The Rye Academy Trust must ‘arrange for its schools to join a strong multi-academy Trust’ by 1 September 2018, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) says.
ESFA served a Financial Notice to Improve to Rye Academy Trust on 8 September following months of ESFA support.
Accounts for the year ending 31 August 2016, which were submitted late to ESFA, show the Trust submitted an initial recovery plan to the Education Funding Agency (ESFA’s predecessor) in December 2016. This was revised in January 2017.
Despite this support, ESFA still had concerns about the weak financial position, governance and financial management at Rye Academy Trust.
The Trust has three academies: a primary academy, Rye Community Primary School; a secondary academy, Rye College; and a studio school opened by Michael Gove in June 2014 shortly before he was sacked as education secretary.
Rye College was judged Good after it converted. Rye Community Primary School has not been inspected since joining the Trust in March 2015 but the predecessor local authority school was judged Good in 2011. Rye Studio School was downgraded from Outstanding to Requires Improvement in December 2016.
Transferring the two Good academies should not be too difficult but the studio school may find it tough to attract a sponsor. It’s been struggling to fill spaces and announced in March it would not be admitting Year 10 or Year 12 students in September. Inspectors found it was ‘less than half full’ and this had ‘had a significant impact on the budget’.
In March, Tim Hulme, CEO of Rye Academy Trust, blamed school funding cuts for the Trust’s financial woes. He told a local paper:
‘The trust is a relatively small one and cannot sustain the current level of operating costs against a backdrop of cuts to pupil funding. It is already struggling to maintain services and is cutting some activities.’
A huge amount of taxpayers’ money has been spent on turning schools into academies. Conversion was encouraged by the perception that academies would receive extra money. But that small amount of extra funding has to purchase services previously provided by local authorities. It must also pay for the extra administrative burdens associated with financial governance and legalities associated with running a company and a charity.
As funding cuts bite, it’s likely other academy trusts will go under. It’s already becoming difficult to find multi-academy trusts willing to take over struggling academies on the transfer market. The time may come when the only sensible option for rudderless academies is to return them to local authority stewardship.