What’s happening at Whitehaven Academy?

Rebecca Hanson's picture

Copeland MP Jamie Reed, Mayor Mike Starkie and parents  have now been joined in their calls for Bright Tribe to be removed as sponsors of Whitehaven Academy by the staff: (see here).

Bright Tribe have run the school since 2014, during which time they have overseen the departure of four headteachers and have seen results plummet, leading to the school being placed in special measures.

Discontent with Bright Tribe escalated when it unilaterally pulled Whitehaven Academy out the Whitehaven Campus project which would have provided the school with a complete rebuild.

Insight into why Bright Tribe might have done this only because apparent when The Guardian began to investigate Bright Tribe’s interest in running schools:.

As a school chronically in need of a rebuild, substantial funds are being directed into companies providing building work, all of which appear to be owned by Mike Dwan of Bright Tribe.  I visited Whitehaven Academy this summer and was aghast to find that it looked derelict.  This was not due to vandalism, it was due to the fact that the windows were all rotting in and that other essential building maintenance work had not been done.  As people began to raise questions a popular head ‘disappeared’ at no noticed and the governing body was dismissed.

What now for Whitehaven Academy?  What now for the many hundreds of children being educated in buildings that are falling apart by staff who are threatening indefinite strike action? 

All suggestions welcome.



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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 28/11/2016 - 10:47

The Ofsted report says this about the state of the building:

'The school environment is in a poor state of repair and does not encourage or celebrate learning. The sponsor has begun work to improve the buildings, such as by refurbishing the canteen. However, the net impact of work done has been limited and much more remains to be done to improve the poor learning conditions for pupils.'

When Whitaven School's governors voted to become an academy with Bright Tribe, the trust said it was looking forward to help the school, which had just been upgraded from Inadequate to Requires Improvement, to improve further.  But now it's Inadequate.  Inspectors (October 2016) said Bright Tribe  ‘has only recently begun to support the school’s improvement…’  That's nearly two years after Bright Tribe took it over.


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 28/11/2016 - 11:09

Serious questions surround Bright Tribe's expansion.  It was praised by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan in November 2015 as being 'a well established sponsor with a proven track record of successfully managing geographically dispersed academy hubs, making it well-matched to the challenge of working in the north.'  As a reward, Bright Tribe would be given part of a £5m grant to help other schools improve.  At the time, none of Bright Tribe's academies had been inspected so it's unclear where Morgan found the 'proven track record' of success.

An investigation into Bright Tribe found it had broken rules laid down in the Academies Handbook.  Despite this, it won't be issued with a Financial Notice to Improve.    And the investigation report was only published after extensive campaigning.

Serious questions indeed.



Jane Eades's picture
Mon, 28/11/2016 - 13:54

there seem to be several interconnect companies each exchanging money (?for services?).  This must mean that they are not going through a proper bidding process, I assume, even though the personal interests are declared.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 28/11/2016 - 14:01

Janee - the investigation which covered Bright Tribe and its associate Adventure Learning Academies Trust found:

'The procurement model operated by the trusts did not demonstrate fair and open competition in accordance with the AFH, for example, tendering procedures were not undertaken. Goods and services were outsourced directly to preferred service providers connected to the sponsors’ representatives (and/or other trust directors). In such novel and contentious circumstances the EFA expects trusts to request prior authorisation before entering in to such an arrangement. No request for prior authorisation was received by the EFA from the trusts.'

Despite this, neither Bright Tribe nor ALAT have been given a Financial Notice to Improve.  As I said, 'serious questions'.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 28/11/2016 - 18:36

Thanks for all these comments.  Does anyone have any ideas regarding how to move forward from here?  We've got a whole school staff threatening indefinite strike action.  I'm not aware of any other decent academy chains that might take Whitehaven on.  Can anybody suggest any? The William Howard trust have previously helped struggling secondary schools locally but they're now facing this: http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/latest/School-hits-out-over-Ofsted-lea...


Tony Booth's picture
Mon, 28/11/2016 - 19:13

Dear Rebecca Hanson,
What a dreadful situation. Given that being supported within a well-functioning LEA may not be an option at the moment it might seem that the best way forward would be to pull out of an association with Bright Tribe and become a Co-operative Trust School. https://www.co-op.ac.uk/our-work/schools-and-young-people/co-operative-t... Is it possible to work with the teachers and put forward this suggestion? The strong organisation of the teachers at this time - can become a strength of the school. Where do the governors stand? What about parents? If the parents, governors, teachers, other staff, and young people can stand together then a solution may be found.

With strong sympathies and very best wishes, Tony Booth (@ed_nonsense indexforinclusion.org everydaynonsenseineducation.com )

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 28/11/2016 - 19:41

Thank you for this suggestion Tony.  I'm certainly not in a position of authority in this situation and there are others who are more very able, experienced and dedicated who are.  I'm just interested to hear ideas like this and will try to share them with people who may find them useful. 

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 29/11/2016 - 08:40

Rebecca - there's no reason why the LA couldn't intervene but this would have to be agreed by the Trust.  The LA has no power to intervene in academies without permission.  However, the LA can express concern to the Regional Commissioner.

In early 2014, Ofsted criticised Cumbria for the overall state of secondary education in Cumbria.   Inspectors said,

'...there is an urgent need for the Local Authority to provide greater challenge and support to its secondary schools...'

But, as noted above, LAs hands are tied when it comes to challenging academies.

That said, the one person who should be monitoring Whitehaven Academy and taking action is Janet Renou, the Regional Schools Commissioner for the North West.  One course of action is to transfer Whitehaven to another sponsor but, as you've noted above, a possible local sponsor has just had its lead school downgraded to Requires Improvement.  A newly formed multi-academy trust in its infancy may be something to be avoided - it could find it's expanded beyond its competence (I think we'll be seeing more of this in the future as stand-alone MATs are increasingly expected to become a MAT or join one).

agov's picture
Tue, 29/11/2016 - 08:36

Difficult to see how the school could currently become a Co-operative unless the Trust agreed to it and that would still leave the school with the same Trust. The best or only way forward would seem to be to work with the MP and others to provide as convincing a case for change as possible to the DfE. The DfE would likely, at most, only countenance a change to another Trust. If there is currently no Trust willing to take over then the only possibility might be to prepare plans for the school to establish, with DfE approval, its own Trust (whether or not a co-operative) that would probably have to be a MAT therefore requiring the involvement of other schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 29/11/2016 - 09:17

agov and Rebecca - the worst case scenario is that Whitehaven won't be able to attract another sponsor if Bright Tribe gives it up (or is required to do so).  It could become one of the 'untouchables'.

Whitehaven has three of the four 'untouchable' characteristics: crumbling buildings, a proportion of FSM children higher than the national average and a deficit (albeit not a huge one) of £74k.  According to accounts* for Bright Tribe for year ending 31 August 2015 (submitted well after the deadline), the deficit at Whitehaven was because of one-off redundancy payments and restructuring is expected to bring the academy into surplus.  The accounts reveal Bright Tribe has a deficit of £227k which it claims was due to the trust being in a 'start up phase'.  Trustees expect to be in surplus by the end of 2015/16.  Whether the deficit is wiped out or not will impact on Whitehaven's ability to find another sponsor if required to do so.

The fourth 'untouchable' characteristic is falling rolls.  Can't find any evidence of this but perhaps Rebecca could throw more light on it.

*downloadable from Companies House.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 29/11/2016 - 10:55

Numbers down to about 700 Janet - down from about 1500 (I think) when I taught there nearly 20 years ago.

The triggers for the 'untouchable' situation are:
1. The move from headteachers working together (which they did despite all the pressures not to until about 2006).
2. The removal of 'excellence cluster' (anti-sink school) funding which shores up the schools with part full classes.
3. The opening of new schools which has led to an over-supply of places and has caused the students with motivated families to leave the school community.
4. Repeated bouts of inappropriate intervention caused by the behaviour of Ofsted.
5. Underlying deprivation.  Whitehaven contains estates where deprivation scores are among the highest in the UK.

Janet I think you're wrong about schools with crumbling buildings being untouchable.  Why would they not be magnets for trust owners who want to make a fortune out of building work?




Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 29/11/2016 - 13:04

Rebecca - my four triggers were those listed by TES.  Crumbling buildings could put off potential sponsors if they feel the DfE wouldn't finance new building.  This might be thrashed out during the rebrokering procedure when transfer costs (if any) are decided.   In one case, the DfE paid Attwood Academies £6,450,000  for extensived refurbishment when it took over Bexhill High Academy.  But an amount that high has never been awarded to other trusts on transfer according to data I've managed to obtain.   When Bright Tribe took over Colchester Academy it received £25k in transfer costs*.

Assuming the DfE did pay for rebuild - it doesn't follow that the building work would be done by companies linked to academy trustees or their associates.   Contracts for rebuilding/refurbishment would  (in theory) have to go through proper procurement, be done 'at cost' and declared in accounts.  There is scope for a little upgrading of 'cost', of course (Margaret Hodge, ex-PAC chair warned about that), but I don't think that would attract sponsors to take over crumbling academies.

*This figure was provided by Bright Tribe after my FoI request.  It has not been verified by the DfE which seems strangely reluctant to publish data re the cost of academy transfers.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 29/11/2016 - 13:23

No explanation has been put forward (that I have heard of - and I have been listening) for Bright Tribe pulling out of the rebuild of Whitehaven Academy except that it would interfere with their building work to be done at cost.

Ray Penzance's picture
Tue, 29/11/2016 - 21:47

This is on the whatdotheyknow website. I think it's just one big circle. Bright Tribe say they were excluded from talks, Council say Bright Tribe pulled away to fund something on the current Whitehaven Academy site which is why they were excluded from talks. But funding hasn't been forthcoming neither for rebuild or adequate repair.


Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 09:46

Ray - thanks.  Very interesting.  I note the 'vision meeting' agenda (12 August 2014) contained an email mostly comprising the puff from Bright Tribe's website about how it's a 'new type of multi-academy trust'.  This didn't address new buildings.  It referred to 'whole school design' but this had more to do with school improvement than buildings.  The email, which was annotated with 'Picked up from website - not endorsed', was from Marcus Orlovsky of Bryanston Square, a company involved, among other things, with major capital projects and PfI.  It's website claims it helped 'kick off' Building Schools for the Future (abandoned by Michael Gove in 2010).  The email's file reference contained the words 'Projects\B. Live\2014 Whitehaven'.  This suggests Bryanston Square was initially involved (or hoped to be involved) in the project to develop Whitehaven.

The email from Mike Baker, Cumbria County Council, to Julie Betteridge, Copeland Borought Council, dated 16 October 2014 says a feasability study was expected December 2014 and the 'Business Modelling  work to be progressed with winning tenderer'.  (Question - who was the winning tenderer?  Was it Bryanston?)

Since then there appears to be nothing.  The FoI request, dated 1 August 2016, asked for all correspondence re Whitehaven.  But the Council's delayed response (4 November 2016) only sent correspondence from 2014.

Whitehaven Academy didn't win Priority School Building funding in 2015.   Nothing has been announced for 2016 and PSB is heading for an overspend and delays. 

To this outsider, it appears a mighty mess involving Bright Tribe, the Council and the DfE.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 10:04

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 10:23

Then funding was agree in July 2015 but by then Whithaven Academy were no longer part of it.  It was originally Whitehaven Academy (the school that most needed the rebuild), St. Benedict's (the other Secondary School in Whitehaven which is over the road) and Mayfield (the special school beside Whitehaven Adademy).


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 10:26

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 10:47

Thanks, Rebecca.   I note that Bright Tribe had asked for Piority Schools Building Fund money.   It also said, '.. .we agreed that we would be willing to contribute any funding that we may secure from central government to the project.'   This is an odd statement as it should be expected that all money granted under PSB would go towards funding new build/refurbishment.

It now appears Bright Tribe wasn't successful in getting fuding for Whitehaven Academy.  But the DfE hasn't announced funding for 2016 projects yet (at least I couldn't find any announcement).  And we're getting near the end of 2016.   PSB appears to be in a mess. 

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 10:56

Rebecca - what a mess!   The article says that in 2008 the MPin 2008 'put together a proposal for Whitehaven School to become an academy at which point it would have received £30m funding for a new-build. He said: “Whitehaven School decided to turn down this investment and this stands as the greatest disappointment of my political career'.

This doesn't reflect well on the Labour government: offering £30m if a school converts to an academy but denying money needed for rebuild if the school didn't comply.

This Government appears to be continuing the policy of rewarding schools that comply with government policies.  Early academy conversion was encouraged by the perception of more money (not particularly forthcoming now academies like non-academies are complaining about inadequate funding); money was thrown at free schools where spaces weren't needed; Gove robbed the PSB pot for free schools; and now the Autumn statement announced extra funding only for grammars.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 11:02

At that point there was absolutely no way of getting a rebuild unless a school became an academy.  Everybody had tried everything.  That is truly horrific.

Yet it's not as horrific as it became because the nature of what academies were was different then.  It was about small numbers of schools with substantial issues.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 10:57

More on the Radio Cumbria Breakfast Show this morning. 

After the 7am news (36:46) there's a statement from the parental action group, a description of the Ofsted report and then an interview with Clare Feeney-Johnson from Cumbria County explaining the kind of support which could be offered were Whitehaven Academy prepared to accept it.

After the 8am news (1:35:50) an NUT rep and an official from Bright Tribe are interviewed.  The Bright Tribe official is a gentleman called Jemery Rowe who is introduced as being the executive priciple of Whitehaven to the great surprise of the NUT rep (and everyone I think).  The said executive principle is called Jonathan Rowe who was appointed by Bright Tribe this summer to work in the South-East: http://brighttribe.org.uk/2016/06/14/new-executive-principal-appointed-f....

Just to point out that West Cumbria is quite a long way form the South-East. 




Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 11:36

Rebecca - I note the executive principal was speaking from  Truro - that's about 450-500 miles from Whitehaven.  Has the executive principal ever visited Whitehaven?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 22:41

No idea.  Truro's a long way from the South-East too.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 11:20

It appears the Ntional Audit Office is concerned about Bright Tribe according to this Commons written answer in June 2016.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 11:30

Bright Tribe also seems to be having problems in Oldham. 

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 30/11/2016 - 22:43

Perhaps Whitehaven Academy's problems will be solved if they spend £100k sending staff on lakes breaks. 



Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 04/12/2016 - 08:50

This statement from Bright Tribe is littered with lies so it's difficult to give any credence to the bits we can't check:


"When Bright Tribe was asked to take on the School we saw a deeply dysfunctional school that had been in a long cycle of decline."
Compare that statement with the Ofsted judgements and that the school was on the verge of being offered a fully funded rebuild - the package for which had been put together and tremendous costs and stress by a community that desparately needs that money for other things.

"We were left with a stark choice, if we did not take this school it was unlikely that anyone else would and the school would have to close."
This is an lie.  Everyone has always been committed to Whitehaven having a community school.  The only other secondary school in Whitehaven is a Catholic School.  There has never been any suggestion or possibility that Whitehaven School will close the fact that there very aren't the places for the children to go anywhere else made it ludicrous that anyone would even suggest it.

"We met a number of proud parents, staff and especially pupils who were proud of their school and immensely frustrated at the slow painful demise."
Nobody was predicting the potential demise of the school.  Everybody was working towards a complete rebuild.

This has no resemblence to a statement that's intended to be a statement of truth.  It looks like it's entirely a statement of obsfuscation designed to be plausible to people who haven't the time or resource to investigate it.

Does anyone know what the school budget is so what 5% of that will have been?

I think it is essential that reporters get in and actually cover the state of the buildings now.  They are truly horrific and this is surely the secondary school in the worst state in the UK by some way? 

Also there's this in the Guardian today:

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 04/12/2016 - 09:16

Rebecca - accounts for individual academies are consolidated in the accounts for their academy trust.  Bright Tribe's accounts for y/e 31/8/2015 (downloadable from Companies House) say academies are charged a % rate for head office services. The accounts don't say what the % rate is but records the amount paid by Whitevan Academy in the year up to 31/8/2015 as £404k.  

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 04/12/2016 - 12:11

I find it hard to comprehend where that £404k has gone.  But if you look at those accounts you can see that the 4 directors of Bright Tribe paid themselves in excess of £375k. 

Ray Penzance's picture
Sun, 04/12/2016 - 18:49

Academies Capital Maintenance Fund - loans for boiler repair/replacement & LED lighting replacement...would love to see evidence of this work being completed, temperatures in some classrooms below the Working Regulations, doubt lighting has been replaced despite loan funding paid 2015.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 04/12/2016 - 19:27

I suspect you understand exactly what you're talking about Ray but I can't puzzle it out.  Are you referring to a particular point in the accounts Janet linked to?  In which case can you give me the point number? 

If you're in West Cumbria you're welcome to come round for a cuppa.  It's very easy to find my contact details on the Cockermouth Town Council Councillors page.


Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 14/12/2016 - 22:33

Bright Tribe 'committed' to the school by forcing all the teachers out on strike.


Is this a decision that's in the best interests of the children or its about protecting the fat saleries being paid to a bunch of Bright Tribe directors?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 26/01/2017 - 09:14

This from Lord Nash to the teachers:

The staff are now out on strike today and tomorrow (different unions different days). I'm going in to take assembly with Y11 tomorrow (Friday).

The list of failings by the academy chain is so vast I find it impossible to understand why they have not been removed. It's thought to be one of the key reasons Jamie Reed (MP for Copeland) has resigned. He says he's resigned to try and focus a national spotlight on this and the hospital issue.

Ray Penzance's picture
Thu, 26/01/2017 - 09:33

It seems some building improvements have been carried out over the last few weeks but there's still a long way to go and I worry that although Bright Tribe will say "they have invested in the building", the school will be faced with massive invoices for the work done.

I saw on Facebook recently a parent said there was hardly any PE equipment, most of it was broken and as there wasn't any footballs the kids had to use a netball.  If you are in school tomorrow Rebecca perhaps you could ask to see how full the PE department store room is??

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 05/03/2017 - 09:07

Comment by Rebecca Hanson who has had difficulty posting this herself:

"Going into Whitehaven Academy was really interesting.  The head and deputy are clearly excellent and there's nothing wrong with the kids.

 I took year 11 assembly and asked for any questions (which is what I've been doing in other schools too).  I was horrified by the low self esteem of the kids.  

One asked why all the other schools in the area were getting rebuilds but they weren't and asked directly whether they kids at Whitehaven Academy were to blame for not being good enough.

 I observed a Year 11 self study revision period.  By half way through the lesson only 1 of them had managed to log on.  Although the head has managed to get some working computers into school the server was still not working.  This school has effectively had no IT for years.  In the 21st Century!

The claims about lack of resources are clearly understated not overstated.   It's very obvious to see why these kids are doing worse in their exams than other kids.

 Numbers at the school have crashed from just under 1000 when Bright Tribe took over to just over 600.  This is a secondary school with a 6th Form....  GCSE results are down by 10%.  The school has plunged into special measures.  Yet still the RSC is pointing to things that have improved a tiny bit since Christmas and are saying that that means the sponsor is doing well.

 We're ploughing towards another horrific deadline next Thursday 16th March.  Bright Tribe's greatest crime was always that it unilaterally pulled out of the community plan to create a single secondary school in Whitehaven which is clearly now the only way of stabilising th situation.  They pulled out against the will of everyone else involved in the school and the whole community and then sacked the governing body and others who objected.   Without them on board the project has continued as a rebuild for the other secondary school and the specials school only.  This is now due to be signed off next Thursday.   http://www.whitehavennews.co.uk/news/Plans-approved-for-30m-school-campus-3531c3d6-7649-446f-9ddd-2dafcbfbbcf8-ds#.WK2yv3EZHFY.facebook

 When we worried about what the consequences of Michael Gove's academies policy might be I never dreamed it could possibly be this bad because I assumed that it would be implemented and managed by intelligent people who care about children and who would work to mitigate its worst effects."

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