Academy chains sent warning notices still allowed to sponsor more academies

Janet Downs's picture
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Seven pre-warning notices expressing concern about performance were sent by the Department of Education (DfE) to Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) (see sidebar).  But that hasn’t stopped the Minister giving approval in principle for AET to sponsor more academies.

In March 2013 The Times (behind paywall) reported that the DfE had blocked the rapid expansion of AET and wanted the chain to concentrate on improving its existing schools.  AET denied this saying they had intended to stop when schools currently in the pipeline had become academies.

AET’s growth continues.  It’s due to take over a further four schools in March and April 2014.

AET isn’t the only chain which received DfE notices but is still being allowed to sponsor academies.  These include:

1         United Learning Trust (ULT) was banned from taking on more academies in 2009 because of poor performance.  This prohibition was lifted by Education Secretary, Michael Gove, who praised ULT for doing an “amazing job on the ground”.   ULT was sent notices by the DfE in late 2012 regarding two of its academies.    It’s due to take over four more schools.

2         The Kemnal Academy Trust (TKAT) received two pre-warning notices in October 2013 for Bridgemary School and Broadfield East Junior.  Newlands Primary and another Kemnal academy, Bridgemary School, both Satisfactory before being taken over by Kemnal, were judged Inadequate in 2013.  Ofsted monitoring visits said Kemnal was offering support to these schools but that’s as it should be considering Kemnal is the sponsor.    An April 2013 monitoring visit to another Kemnal academy, Dame Janet Primary, wrote the academy wasn’t “making enough progress in raising standards”.  Despite the warning letters and the Ofsted judgements, Kemnal is set to sponsor two further schools. 

3         E-Act was sent a pre-warning notice in November 2013 about Trent Valley Academy although Ofsted found E-Act offered “strong support” to the Inadequate academy.   In April 2013, the DfE published a highly-critical report into E-Act’s finances which prompted the resignation of E-Act’s CEO.  Nevertheless, E-Act has Ministerial approval in principle to sponsor Little Spring School from 1 January 2014.

This raises several questions:

1         How seriously does the DfE take its pre-warning notices if it still allows chains to take over more schools despite receiving warning notices?

2         How seriously does it take critical reports into a chain’s finances when it allows the chain to continue sponsoring schools?

3         Are academy chains being allowed to grow too quickly?  Michael Gove is on record as saying he would like them to grow as quickly as possible.   But the Academies Commission 2013 said some chains were expanding too rapidly.  Is Gove’s statement an example of recklessness?

The most serious question, however, is this:  once the juggernaut of academy conversion begins rolling, what circumstances, if any, would stop the process?

 

*The list of sponsored academies “in development” is available here.

NOTE: Citing Ofsted judgements does not imply agreement.

CORRECTION 30 JANUARY 2014 The above has been corrected. I originally said the DfE had sent a letter to Kemnal Academies Trust re Newlands school. This was incorrect. It was Broadfield East. I have included links to both Kemnal warning letters.
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