After ten years, Whitehaven Academy is to get rebuilding it needs
Crumbling Cumbrian school will receive ‘substantial capital investment’
At last, after ten years, Whitehaven Academy is getting new buildings. It will receive ‘substantial capital investment’ following an academy transfer from beleaguered Bright Tribe to Cumbria Education Trust.
Need for new buildings recognised in 2008 but plans had strings attached
In 2008, local MP Jamie Reed proposed that Whitehaven School become an academy. If it did so, the school would receive £30m for new buildings. The school rejected this bribe and was punished. The new building didn’t happen.
Scrapping Building Future Schools stopped proposed rebuilding
Whitehaven became one of the schools which should have been renovated under the ‘Building Future Schools (BSF) scheme. This was scrapped in 2010.
Sponsor Bright Tribe pulled out of next rebuilding plan
A plan, partly funded by local stakeholders including Cumbria County Council, was put forward for a £33m building amalgamating two schools. When Whitehaven School became a Bright Tribe academy in 2014, Bright Tribe pulled out.
Sponsor Bright Tribe breached academy financial rules
Whitehaven Academy has not prospered with Bright Tribe, a controversial trust found to have breached Academy Handbook rules after an investigation by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA). The inquiry had been triggered by whistleblowing allegations received in July 2015. These allegations of financial misdoing didn’t prevent the then education secretary Nicky Morgan from giving Bright Tribe part of a £5m fund to improve northern schools.
Buildings continued to deteriorate
The state of the buildings continued to decline. In November 2017, staff published an open letter saying two-thirds of the academy site was ‘so dilapidated it has had to be closed’. The remaining third leaked every time it rained. Staff called for Bright Tribe to be removed.
Shortly afterwards, Bright Tribe said it would give up Whitehaven Academy.
New sponsor found – funding for rebuild follows
Cumbria Education Trust (CET) has been given the green light to sponsor the academy and ESFA will release substantial funds for rebuilding. It’s hoped the new accommodation will be completed by December 2020.
Policy decisions of successive governments to blame
Policy decisions by successive governments are to blame for the unacceptable delay in rebuilding a crumbling school. First, Labour attached strings to rebuilding: become an academy or go without. Second, the Coalition scrapped BSF. Third, the ballooning number of academy trusts since 2010, didn’t encouraged due diligence:
- In 2014, the Public Accounts Committee expressed concern about related-party transactions within academy trusts.
- Also in 2014, a report to the Education Select Committee said ‘conflicts of interest are common in academy trusts’.
- in 2016, the Observer asked, ‘Are England’s academies becoming a cash cow for business?’ It detailed the activities of Bright Tribe.
This essential rebuilding has been a long time coming. But it’s taken an academy rebrokerage to galvanise the DfE into releasing necessary funding. The investment in new buildings won’t appear in published academy transfer costs, however. Capital costs are not included.