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 These have not yet been rescinded.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.
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