 

This raises the question of whether the Department for Education exercised due diligence before allowing this former private school to become a free school especially as the school’s impact assessment judged it to pose a high risk to three local schools with surplus places. 

Woodard Academies Trust received £100k in rebrokerage fees when it took over Polam Hall on 1 April 2017, DfE figures show.

Inspectors praised Woodard Academies Trust for moving ‘rapidly’ to improve education quality. 

The Ongar Academy, a free secondary school opened in September 2015, was transferred to Bridge Academy Trust in a move initiated by the Ongar Academy Trust.  Inspectors rated the school as good in May 2018 and praised Bridge Academy Trust for strengthening ‘the already effective governance arrangements’.

Final Thoughts

Of the thirteen transferred free schools, six were initiated by the trusts for reasons such as mergers and joining a multi-academy trust.  Six resulted from intervention  These were Grindon Hall Christian School which still faces turbulence after being transferred to Bright Tribe, former independent school, Polam Hall and four from the failed Perry Beeches .   One, Channeling Positivity, was said to have been triggered by intervention but I couldn’t find the reason behind this.  Rather, it appeared the trustees wanted to move to a larger trust.

 The self-initiated transfers highlight difficulties facing stand-alone trusts.  This doesn’t just affect free schools but any academy which is stand-alone.  The ones triggered by intervention show action is taken when free schools are failing.  But in one case, Perry Beeches, there are questions whether support from high-profile politicians who hailed Perry Beeches as a flagship trust contributed to its failure by allowing the trust to grow too quickly and surrounding it with a sense of invulnerability.


*Accounts* y/e 31 August 2017 available from Companies House

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