Two of the new B’Ham free schools are run by Trusts already facing challenges

Janet Downs's picture
Two of the new free schools which opened in Birmingham this month are run by Academy Trusts already facing challenges.

One is Perry Beeches V, fifth in a chain of academies and free schools run by Birmingham based Perry Beeches Academies Trust (PBAT). This was despite Perry Beeches III, a free school opened by the Prime Minister in September 2013, being judged Inadequate in May this year. ‘School leaders at all levels, including governors, have an unrealistic and inaccurate view of the school’s performance,’ inspectors said, and teaching was inadequate. Ofsted found about half of the school’s twenty three teachers were ‘inexperienced or recently qualified’ and two were unqualified. The school’s head and chair of governors resigned after the inspection swiftly followed by the deputy head and assistant head. Liam Nolan, PBAT’s chief executive, took over as Perry Beeches III’s interim head.

Coun Brigid Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, had already claimed Perry Beeches V would create an ‘oversupply’ of places in the local areas and would, therefore, threaten the viability of other local schools.

This possible oversupply and the negative Ofsted judgement didn’t prevent the Department for Education (DfE) from giving permission for PBAT to open Perry Beeches V, an all-through free school. This raises the question whether PBAT, which once comprised only outstanding schools, has grown too large. With the chief executive dealing with existing problems at Perry Beeches III, how can the Trust be expected to cope with opening a new school?

Woodard Academies Trust (WAT), which operates independent schools as well as state academies, opened an all-through free school, The King Solomon International Business School. But the DfE has already sent WAT two pre-warning letters about two of its academies (see spreadsheet downloadable here). These have not yet been rescinded. Another WAT academy, St Peter’s Academy, was judged Inadequate in January 2015. Inspectors noted that WAT’s support to the academy had improved but this wasn’t enough to stop it dropping from Requires Improvement. Not all WAT's academies are struggling, however. WAT’s St Augustine Academy was judged Good in October 2014 and its Kings Priory School was also judged Good in June this year. This was despite a turbulent start at the controversial academy.

With two pre-warning letters, St Peter’s Academy needing support and its existing responsibility to its fee-paying schools, WAT surely has enough to contend with without setting up a free school.

This raises a further question about whether the DfE is allowing Trusts to overextend themselves in the desire to open as many free schools as possible. David Cameron has promised another 500 of these schools but it is unwise and unfair to allow free schools to open when the Trusts behind them are already coping with difficulties.

STOP PRESS Fiona Millar describes how a free school run by Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust ‘cut through our community like a knife' here.

NOTES: All inspection reports are available on Ofsted's website.
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David Barry's picture
Tue, 22/09/2015 - 21:52

"This raises a further question about whether the DfE is allowing Trusts to overextend themselves in the desire to open as many free schools as possible."

Well personally I blame the Labour Party.......(!)

The Labour policy for the last election was that any "Free Schools or Academies already in the pipeline" would be allowed to go ahead, but no new Free Schools or Academies would be permitted.

This is was a clear incentive for the outgoing government to advance plans as rapidly as possible so as to create facts on the ground, that the opposition had said they would accept.

Now the current Government are continuing with this, hoping to scramble the eggs to such an extent that even in the event of losing office in 2020 it is as difficult as possible for the changes to be reversed.

In fact there is a sense in which they cannot be reversed already as all around the country LEA's are losing capacity.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Wed, 23/09/2015 - 07:19

The Tories want all schools to be privatised by 2020, but even if they succeed that does not mean that the policy cannot be reversed.

At last we have a Labour policy to put all taxpayer funded schools under local management. I am confident that the rush to privatisation will be be a disaster, with hundreds of schools having huge problems, and that by the next election a return to democratic control of schools will be a very popular policy.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 23/09/2015 - 08:27

Patrick - there's already evidence emerging that many stand-alone academies, particularly primary schools, are struggling after casting themselves adrift from LA stewardship. They are, therefore, having to join multi-academy trusts which can exert more control over their academies than LAs do or ever did.

I'll be writing about this in more detail when I've sifted through my list of academies which have changed hands. In the meantime, the list is on the DfE response to my FoI request. You'll see there a a number of academies 'not previously associated with an approved sponsor' (ie 'stand-alone') named.

kealie's picture
Wed, 23/09/2015 - 17:40

More emphasis should be placed on proprietors of independent schools who lack knowledge of education but seem to be able to open independent special schools on a whim with local council support!!

David Barry's picture
Thu, 24/09/2015 - 07:28

@kealie. Reasonable point, but actually such schools can be also, and are, opened against the wishes of the local council, and even against the wishes of the local electorate!

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