Regional Commissioner blocks academy chain once cited by Gove: Academies Week exclusive

Janet Downs's picture
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In March 2010 the Shadow Education Secretary, one Michael Gove, gave a speech to mark the launch of a Policy Exchange document entitled, with no trace of irony, Blocking the Best. This paper, among other things, mooted the possibility of running English schools for profit.

“…if CfBT, Serco or anyone else wants to set up a new school, that we will allow you,” said Gove 24 minutes into the launch.

But Jenny Bexon-Smith, Regional Schools Commissioner for the East Midlands and Humber, and her headteacher board have blocked Reading-based CfBT from running a new primary academy in North Hykeham, Lincolnshire. This is because of concerns about ‘capacity issues’, reports Academies Week in an exclusive.

CfBT had been the official choice of Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) to run North Hykeham primary. But the headteacher board has handed this responsibility to Witham St Hughs Academy, an Outstanding academy in a village south-west of Lincoln.

In Autumn 2011, LCC voted to advise all its schools to become academies preferably with its preferred sponsor, CfBT. The decision was controversial and raised concerns about conflicts of interest because Andy Breckon, Assistant Director of Lincolnshire’s Children’s Services was also director of CfBT school improvement services in Lincolnshire. This was denied.

Lincolnshire’s executive councillor for children’s services, Patricia Bradwell, told Academies Week the council were “disappointed” by the decision. Councillor John Hough, chair of the Council’s Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee, said “It makes a nonsense of democracy, doesn’t it?” This is somewhat ironic: LCC had been criticised for appearing to approve the decision to support county-wide conversion of all schools without full debate and without consulting with parents.

LCC later had cause to regret their advice when West Grantham Academies Trust proposed the closure of one of its small secondary academies. Councillors realised that such arbitrary action made it impossible for the Council to plan school place supply. The academy was only saved when the Department for Education handed it to another sponsor.

But what of CfBT? It has recently given up two of its twenty academies: Enfield Heights Academy, a primary free school which has now joined Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) and Stamford Queen Eleanor School, now part of the Cambridgeshire Meridian Academies Trust (CMAT).

It appears, then, that an organisation once promoted by Michael Gove, now ex-Education Secretary, has been refused permission to take on an extra school. A minor hiccup, perhaps, within the context of mass conversion. But combined with recent reports from the National Audit Office and the National Foundation for Education Research (on behalf of the Department for Education), and stories of financial irregularities and bad governance, it appears that the Government’s uncritical support for academy conversion and its promotion of multi-academy chains is unwise.

CORRECTION The original article said the launch of Blocking the Best was in 2013. It was, of course, in 2010 when Gove was Shadow Secretary of State for Education. Apologies for the typo - it's now been corrected.
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agov's picture
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 09:50

It's reminiscent of the states of medieval Europe gaining and losing the odd province as power waxed and waned, with occasional interventions by the Pope or the Holy Roman Emperor.

How exciting. Politicians must be proud.

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