E-ACT, a long-established multi-academy trust with a chequered past, has been served with warning letters saying the Department for Education (DfE) is ‘minded to terminate’ funding for two Birmingham Academies: Nechells Primary E-ACT Academy and Shenley Academy.
Nechells Primary was judged inadequate on 10 October 2018 although the report wasn’t published until 27 November. The West Midlands Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC), Andrew Warren, sent the warning letter on 6 February*.
Shenley’s inadequate Ofsted report was published on 20 December 2018. The ‘minded to terminate’ letter was also issued on 6 February*.
It would be incorrect to claim the time between RSCs being informed of an inadequate academy inspection and issuing ‘minded to terminate’ letters appears to be shortening. Two more E-ACT academies, E-ACT Burnham Park and E-Act Willenhall were judged inadequate in July 2016 and March 2017 respectively. No ‘minded to terminate’ letters have been issued.
Burnham Park has had three Ofsted monitoring visits; Willenhall, four. This monitoring found both were taking effective action for the removal of special measures.
Burnham Park is, however, under threat of closure. A consultation is currently ongoing. E-ACT hopes to transfer all pupils apart from Year 11 to nearby Bourne End which E-ACT took over in September. Bourne End was twice bailed out by the DfE because of financial difficulties before it was rebrokered to E-ACT. It’s not yet known how much, if anything, was paid to E-ACT in transfer fees**.
RSC policy about when to send out warning letters to trusts running inadequate academies is not consistent as I wrote recently. There needs to be some uniformity in the way inadequate academies are treated. It makes sense to defer issuing warning letters until Ofsted has monitored inadequate academies. A cynic might say that rapid RSC action allows politicians to boast that inadequate academies are dealt with quickly while claiming local authorities allowed less than good schools to languish for years (if not decades).
But, as is the case with non-academies judged inadequate, over-hasty action, whether it be letters threatening to withdraw academy funding or enforced conversion in the case of non-academies, can be more expensive and disruptive than allowing time for schools to improve.
*The letters didn’t appear on DfE’s website until 1 March 2019
**It’s worth remembering that the DfE paid out over £1m to transfer nine academies from E-Act in the financial year 2014/15. Two years later, the DfE paid E-ACT £147k to take on Hareclive Academy. Download data here.