Inadequate free school will close and reopen in September with new sponsor, name and brand

Janet Downs's picture
The notoriety surrounding Al-Madinah and the Discovery New School seems to have bypassed Hartstbrook E-Act Free School. Ofsted judged it Inadequate on all four counts in January 2014.

The free school was opened in September 2012 by E-Act, an established academy chain, and was partnered by the independent Highgate School. The academy trust, despite its avowed experience in running schools, only started providing support to the free school shortly before Ofsted arrived 16 months after opening. The school’s leaders were inexperienced and in ‘urgent need’ of additional support, said inspectors. But E-Act had failed to provide it.

Hartsbrook E-Act Free School promised to provide an ‘outstanding’ education. This claim remained on the school’s website even after the Inadequate judgement and was only removed after Advertising Standards intervened. However, the school still claims to be ‘blossoming’, ‘dynamic and vibrant’.

A monitoring report in June said the current sponsor, E-Act, had [belatedly] provided ‘high level’ support but Hartsbrook, along with ten other E-Act academies, will be handed to another sponsor. A focussed inspection of E-Act academies in March 2014 found the overwhelming proportion of pupils in E-Act academies was not receiving a good education. At the same time, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) found E-Act had been operating in a ‘culture of extravagant expenses’.

Hartsbrook E-Act’s new sponsor is the Lion Academies Trust which is supposed to be taking over the school in September. A local newspaper reported the school will reopen with a new name and brand. But there’s no information about the change on the websites of the school or the academy trust. However, a separate consultation website says Hartsbrook will become a ‘new free school’ in September.

In other words, Hartsbrook E-Act will be closed. It will be the second free school to close entirely although it’s the first one to be replaced by a ‘new free school’. If it’s ‘new’ then it’s likely it won’t be inspected until the academic year 2015/16 – in its second year. Monitoring inspections of the ‘closed’ Inadequate school will stop.

Does this case signal an emerging trend? Will other free schools judged Inadequate be similarly ‘closed’? And if an Inadequate free school no longer exists, then presumably it won’t appear in statistics about open free schools. The proportion judged Inadequate would fall and the DfE could claim: ‘Free schools less likely to be judged inadequate than council run schools’.

Which is what might happen if Inadequate free schools cease to exist.
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Patrick Hadley's picture
Sun, 10/08/2014 - 12:00

Will the new school will qualify as a "free school"?

I thought that the only difference between free schools and academies is that free schools are new, and not based on an existing school. Free schools are not, as far as I know, allowed to take over the same buildings and same pupils as a previous maintained school - but must be completely new to the "state" education system.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 11/08/2014 - 09:04

Patrick - the consultation definitely refers to a 'new free school'. It will have a new name, 'brand' and uniform (parents will be pleased!) as well as a new sponsor. But, as you say, all free schools so far have been extra provision not have not replaced an already-existing school in the way academies do. That's why this situation is odd.

The school will be given a new DfE 'number' so technically it's a 'new' school in the same way as converter academies technically close and reopen. I can see the reasoning behind changing the name - the E-Act brand is not encouraging. But if an academy changes its sponsor it doesn't usually become a 'new' academy. For example, the Charles Read Academy in Lincolnshire, which West Grantham Academies Trust wanted to close, was handed to another sponsor but didn't become a 'new' school.

… changes affecting Hartsbrook E-ACT free school were first picked up by the Local Schools Network. According to the consultation website, the school will be replaced by one with a new governing …

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 14/08/2014 - 07:23

The DfE denies Hartsbrook E-Act is closing, according to EverythingFreeSchools.

The homepage of the consultation website (linked above) for Hartbrook E-Act clearly says this:

"Changing Sponsor - A fresh start for Hartsbrook
The New Free School due to open September 2014"

The school will be given a new Unique Reference Number (URN) - the DfE admits that. It says there will be no interruption to the children's education. That's true (although parents will be expected to buy new uniforms). But why is it necessary to change the schools URN? This doesn't appear to have happened with Aldborough E-Act which has changed its sponsor and has a new name, Aldborough Primary School. Edubase lists Aldborough Primary School with its new name but not a new URN - it's still listed as opening in September 2011. It hasn't closed and reopened under a completely new identity.

So why is it necessary to give Hartsbrook E-Act a new URN when this doesn't happen when other free schools and academies change sponsors?

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