Six academies in limbo as academy chain folds. How far is ex-schools minister Lord Hill to blame?

Janet Downs's picture
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.
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David Barry's picture
Tue, 20/05/2014 - 15:43

The following news item was posted on the Prospects' Trust on 1st April (No, I am not Making this up):

Gloucester Academy joins Prospects Academies Trust
01 Apr 2014 09:42:00 AM
By joining Prospects Academies Trust, Gloucester Academy now has access to a wider range of opportunities to increase the pace of its improvement to benefit students. Gloucester Academy has joined a family of likeminded schools which collaborate with each other and share experience, knowledge and ideas.

Like all academies within Prospects Academies Trust, Gloucester Academy will retain its own identity but come together with other academies in the Trust on common ground to improve the education they provide to their pupils and students.

Peter Evans, Chairman of Prospects Academies Trust, said: “I am delighted to welcome Gloucester Academy to Prospects Academies Trust. I look forward to working together to improve outcomes for students. At Prospects Academies Trust, we work with our academies to continuously improve the standard of teaching, raise expectations and aspirations to increase the life opportunities available to our students and pupils. Our support, practical services and school improvement experts will help Gloucester Academy overcome the issues it faces to become a successful, thriving and happy environment.”

One cannot but observe what a difference under two months makes,


If I were involved with Gloucester Academy I would be feeling particularly hacked off.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/05/2014 - 16:08

David: Prospects Academy Trust grew out of Gloucester Academy Trust which ran Gloucester Academy from September 2010. When Prospects began sponsoring the other five academies in 2012 (thanks, it appears, to Lord Hill), Gloucester Academy remained under the wing of Gloucester Academy Trust until 1 April 2014.

Presumably Gloucester Academy Trust will be wound up as well.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/05/2014 - 16:28

No doubt the "academy chain marketing" which established a distinctive PAT "brand" will have to be done again when sponsorships are "rebrokered". More glossy prospectuses, distinctive websites, marketing spin about "inspiring excellence"...

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/05/2014 - 16:38

According to the chairman of the Independent Academies Association, parents will look back on this in a year's time "as a good thing, a turning point when the original; promises of academy sponsorship can finally be met, when their children’s education began to improve, and students at Prospects Academies began to enjoy the opportunities and improved life chances enjoyed elsewhere across the academy system."

But wasn't that what the schools were promised when they were originally sponsored by Prospect?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/05/2014 - 17:09

David - the significance of the date, 1 April 2014, has only just hit me. Prospects Academies Trust was one of the academy sponsors "paused" by the DfE. This was announced in the Commons on 18 March. And Lord Nash had sent a warning letter to Gloucester Academies Trust about Gloucester Academy on 16 December 2013.

It appears, then, the DfE allowed an academy causing concern to be transferred to an Academy Trust which had actually been banned from taking on more schools.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 21/05/2014 - 10:09

The Trust have published a staement explaining there decision to withdraw from the schools:

David Barry's picture
Wed, 21/05/2014 - 10:15

The local press coverage seems to be here. Note the anger expressed by parents that they heard about the withdrawal on the BBC news, it was not, it seems, communicated to parents.

John Mountford's picture
Wed, 21/05/2014 - 21:22

How telling are these words?

"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”.

It all came down, so it seems to the impact of proper public oversight on the Trust's 'commercial operation'. What about the education of children and young people?

This campaign by 38 Degrees casts a sinister light on apparent conflicts between commercial interests and the interests of the people.

Once again, the 'trough behaviour' of our leaders is amply illuminated by their determination to 'stick it' to the little folk.

Barry Wise's picture
Wed, 21/05/2014 - 21:32


Prospects - the organization that sponsored the academy trust - isn't some grasping commercial capitalist outfit. It is an employee-owned mutual and most of its revenue comes from local authorities.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 22/05/2014 - 07:40

Barry - Prospects Academies Trust is an off-shoot of Prospects which has an annual turnover of £100m a year.

The revenue for any academy trust does not come from LAs but from central government via the Education Funding Agency.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 26/05/2014 - 15:50

UPDATE. An Ofsted inspection of Prospects' Gloucester Academy was published on 23 May 2014. The inspection had taken place on 1 April. Ofsted judged Gloucester Academy Inadequate.

Inspectors noted the sponsors had changed on 1 April 2014 from a joint sponsorship between Prospects Educational Services Ltd and Gloucester College to a single sponsor, Prospects.

Inspectors wrote:

"Plans are in place to link the academy with other schools within the academy trust so that they can share good practice."

So Prospects told inspectors it had made plans for Gloucester Academy to be linked to other Prospects academies so they could "share good practice". But a few weeks later Prospects decided to throw in the towel.

Inspectors criticised the governance for:

"The failure to make senior staff accountable for the way in which the substantial amount of additional government funding the academy receives is inexcusable."

"Additional government funding"? What additional government funding? How much is this substantial amount?

Perhaps the Education Funding Agency should look into this.

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