Bishop Anthony Trust failing to improve schools with significant weaknesses, says Ofsted

Janet Downs's picture
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The Bishop Anthony Educational Trust (BEAT) has ‘not been successful enough’ in improving schools with significant weaknesses, says Ofsted’s summary evaluation of the trust.

BEAT, a Diocese of Hereford multi-academy trust, runs 14 primary and two secondary schools in Herefordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire.

Ofsted’s criticisms included:

Heads frustrated with 'quality of trust leadership and poor communication’;

‘A significant proportion’ of heads frustrated by poor quality support for back office functions;

Insufficient oversight of work done by ‘academy improvement partners’.

Positive signs included:

Two academies improved after BEAT took them over;

BEAT academies placed in special measures in late 2018 have had ‘appropriate support’;

Heads 'pleased’ with action taken by recently-appointed interim CEO to improve communication.

Too rapid growth?

BEAT has nearly doubled its number of academies since 2016.  Trust accounts* say BEAT ‘will act as lead sponsor’ for any Diocesan CofE school wishing to convert or which has been ordered to do so following an inadequate judgement. 

This suggests BEAT will expand further.  But Ofsted implies BEAT has already taken on more than it can cope with.  It would not be the first time an academy trust has floundered following too swift an expansion.

BEAT faces unexpected emergency spending to replace unsafe building

BEAT accounts* reveal serious structural problems in part of Ludlow Church of England School.  This led to the ‘immediate closure’ of the affected block.  Three ‘demountable buildings’ were erected at an anticipated cost of £482k.    ‘Ongoing discussions’ with the Education and Skills Funding Agency have led BEAT to believe it will receive no contribution to cover this expenditure.

ESFA ‘unlikely’ to help with capital spending

BEAT estimates hiring the temporary buildings will be £250k pa until a permanent building is ready.  The trust has sought ‘significant’ financial support for construction work from ESFA but believes it’s ‘unlikely’ to be forthcoming. 

Paying for building work will reduce money ‘available for educational improvement’

BEAT expects to have to fund the building work out of its budget.  Consequently, BEAT is reviewing its ‘curriculum provision’ and making ‘additional savings’ to finance construction and ultimately to ensure the trust’s long-term financial viability.

The school’s February newsletter says rebuilding plans are ready but the school’s still trying to secure funding.   Ludlow’s MP Philip Dunne was liaising with the Department for Education on the school’s behalf.

The difficulty faced by BEAT in receiving funding for essential building work highlights the ad-hoc way in which the DfE awards money.  £7m, for example, was spent on a free school in nearby Hereford which has now closed.   At the same time, the DfE seems to be lending money to academy trusts which don’t appear to be in financial difficulties.

We now have a situation where an academy trust is slated by Ofsted for poor quality school improvement having to divert money from education to fund essential capital spending.  This can hardly be helpful.

 

*Year ending 31 August 2018 available from Companies House

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