Hackney New School closed for a fresh start at the end of October after the free school had been downgraded from good to inadequate during a ‘no notice’ Ofsted visit in July.
Ofsted catalogued numerous failings including ineffective leadership, frequent and unsettling changes, poor attendance and a shallow curriculum.
Inspectors revealed the school had shut for three days in June following safety and behaviour concerns. Staff had been ‘unable to control the situation and external intervention was needed’. The ‘emergency action’ had been successful: HNS was now ‘a physically safe place for pupils and for staff’.
Shortly after the inspection, the Hackney Gazette reported that the entire board of trustees had resigned. This announcement was greeted with ‘rapturous applause’ by staff and parents.
Local MP, Meg Hillier, who is also chair of the Public Accounts Committee, wrote immediately to schools’ minister Lord Agnew to enquire about the land and buildings used by HNS*. Ownership had been transferred to Hackney New School Ltd, the trust which ran the school.
‘It is a sign of complete failure of governance that the school got into this state,’ Hillier said.
She was unhappy that the Regional Schools Commissioner for the area hadn’t warned her about problems at HNS:
‘Accountability is an issue. One of the problems about this whole set-up is governance happens directly from the government to the school. There are a lot of issues around free schools, and who's allowed to run them and who's watching.’
HNS was set up in 2013 as a secondary free school specialising in music and offering an innovative curriculum and an 11-hour day. Its founder, banker Andreas Wesemann, wanted all HNS pupils to achieve high GCSE grades: a grade C, he told the Independent, was not good enough as it was a ‘shit grade’.
HNS was transferred from Hackney New School Limited to Community Schools Trust on 1 November. Its associated primary school, Hackney New Primary School, rated outstanding in May 2018, was transferred to EKO Trust on 1 November. Unlike HNS, the primary school was not officially closed.
Inspectors returned to HNS on 15 November for an unannounced visit.
FOOTNOTE *Company House records for Hackney New School Limited show a charge relating to land owned by the trust in favour of the Secretary of State for Education (SoS) was ‘satisfied’ on 5 November.
A new charge was ‘delivered’ to Community Schools Trust on 6 November. Another charge was ‘delivered’ to EKO Trust on 1 November. Both charges were in favour of the SoS. It appears the land previously owned by HNS Ltd has been split and the freeholds transferred from one academy trust to two others.
Academy trusts are private limited companies as well as charities. Handing-over taxpayer-funded land to academy trusts is an unacceptable transfer of state assets to the private sector. This is something the Public Accounts Committee needs to investigate.
Warwick Mansell has written in more detail about the transfer of HNS here (£).
CORRECTION 27 November 08:18. The original article said the charge relating to land owned by HNS Ltd was in favour of the Director of Education. This should have read Secretary of State for Education (SoS). The error has been corrected. An extra sentence has been included in the footnote paragraph about the charges to Community Schools Trust and EKO Trust to make it clear these charges were also in favour of the SoS.