Exclusive: Academy chain warned over standards in 13 schools

Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Photo: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
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YORKSHIRE’s biggest academy chain was warned about the exam performance of 13 of its academies in a letter from a regional commissioner which said some schools could be re-brokered to a different sponsor.

The School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA), which runs more than 40 schools, mostly in Yorkshire, expanded during the coalition Government’s roll out of the academies programme.

A letter, seen by The Yorkshire Post, from the regional schools commissioner for East Midlands and the Humber, Jennifer Bexon-Smith, tells the SPTA that the academy chain had “grown relatively quickly” and had capacity issues “preventing the trust from effectively supporting and challenging all of its academies”.

Regional schools commissioners are responsible for decision- making over academies.

Her letter raises concerns about 13 schools and follows a meeting with SPTA officials in October. It says that the Department for Education (DfE) and the SPTA themselves had concerns about a cluster of its schools in Nottinghamshire.

The SPTA was said to be concerned about the isolation of the three schools: Queen Elizabeth and Wainwright Primary in Mansfield and Leamington Primary and Nursery in Sutton-in-Ashfield. The letter says that it was agreed that work should start towards moving these schools to new sponsors by September 2016.

The letter also mentions three Doncaster schools which were at or below GCSE floor targets and suggests they could be moved to a different academy trust. The schools were Ash Hill, de Warenne and Don Valley academies.

The commissioner says: “In all three cases SPTA has had the academies for a significant time (four years or more) and has yet to deliver a transformational change.”

Ms Bexon-Smith said the DfE was planning a more radical approach for Doncaster and has identified strong sponsors to take on under-performing academies and local authority maintained schools. She asks for the SPTA board to give its view on the three Doncaster schools being moved to a different sponsor. She also raises concerns about John Whitgift Academy in Grimsby and the Melior Community Academy in Scunthorpe.

The letter adds that the previous regional schools commissioner for Lancashire and West Yorkshire, Paul Smith, had concerns about four academies: South Leeds, Manor Croft Primary in Dewsbury, Whetley Primary in Bradford and Willow Green Primary in Knottingley.

Paul West, the SPTA’s director of education, said: “We are in ongoing discussions with the DfE to ensure the continued stability of SPTA Academies and the progress and attainment for our students remains our shared highest priority. In relation to the specific academies mentioned in the letter from the regional schools commissioner, we are providing individual and bespoke challenge and support to ensure their improvement needs are being met.

“SPTA recently underwent a focused inspection from Ofsted which was an in-depth evaluation of our school improvement strategy and capacity to support our academies.

“The positive impact of the support we offer our academies was a feature of the inspection dialogue and we look forward to receiving the officially published feedback letter in the near future.”