Halted academy chains – stories of extravagance, cancelled GCSE courses and concerns from charitable trust about damage to its "commercial operation"

Janet Downs's picture
This is the second of three threads giving the background of academy chains recently barred by the Department for Education (DfE) from taking on schools.


E-Act isn’t just barred from taking on more academies – the DfE is removing ten E-Act academies from the chain. The DfE is searching for new sponsors as part of its “rebrokerage process”. It appears we’re moving from brokering academy conversion to second-stage brokering where academies are shifted from one sponsor to another.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) found a culture of extravagance at E-Act. Sir Bruce Liddington, once the highest paid person in English education, resigned after EFA published its report. Meanwhile, the use of equivalent exams in E-Act academies rose between 2011 and 2013.

Grace Foundation

The Grace Foundation has three Midland schools. These were established by Tory donor Lord Edmiston. The Guardian discovered £1m had been paid to companies linked to Lord Edmiston, trustees and their relatives. Lady Edmiston’s brother was employed as executive director. Grace Academy’s director of corporate development told the Guardian contributions to the academy from related parties amounted to considerably more than the £1m allegedly gained.

In July 2013 Ofsted judged Grace Academy Darlaston as Requires Improvement. Ofsted returned in November and found the sponsor, school leaders and governing body hadn’t taken “effective action” to address weaknesses. In September 2013 Ofsted judged Grace Academy Solihull to be Inadequate. In contrast to the situation in Darlaston, an Ofsted monitoring visit in November found the sponsor was providing “strongly focused support”.

In November 2013, schools minister Lord Nash sent two pre-warning letters to Grace academies in Coventry and Darlaston. On 29 January 2014, Ofsted visited Grace Academy Coventry which had been judged Good in 2010. Inspectors judged the Academy to be Inadequate.

Despite the concerns earlier expressed by Lord Nash about two Grace academies, he praised Lord Edmiston on 15 January:

“I am extremely grateful to him for his support of the academy programme … we should encourage more philanthropists like him to come into the system, rather than trying to score cheap points against them.”

The use of equivalent exams in Grace academies appears to have increased significantly since 2011. Pupils at Grace Academy Darlaston were told GCSE subjects had been dropped half way through the course. Grace Academy Coventry was the subject of a Parliamentary Question in October 2013 after it was discovered the Governing Body had issued a policy which did not allow teachers to “promote” homosexuality. This was interpreted locally as being “anti-gay”.

Landau Foundation

Landau Forte College was originally a City Technology College (CTC) opened in 1989. It became an academy in September 2006 under Labour’s sponsored academies programme. Ofsted judged the College to be Outstanding in May 2012. Landau Forte Amington, Tamworth, was opened in September 2010 from Woodhouse High School and Landau Forte QEMS opened a year later when Queen Elizabeth’s Mercian School was closed. This was despite local opposition which also objected to Tamworth schools being handed over to E-Act. Landau Forte lists Landau Forte Tamworth Sixth Form as a separate establishment on its website but I was unable to find any record of this on Edubase, Ofsted or School Performance Tables. Landau Forte has since sponsored two primary schools in September 2012 and September 2013.

Ofsted judged two of the secondary Landau Forte academies to be Good and the third, Landau Forte College, to be Outstanding. But performance at all three academies fell in 2013 – the highest proportion reaching the benchmark* was 56% at the College and the lowest, at Amington, was 37%. 48% of pupils at Landau Forte Moorhead gained Level 4 or above in Key Stage 2 Sats.

It appears, then, low performance caused Landau Forte to be paused from taking of any more academies. But it also appears no warning letters have been sent.

Landau Forte Charitable Trust has one subsidiary**, LF Enterprises Ltd, a private limited company with shareholders. Other companies linked to the academies include Landau Forte Enterprises Tamworth and Landau Forte Enterprises QEMS. All are in the business of letting out facilities at Landau Forte academies.

Sir Rocco Forte told the Business Reporter:

“I’ve now taken on six failing schools under the current scheme, turning them around and making quite a difference, and that’s something I’m quite proud of.”

But I could only find five Landau academies listed on Edubase. I found four Ofsted reports – only one was Inadequate and Landau Forte didn’t sponsor that until September 2013. The other three were Satisfactory. I couldn’t find the Ofsted for the former City Technology College but it if were failing when it became an academy then this would have been when Landau Forte was at the helm.

It appears the DfE doesn’t agree that Landau Forte has turned them round.

Lee Chapel Academy Trust

A tiny multi-academy trust (MAT) which started in September 2012. It comprises two schools: Lee Chapel Primary School and Greensted Junior School. Neither has been inspected since becoming academies but the former was Outstanding and the latter Satisfactory before they converted.

86% of Lee Chapel’s pupils gained Level 4 or above in KS2 Sats; 60% of Greensted’s pupils did so.

Prospects Academies Trust

In August 2013, Private Eye found evidence suggesting former schools minister Lord Hill overruled civil servants to allow Prospects Academies Trust to take on more academies when it was “paused” following a negative Ofsted judgement of Gloucester Academy. In August 2012, Vincent Mcdonell, director of Gloucester Academy Trust and then director of Prospects, had requested an “urgent” meeting with Lord Hill to discuss the “unhelpful” attitude of the DfE which was “having a negative impact” on “the commercial operation” of his company. The meeting took place in October 2012 by which time Prospects already had two academies which had opened a month before. Private Eye saw feedback from the meeting which showed Lord Hill wanted deferred Prospects projects to be progressed “asap”.

Lord Nash sent a pre-warning letter to Gloucester Academy in September 2013. This was followed by a warning letter on 16 December. A monitoring visit by Ofsted in October 2013 found the academy wasn’t making enough progress towards removing the “serious weakness designation”.

Prospects Academies Trust took on three more academies in October and November 2012. One of these, Bexhill High School, was judged Inadequate in February 2013 having previously been Satisfactory. The Dean Academy received a monitoring visit from Ofsted – inspectors said Prospects’ Chief Executive was “fully committed to improving the life chances for students” and the Principal particularly appreciated the “provision of services from the human resources department”.

The Trust is part of the Prospects Group which has an annual turnover in excess of £100 million according to its website. Its promotional literature said the Prospects Improve team had been shortlisted for School Improvement Partner of the Year at the 2013 Education Investor’s Awards.

It appears the DfE doesn’t agree.

*The benchmark is 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English

**Information from DueDil

Notes: Pre-warning letters to academies can be downloaded here. Ofsted reports can be downloaded here except for Woodhouse High School which is not available on the Ofsted website. Follow link here for Woodhouse High School Satisfactory Ofsted 2007.

ADDENDUM 23 March 2014. The headline above has been changed. It was originally "Halted academy chains – background on five more"
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John Mountford's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 22:43

Thank you for this, Janet. This is the sort of stuff that should be hitting the headlines across ALL media outlets. It is a national shame that it isn't. Those not blinded by the bogus claims and baffled by the conflicting stories around the 'reform' of our schools know there is much more 'grubby detail' to emerge.

As others have said here, there is at least hope that the reform of the system is reversible, if opponents of this iniquitous system pull together. If the SoS can 'unfrock' E-Act and hand their franchise to another provider, there is hope that local accountability for education has not disappeared for ever. There is a role for local authorities of the right composition.


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