Academy linked to minister which turned itself into a free school gets Ofsted ‘good’

Janet Downs's picture
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Controversial Great Yarmouth Charter Academy (GYCA) was judged good this month.

GYCA is run by Inspiration Trust, the multi-academy trust founded by Lord Agnew.  Despite being a schools minister since September 2017, his involvement with Inspiration did not end until February 2019.  This has given rise to concerns about possible conflict of interest.

Academies aren’t usually inspected until they’ve been operating for three years.  Why, then, did inspectors arrive earlier than might have been inspected especially as monitoring  took place in February 2018?

The answer is that Ofsted has accepted the convoluted route, approved by the Department for Education, by which GYCA took over the identity of a now-closed free school, Trafalgar College. 

Ofsted writes:

Great Yarmouth Charter Academy opened as Trafalgar College, a free school established by the Inspiration Trust, in September 2016’.

This rewriting of history is at odds with GYCA’s website which says GYCA ‘opened its doors’ in September 2017.  And Ofsted admits that GYCA, ‘in its current form has the same school leadership team appointed to lead the sponsored academy in September 2017’.   Inspectors also say the ‘majority of staff’ had previously worked at GYCA’s predecessor school.  But the predecessor school for GYCA isn’t Trafalgar College from which it is supposed to have grown.  Inspectors name it as Great Yarmouth High School.

When Trafalgar College was first proposed, an impact assessment was produced which, according to the government website, was dated January 2016.  But it appears the assessment was altered after January 2016 because it refers to an Ofsted inspection of GY High School which took place in April 2016.   The assessment said Inspiration would run both GY High and Trafalgar College from September 2016 in a ‘complementary way’.

The decision to turn GY High into an academy with Inspiration was made on 24 April 2016  at a meeting of the East of England’s Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) Tim Coulson and his headteacher board (HB).  This again suggests the impact assessment was belatedly altered to reflect this decision.   

Inspiration’s CEO, Dame Rachel de Souza, sat on this HB board.  She was not present at the meeting but no conflict of interest was recorded as might be expected.   Neither is it made clear that she was not sent papers. 

In the event, Inspiration Trust didn’t take over GY High until September 2017.  Tim Coulson, the RSC involved in the decision to allow Inspiration to take over GY High, became, and remains, the chair of governors at GYCA.

A long account of the GY High/GYCA and Trafalgar saga is here.  It includes the admission by the DfE that there were ‘presentational’ problems surrounding the merger and a need to maintain a ‘strong and consistent media story’.  This consistent story has now sucked in Ofsted.

Trafalgar College has disappeared from the government’s database for schools.  Its pupils were transferred to GYCA.  It’s not known what happened to head or the school’s staff.

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