The Prospects Academies Trust has announced it is to wind up, the Independent
reports. Prospects had already been “paused” by the Department of Education (DfE) because two of its six academies were in special measures. The Trust’s chairman, Peter Evans, says the inability to expand has limited their resources.
It’s not the first time Prospects has railed against being unable to grow. An investigation by Private Eye
found Prospects had earlier been “paused” in 2012 following concerns about performance in the Gloucester Academy. Prospects’ managing director Vincent McDonnell had approached the then schools minister, Lord Hill, and complained the DfE attitude was “unhelpful” because it was “having a negative impact” on the Trust’s “commercial operation”.
Lord Hill met with Prospects in October 2012. Feedback from the meeting revealed the minister wanted “to progress these deferred/on hold Prospects projects asap”. Prospects took on five more academies.
Prospects’ six academies are now losing their sponsor. Parents are angry because the sudden decision coincides with the important exam season. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Assocation of Teachers and Lecturers, says the move will destabilise the schools. There was no mechanism in place to deal with failing academy chains or sponsors that wanted to give up their academies, she said. The only option was a “fire sale” as the DfE scrabbles around looking for new sponsors. One solution, she said, would be to allow abandoned academies to return to the stewardship of local authorities.
It’s not the first time an academy trust has forsaken responsibility for an academy. In February 2013, West Grantham Academies Trust (WGAT) decided to close one of its academies
. Parents were furious and the County Council objected. But the Council could do nothing - the academy was only saved when the DfE managed to persuade another chain to take over the school.
The DfE said Prospects’ academies would be “re-brokered with excellent sponsors to ensure they are able to thrive”. The action taken showed the DfE was "tough" when it had concerns about academy sponsors: it would match academies with other sponsors, the spokesperson said.
But in the haste to find sponsors will caution be ignored? Will sponsors have to be tempted by financial inducements? Even if they are not, taxpayers' money will have to be spent untangling one sponsorship and setting up another. Brokers and lawyers must be salivating.
But questions remain over why concerns about Prospects' only academy were ignored in October 2012 and how far ex-schools minister Lord Hill is responsible for this debacle.