The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) is guilty of ‘brutal and illiterate vandalism' says Chris Whitehouse, Education Spokesperson and Secretary of the Conservative Group of Councillors on the Isle of Wight (IoW).
The accusation follows a proposal by AET to close its Sandown Bay Academy. This would compel the 1000+ pupils to travel six miles to AET's Ryde Academy. The cost of transport, which Cllr Whitehouse estimates would be £1 million per year, would be borne by IoW council.
Cllr Whitehouse, writing in Conservative Home, says there’s been no consultation with the academy governors. Neither has there been any discussion with officers from Hampshire County Council which oversees education on the island.
Cllr Whitehouse says it appears Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner, and Dominic Herrington, Regional Schools Commissioner for South East England and South London, were complicit in the ‘damaging and duplicitous behaviour’.
‘The students of Sandown Bay Academy are distraught, the parents are angry, the staff feel betrayed. The Principal and several of the senior leadership are leaving,’ says Cllr Whitehouse.
AET, a high-profile academy trust with 66 schools, is no stranger to controversy. It is subject to a Financial Notice to Improve which has not yet been lifted. It was slated by Ofsted in February last year. In February, a court ordered AET to pay £34k + costs to an unfairly dismissed former employee. In early May, unions threatened industrial action over AET’s plans to axe caretaking staff to save £2.6m.
The trust, which in the past two years has spent more than £5 million on restructuring its academies, told BBC news it would begin consulting on the proposed ‘merger’ of Sandown Bay and Ryde Academy in the week following 18 May. The Department for Education said it was ‘aware of AET's proposal to merge Sandown Bay Academy and Ryde Academy' and a decision would be made after the general election.
This isn’t likely to reassure IoW council – it wants AET kicked off the island.
IoW Councillors aren't likely to be impressed by the news that AET is one of three 'leading academy trusts' which formed The Trust Network. It's 'An organisation set up to help academy trusts and schools run their buildings, estates and facilities as efficiently as possible for the benefit of their students.' According to a puff piece published after its 'inaugural conference', it's backed by 'leading education figures' including the Education and Skills Funding Agency and Toby Young, director of taxpayer-funded charity New Schools Network. The Trust Network members describe themselves as 'trailblazers in education'. IoW Councillors would be forgiven in thinking AET's trailblazing is a policy of scorched earth.