Academy at ‘high risk’ from new free school blames free schools for money problems
Competition from free schools contributed to financial difficulties which led to Corelli College, Greenwich, being transferred to Leigh Academies Trust (LAT), academy accounts* reveal.
In a controversial move, Greenwich Council gave LAT £1.5m when it took over Corelli.
Corelli ‘closed’ on 28 February for a ‘fresh start’ and rebranded as The Halley Academy. It’s unclear why a new beginning was needed. Corelli wasn’t inadequate although it did require improvement. The fresh start, however, hasn’t prevented The Halley from cherry-picking favourable quotes from the 2016 inspection – a report which predated LAT’s takeover.
Three secondary free schools have opened in Greenwich since 2012. A fourth, Leigh Blackheath Academy run by the same trust which runs The Halley, is scheduled to open this September on grounds vacated by Blackheath Bluecoat School which closed in August 2014. Greenwich council voted in early 2012 to close Blackheath Bluecoat due to falling rolls and a mounting deficit.
Blackheath Bluecoat wasn’t the only Greenwich secondary school to have spare capacity when approval was given for the first free school in Greenwich, Greenwich Free School (GFS), to open in September 2012.
The GFS impact assessment said the free school could ‘potentially’ have a ‘high impact’ on five secondary schools:
- Corelli College
- Crown Wood School
- Blackheath Bluecoat
- The Eltham Foundation School
- Welling School in Bexley
All of these schools were undersubscribed. The impact assessment also reveals opposition from Bexley: GFS ‘could result in existing Bexley schools suffering from an even higher level of unfilled places.’
The four high risk Greenwich schools had a combined total of 1,326 unfilled spaces in 2010/11. Closing Blackheath would have reduced this number by about 633, the number of pupils at Blackheath that year.
But closing Blackheath meant shutting down a school judged good in 2013: inspectors said pupils were ‘thriving’. And it still left about 700 unfilled places.
This suggests there was no need for a new secondary school in Greenwich. But two more, the International Academy of Greenwich and Royal Greenwich Trust School, opened in 2016. We don’t know the impact on nearby schools because the Department for Education hasn’t published assessments for 2016.
When GFS was first proposed, it said it expected its intake to reach 700 by 2016/17. But this wasn’t achieved. The 2016/17 roll was 496**. However, the school’s capacity has been reduced to 540***.
Even with GFS’s reduced capacity, the number of extra school places provided by free schools in Greenwich is 2,015. A further 1,150 places will be provided in LAT’s Leigh Academy Blackheath bringing the total to 3,165.
GFS’s application form, dated May 2011, claimed Greenwich lost 11% of its secondary age population to other boroughs – a new, better school was needed to entice these pupils back.
GFS also said Greenwich predicted in 2010/11 a shortfall of 895 secondary places in Greenwich by 2015. Odd, then, that Greenwich should have voted in January 2012 to close a secondary school.
One school closed because of falling rolls. Four set up which increase capacity.
Is this what now passes as planning?
CORRECTION 5 June 2018 09.50 The above has been amended to make it clear that 'the first free school' was the first free school in Greenwich not the first free school in England.
*Accounts for Corelli College Co-operative Trust for year ending 31 August 2017 are available from Companies House.
**School Performance Tables