Jan 2016: DfE knew Inspiration Trust would run two Yarmouth secondaries
Inspiration would run Trafalgar College and GY (VA) High by September 2016, DfE officals said
But no consultation or publicity had taken place
‘The Inspiration Trust will run this school from September 2016’, the Department for Education (DfE) wrote in a document apparently dated January 2016*.
The school being referred to was Great Yarmouth VA High School (GYVA) which had been negotiating with the Diocese of Norwich Education and Academies Trust (DNEAT) to become an academy since summer 2015.
Rev Derrick Hill, GY VA’s chair of governors in June 2015, said GYVA had discussed joining Inspiration Trust in 2014 but turned them down.
After unsuccessfully bidding to take over GYVA, Inspiration proposed opening Trafalgar College, an 11-18 free school in Great Yarmouth. This was approved in March 2015 with opening scheduled for September 2016.
Diocese bid for Great Yarmouth VA turned down
Meanwhile, plans for GYVA to join DNEAT continued. But the proposal was rejected by the then regional schools commission (RSC) Tim Coulson in March 2016.
Inspiration named as GYVA sponsor
In an email dated 21 March 2016 to the chair of Great Yarmouth Grammar School Federation, which owned the GY VA site, Coulson said he proposed to issue an Academy Order naming Inspiration Trust as GY VA’s sponsor (see Warwick Mansell’s blog here £).
In April 2016, GYVA was downgraded from requires improvement to inadequate.
Impact Assessment for Trafalgar College says Inspiration will run both schools in ‘complementary way’
Some time between January 2016 and the summer of that year the DfE drew up an Impact Assessment* outlining the effect Trafalgar College might have on nearby schools. It was not published until 19 July 2018. It’s worth quoting the paragraph about GYVA in full:
‘We consider the impact of the free school on Great Yarmouth (VA) High School to be minimal. As a Christian VA School it is unlikely that parents will want to move their children to the free school if they select on faith. The Inspiration Trust will run this school [GY VA} from September 2016 and will want to ensure both schools operate in a complementary way, lessening the overall impact. The trust should also improve the schools Ofsted performance over time. We judge that the opening of the free school is unlikely to affect this school’s long term financial viability.’
This document assumes Inspiration would have taken over GYVA by September 2016.
Inspiration eventually took over GYVA in September 2018
In the event, Inspiration didn’t take over GYVA until two years’ later when it was renamed Great Yarmouth Charter Academy (GYCA). And Tim Coulson, the RSC who supported Inspiration’s takeover, became chair of governors.
Merger plan announced within weeks
The Impact Assessment says Inspiration planned to run both schools together. But no sooner had GYCA opened, then Inspiration announced Trafalgar and GYCA would merge.
This move was not popular among many Trafalgar parents who requested a judicial review. This was turned down.
Court documents reveal manoeuvrings behind the scenes
Papers disclosed for the Court are illuminating. Warwick Mansell describes them in full here (£).
- Schools minister Nick Gibb was initially ‘minded’ to refuse the merger but changed his mind after being warned Inspiration would abandon GYCA.
- A ‘very senior figure’ said proposing to close a free school just six months after opening on the grounds there were surplus places locally showed the risks of opening new schools where there is no basic need.
- Under merger plans, GYCA would technically ‘close’ and the free school would move to GYCA’s site. Capital funding intended for free school development could then be used to improve the newly-merged academy. This, the DfE admitted, ‘could set a [problematic] precedent for the free school programme’.
- Selling the Trafalgar College site would entail a loss
- A ‘presentational issue’ arises from the relationship between the DfE and Sir Theodore Agnew, then chair of Inspiration Trust who was also formerly a DfE non-executive director and chair of the DfE’s Academies Board. Sir Theodore is now Lord Agnew, schools minister whose responsibilities include free schools, academies and school capital investment including new school places.
DfE to work with press office to ensure ‘strong and consistent’ spin
A briefing document in April 2018 showed how such presentational issues occupied the minds of DfE officials:
‘We will work with press office to prepare robust and consistent lines…to explain the rationale behind the decision, and to ensure that there is a strong and consistent media story.’
Propaganda appears to trump more serious concerns
It appears the need to have ‘strong and consistent’ propaganda trumps the waste of taxpayers’ money in opening a school where there was no need, the loss to the taxpayer of selling the school’s temporary site, questions over links between the DfE, Lord Agnew, Tim Coulson and Dame Rachel de Souza, director and now CEO of Inspiration Trust who once sat on Tim Coulson’s Headteacher Board**, diverting free school capital funding to an academy and last, but not least, the effect on pupils of Trafalgar College, their parents and staff.
*Although dated January 2016, the Impact Assessment refers to GY VA’s April 2016 Ofsted.
**Minutes for the HB Board of 20 April 2017 show Dame Rachel was absent when approval was given for Inspiration to takeover GY VA. However, as the Impact Assessment shows, the DfE admitted before September 2016 that Inspiration would eventually run both Trafalgar College and GYVA. This raises the question about who made this decision, when was it made and who knew.