Academy trust claims school before consultation complete

Janet Downs's picture
Robert Bruce Middle School, Kempston, Bedford, is consulting on whether to become an academy. A letter to parents says the consultation runs until Friday 11 September when, according to the letter, governors will decide whether to go ahead with plans to become a sponsored academy with the Challenger Multi-Academy Trust.

But it appears the move is a foregone conclusion. As early as March, Bedfordshire On Sunday reported that Robert Bruce was being ‘made to become [an] academy’ with Challenger. The Department of Education’s database of school details, Edubase, says it’s proposed to close Robert Bruce on 31 December 2015. And Challenger Multi-Academy Trust says Robert Bruce Middle School is already one of its academies along with Lancot School which will join Challenger at the end of the month. (The pictures of the two schools on Challenger's website look remarkably the same.)

The move was supported by the school’s then head, Karen Parker, and local MP Richard Fuller who said the school had longstanding problems which ‘Bedford Borough Council had failed to address’.

But when Ofsted arrived, also in March, and upgraded Robert Bruce from Inadequate to Requires Improvement, inspectors said the local authority’s actions were ‘contributing to the school’s capacity for continued improvement’.

Matters have deteriorated at the school since the March inspection. The head was suspended in early June following accusations of exam malpractice which the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) has investigated. STA confirmed exam maladministration had taken place and the Key Stage 2 test results have been scrapped. Ofsted monitoring showed five members of staff had resigned, three teachers and two members of support staff were on long-term leave of absence, the central record of recruitment checks were not ‘compliant with current regulations’ and the school’s action plan was of poor quality. The LA had appointed an interim head and arranged for local support.

Ofsted, however, is clear: ‘The school is to become a sponsored academy.’

Yet the Governors tell parents they will make a decision whether to go ahead and join Challenger after the consultation ends. But the decision has already been made. It’s not the first time that such consultations appear to be nothing more than paper exercises. And even this pseudo local democracy will disappear if the Education and Adoption Bill is passed.

ADDENDUM: The risk assessment for Bedford Free School said the establishment of the free school could pose a moderate to high risk to Robert Bruce. The school, along with three other schools, could ‘potentially’ experience a ‘significant loss of pupils’. Most of these four had ‘existing surplus capacity and were undersubscribed for entry in 2011/12’. Migration of ‘even a small number of pupils’ to Bedford Free School might ‘exacerbate the existing surplus and attainment issues and threaten the long-term viability of these schools’, the impact assessment said. Despite this, Bedford Free School opened in September 2012. It was judged to Require Improvement in February 2014. Ofsted has not yet undertaken monitoring visits.

ADDENDUM 2: It appears Challenger Multi-Academy Trust writes its blogs in Latin. The texts were beyond my O level Latin (exam never taken). Google translator wasn’t much help – a few English words such as performance, poverty and pain accompanied by ‘the laughter of marketers’. Perhaps it’s a joke – or the site’s been hacked by a prankster.
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Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 11:07


That Latin text is most probably standard 'dummy' or 'placeholder' text - usually drawn from Cicero's Den Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. The same set of passages have been used in for placeholding in the print industry for >500 years and a number of 20th and 21st century software packages have chosen the same texts. Generally they are known as 'Lorem Ipsum' passages.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 16:15

Barry - this is absolutely fascinating. I had no idea. Wouldn't it be easier to just write 'This page is under construction' or something?

I laughed when I read this from Microsoft support:

'The phrase "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetuer" appears in Microsoft Word online Help. This phrase has the appearance of an intelligent Latin idiom. Actually, it is nonsense.'

I love the description of the phrase as having the 'appearance' of an 'intelligent' Latin phrase but is actually gibberish. Could it also be described as cod Latin such as Nil Bastardum Carborundum? No wonder I couldn't make sense of it - it left me shaking my head and repeating the only Latin phrase I remember: O me miserum.

Many schools and academies have adopted portentous Latin mottoes - I'd love to think some of them appear to be intelligent Latin but are in fact foolish guff. That's an unworthy thought, of course.

Guest's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 13:26

I find it particularly worrisome that in March 2015 a section 5 team of 3 can conclude that "Effective safeguarding procedures help to ensure that students feel safe in the school." as a strength of the school but in July 2015 a single HMI disagreed, judging the SCR non-compliant. It is difficult to comprehend that the SCR should have declined to that extent in 4 months.

Having looked at the S5 and S8 reports I could not find a reference that states the school "is to become a sponsored academy".

Barry Wise's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 14:18

Sometimes inspectors focus on whether the DBS checks are up to date. But sometimes they may look at whether references have been taken up etc. In this case it looks as if the school was okay on DBS but non-compliant on other aspects of safe recruitment. I don't think July's HMI is over-ruling or even contradicting the March team, just broadening the scope.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 15:51

Guest - the sentence about the Robert Bruce becoming a sponsored academy is in the paragraph headed 'Context' in the Ofsted monitoring letter dated 6 July 2015. Agov has provided a link (thanks, agov).

Guest's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 14:45

I missed the sponsored academy statement in the S8 report, tucked away as it was toward the end of the para on context. However, and ironically, I think that in the context of the report the reference to academisation is more accurately a reflection of information shared with the HMI by the school/LA as opposed to an Ofsted viewpoint or preference.

Barry - you may be right but I nevertheless suspect that there is a tension between the S5 team and HMI perspectives and throws up a worrying potential for inconsistency within the process that could leave pupils more vulnerable than they ought to be. Part of my concern here is that both additional and HM inspectors use a prescribed evidence form for safeguarding that is intended to provide a minimum level of consistency and maintenance of safeguarding. This pre-formatted EF covers more than the SCR.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 15:55

Guest - I too was concerned about consistency. It was only a short time between the full inspection in March and monitoring in July. Surely the central record of recruitment was checked during the full inspection?

If you are right that Ofsted is merely reporting what the school says, this highlights the sham nature of the 'consultation'. The letter to parents definitely says the governors will decide whether to go ahead with conversion AFTER reviewing all submissions to the consultation. But, as we can see, the decision appears already to have been made.

Guest's picture
Mon, 03/08/2015 - 17:27

Janet - The safeguarding element of the S5 inspection will have covered more than the SCR and, as referenced earlier, will have been framed by a structured evidence form common to all types of inspection, and hence I am quizzical.

With regard to the academisation consultation, this, sadly, is not an uncommon situation. There have been other cases reported on LSN where a Governing Body/HT wished to to go down that route but were forced to consult by the process. I wouldn't say that this makes the consultation a sham rather, and ironically, it reflects a transparency: one side desirous of it and the other (parents/families) needing to be consulted and persuaded.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 04/08/2015 - 07:25

Guest - with the emphasis on 'persuaded' as in 'It's an offer you can't refuse'. It's telling parents that Governors will request and consider opinions but the move to conversion is in fact well under way - Academy Order signed, sponsor inflicted (sorry, chosen), date of conversion already set. In other words, those parents who believe their views will influence the Governors (despite the Governors saying they'll make a decision AFTER reviewing the submissions) are mistaken.

agov's picture
Tue, 04/08/2015 - 08:49

And the governors might then not have a choice anyway -

"What it would mean is that, if governors proceed with the application for an order before undertaking the section 5 consultation, they are then powerless to stop the process going ahead if, having heard the views of parents, they then get cold feet about the idea."

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