Inspiration Trust’s Charter Academy ‘loses’ 194 SEND pupils, says Times

Janet Downs's picture

The Great Yarmouth Charter Academy, which won notoriety when it opened in September 2017 for saying sick pupils should vomit in a bucket, has lost 194 special needs (SEND) pupils in a year, a Times investigation found.

Inspiration Trust, the multi-academy trust linked to schools minister Lord Agnew, took over Great Yarmouth VA School in September 2017 and renamed it Great Yarmouth Charter Academy.  In July 2018, the academy ‘closed’ after merging with an Inspiration-run secondary free school, Trafalgar College, also in Yarmouth. 

The amalgamated school re-opened on Charter’s site and was renamed, er, Great Yarmouth Charter Academy.   There was, however, a significant difference: the sponsored academy had become a free school.

Data for the ‘closed’ Charter Academy shows 2.1% of its pupils had a statement of special educational needs or an education, health and care plan in 2017/18.  The national average for that year was 4.4%.  4% were eligible for SEN support against a national average of 10.4%.

The proportion of SEND pupils at the newly-opened (or should that be newly-reopened?) Charter Academy is not yet known.  Bizarrely, GIAS says the academy has just 118 pupils.  The ‘closed’ Charter Academy had 681.  Official figures appear to suggest that Charter Academy’s roll has dropped by 563.  Nonsense, of course.

The Times analysis also showed that the proportion of pupils with additional needs ‘fell by 55%’ across all of Inspiration’s seven secondary academies from January 2017 and January 2018.  ‘The average drop among all schools over the same period was 2%,’ the Times wrote.

James Goffin, Inspiration’s head of external affairs, denied the trust had excluded SEND children.  He said the trust had taken over ‘a number of failing schools which had caused significant fluctuation in the number of children with SEN.’


FOOTNOTE: James Goffin has commented under our article about Great Yarmouth Primary Academy being judged inadequate.    Read it here.  Scroll down.

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James Goffin's picture
Mon, 04/03/2019 - 17:46

Great Yarmouth Charter Academy has not "lost" 194 pupils; all pupils are accounted for and the Inspiration Trust provided The Times with detailed figures to explain the variation.
Before the Trust took over the school nearly a third of pupils were on the SEN register; more than twice the national average. Our SEN staff carefully reviewed each pupil's needs to ensure the register was accurate and that additional support was focused on those who genuinely require it.
Of the 194 change, three quarters remained at the school but were reassessed as not being suitable for the SEN register: this is because they were wrongly placed on it previously; their condition has changed; or that improvements to the school's overall approach means that additional support is no longer required.
The rest of the change is accounted for by pupils reaching the normal school leaving age or choosing to join a different school or be home educated.
The article claims the Trust is "facing an investigation" but the article does not specify who is supposed to be conducting this. We have not been notified of any investigation.
The Times was unable to provide the Trust with any details of the incident alleged by Mr Lewis: no pupil name, no year group, no details of when it was said to have happened. The Trust's schools do not sanction pupils for behaviour related to special needs.
The Times was unable to provide the Trust with any details of the concerns raised by Mr Lamb.
The Trust did not say it was "was within its rights not to offer a place to the pupil with autism". The student in question was offered a sixth form place at the college but did not meet the grade requirements to take it up. The college's normal requirement is six strong GCSEs passes, including in English and maths. Unfortunately the student achieved only two strong GCSE passes, not including maths; this was substantially below the normal requirement. In correspondence, the student's parent said that the student did not want "special treatment" and that they understood and accepted the grade requirements. We have sixth form students with a range of special needs and take a flexible approach to entrance requirements to ensure all relevant circumstances are considered, with student welfare and suitability for the course paramount.
Between January 2015 and January 2018 the Trust not only took on previously failing schools but also opened new free schools. Both these categories can have rapidly changing pupil populations and characteristics: one school saw pupil numbers rise from 175 to 772 in the period as additional year groups were added. Comparing figures for these two dates when they relate to different schools at different stages of development is meaningless.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 05/03/2019 - 09:07

James; thank you for your response.  If the Times accepts your detailed explanation, then I expect this will appear in their corrections section.  I shall look out for it.

It's difficult to find exact figures for Great Yarmouth VA School in publicly-available data.  However, Ofsted (academic years 2015/16 and 2016/17) confirm that 'The proportion of pupils who have special educational needs and/or disabilities [at GYVA} is much higher than the national average'.  But inspectors didn't suggest these had been wrongly designated (although the April 2016 report said tracking was 'weak').

Some of these SEND pupils, as you say, would have left with the Year 11 cohort before academic year 2017/18 when GYVA became Charter Academy, sponsored academy (for one year only).

You say, that three quarters of the 194 'lost' pupils 'remained at the school but were reassessed as not being suitable for the SEN register.'  The remaining one-quarter (around 48) were accounted for because they left after completing Year 11 at GYVA or chose 'to join a different school or be home educated'.

I'd be interested to know the reason why these pupils, previously designated SEN (rightly or wrongly), chose to leave Charter.

As you say, it's difficult to track changes in intake composition over a couple of academic years because pupils leave at 16 and new pupils arrive in Year 7.  Problems in assessing these changes are made more difficult if a large number of pupils arrive or leave outside normal entry/leaving times.  This is further compounded if there are changes in who runs the school (eg academy conversion, academy rebrokerage) and school ethos changes.  

Inspiration  opened free schools which, as you say, makes year-on-year comparison of intake changes difficult.  But one of Inspiration's free schools, Trafalgar College, has now closed.  I was unable to find any reference to Trafalgar on GIAS - it seems to have disappeared without trace. 

GIAS seems to have had difficulties in keeping up with changes surrounding Charter and Trafalgar.  As I note above, at the time of writing GIAS said Charter (the free school) had just 118 pupils rattling around in a school with capacity for 1500.  


John Mountford's picture
Tue, 05/03/2019 - 17:37

Well done Janet, keep going. I believe your efforts in this case are vital to 'understanding the truth behind the story. Readers need to be reminded that GIAS is a government information site designed and run to provide relevant information about schools and colleges in England.

James Goffin states "Comparing figures for these two dates (beginning I assume in September 2017) when they relate to different schools at different stages of development is meaningless." While I have some sympathy for this view (current information on the GIAS website is woefully out of date) I personally find it hard to accept that of the 194 pupils formerly on the SEN register that most of the remaining 145 pupils appear to have been wrongly placed on the register in the first instance, for whatever reasons, and are now restored to ‘normal’.

Were I a suspicious person, I might suggest that the current very popular trend in excluding, baring or generally moving SEN pupils on (especially in the shiny new schools set up to turn a profit for their patrons) could be a factor. Only time, and dogged forensic investigation by someone of your calibre, Janet, will get us to the truth.

As Mr Goffin indicated "Between January 2015 and January 2018 the Trust not only took on previous failing schools but has opened free schools.” Is this a reason, an excuse or a plea for clemency?? Could it be that the wheels may be about to come off some of the money trains created and backed by our seemingly unaccountable politicians??

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 06/03/2019 - 08:17

John - I may be wrong, bit I believe it is the responsibility of schools to update their GIAS particulars (see here).   In which case, it would be Inspiration who was responsible for the inaccurate information about the tiny number of pupils (118) at Charter Academy, a school said to have capacity for 1500.  The 'closed' Charter Academy had 681 pupils at a school with capacity for 1000 just before it became a 'free school'.  That would indicate a serious haemorrhage of pupils if the data is correct (which, of course, it isn't.  Charter's website says there are 750 pupils mostly housed at Charter and some Year 8 and 9 in the soon-to-be-defunct site of the disappeared free school, Trafalgar College).  I guess the higher  'capacity' figure comes from combining the capacity of the 'closed' Charter with the capactiy of the satellite site.


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