Halted academy chains: where “incredible success” means low results and one chain turns out to be a single link “required” to become an academy

Janet Downs's picture
This is the final article giving information about the 14 academy chains halted by the DfE from taking on more academies (see sidebar for other articles in this series).

University of Chester Academies Trust (UCAT)

UCAT has ten academies including two primary academies opened in January 2014 and University Cathedral Free School opened in September 2013.

The University of Chester offers Initial Teacher Training (ITT) judged Outstanding for primary provision and Good for Secondary in 2010. Education secretary Michael Gove wants ITT to move from universities and their alleged “Marxist” philosophy. His apparent disdain for university-based ITT was thought to be the real reason behind the rejection of an application for a free school sponsored by the Institute of Education (IoE Outstanding overall January 2014). The Department for Education (DfE) said IoE lacked experience.

Odd, then, the DfE should have allowed UCAT with its link to university-based ITT to open a free school despite the known poor results at its academies while refusing an application for a parent- and council-backed free school linked to an Outstanding university-based ITT.

Ofsted judged University Academy of Birkenhead as Requires Improvement in July 2013. The Academy’s been through troubled times – it had five Principals in 2011/12. 43% of its 2013 GCSE cohort reached the benchmark*.

The University of Chester CofE Academy was judged Inadequate in Oct 2013 although Ofsted noted the sponsor had provided “recent, effective support”. UCAT says the academy had “incredible success” since it opened in 2009. But the proportion reaching the benchmark* fell from 38% in 2010 to 32% in 2011. In 2013, it rose to 45% but this drops to 21% when equivalents are removed.

West Hertfordshire Teaching Schools Partnership

The Partnership began in 2011 with two academies, Bovingdon Primary Academy and Hammond Academy. It has grown rapidly: 28 are listed on its website under the heading “Our academies”.

But these “academies” aren’t all academies: they are schools of all types in the West Hertfordshire Teaching Schools Partnership alliance.

So, is West Hertfordshire Teaching Schools Partnership an academy chain or not? It’s on the February 2014 DfE list of approved academy sponsors. But it appears it’s not the Partnership that sponsors academies but West Herts Academy Trust (WHAT). It started in 2012 and comprises one school, The Grove Academy.

Not so much a chain as one link.

The Grove’s predecessor school, Berrygrove was judged Satisfactory in 2010. Monitoring in 2011 found the local authority was giving “sustained support”. Berrygrove’s results rose steadily from 48% reaching Level 4 in in 2009 Sats to 61% in 2011, just exceeding the floor standard. Results rose further to 62% in 2012.

It appears Berrygrove was already improving. But in November 2011 governors said the school’s results were below floor and the DfE “requires the school to work with a nominated primary school as an educational sponsor”.

In February 2012, parents were told the head of seven years, Chris Kronda, would not be joining the academy. At the end of March Mr Kronda wrote a moving farewell letter. In it he said:

“As you are aware Berrygrove Primary and Nursery School is required to transfer to Academy status from September 2012.”

The wording is significant: the DfE “requires”; the school “is required” to convert.

But the “branding” of Berrygrove/Grove Academy continued: new name, new uniform. Now it appears the chosen sponsor has been halted because of concerns over performance. Results at The Grove in 2013** were low: 59%. But care should be taken in judging Grove Academy on these figures. It had so few previously high-attaining pupils that results were suppressed to avoid identifying individual children.

But WHAT’s expansion is paused. Perhaps WHAT is being punished because results at the school it sponsors are low. If this is so, then schools judged good or better will be discouraged from helping weaker schools. Tying a seaworthy ship to a leaky vessel could sink both.

ADDENDUM 1 April 2014. University of Chester Academy Northwich was judged Inadequate in February. The report was not made public until 27 March 2014.

*The benchmark for Y11 pupils is 5 GCSEs (or equivalent) A*-C including Maths and English.

** The way the results are calculated was changed between 2012 and 2013. A direct comparison is not possible by looking at individual school’s performance table unless an amended result is given for 2012. No results for 2012 appear on the 2013 table for The Grove Academy. The 62% figure for 2012 given above was from the 2012 table – this shows the results calculated in a different way. Confused? See here for an attempt at explanation.

Notes: Ofsted reports can be downloaded here. The DfE list of approved sponsors can be downloaded here (note: it is regularly updated – the information above was correct in February 2014).
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John Mountford's picture
Sun, 23/03/2014 - 21:46

Again, I have to say, Janet, you are to be congratulated for your hard work and persistence. Would that any political party was as capable of identifying the facts as you are and bringing them to our attention. Truth is, however, they could do the job. It just isn't in their intertests for any of them to do so because it would establish their culpability in this growing mess. No wonder people like me are facing the prospect of traipsing off to the polling booth next year and finding nothing there to dissuade them from spoiling their ballot papers.

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