Lessons to learn following Trust failings, insist expanding Yorkshire academy chains

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Bosses at rapidly expanding academy chains in Yorkshire have spoken of the benefits of growth and say “lessons can be learnt” from the recent events at Wakefield City Academies Trust, which is shedding all of its 21 schools.

According to government figures, Yorkshire and the Humber Co-operative Learning Trust (YHCLT), based in Hull, Ebor Academy Trust, York, are among the fastest growing in the country.

Figures show that YHCLT has taken on five schools since last September and Ebor has taken on six. The trusts say growth strategies are in place, with takeovers helping to improve struggling schools by driving up standards through collaborative working.

However, the ex-president of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) Anne Swift argues that the Government’s academy programme is leading to the “fragmentation of education”.

She said: “The provision of education in England is now fragmented with a huge number of multi-academy trusts running schools. A number of scandals have emerged including financial mismanagement and the abandonment of some schools by a trust. The oversight is no longer entrusted to a local authority, although they still have responsibility for ensuring high standards and sufficient school places, but with no powers to intervene.”

The Ebor Academy Trust took over its first school, Haxby Road Primary, in York, in February 2014.

Its chief executive Richard Ludlow said: “It needed urgent help and the only way to do it properly was to academise our founding school, Robert Wilkinson Primary, and sponsor Haxby Road. We became the first multi-academy trust in York and quickly began to see the benefits of collaborative working.”

In January this year, Ofsted awarded a ‘good’ rating to Haxby Road, its first positive inspection report in 17 years, said Mr Ludlow. He added: “The ruling also gave us an official stamp of approval, endorsing the transformational systems and methods we had adopted at Haxby Road and elsewhere.”

The trust is planning to run four hubs of between eight and 10 schools in York, Selby, the Yorkshire Coast and the East Riding. “That way we will be big enough to be financially robust but not too big as to be impersonal. We want to build upon our now-proven school-to-school support service to drive improvement in underperforming schools,” said Mr Ludlow.

The Government’s academy programme has faced growing criticism following the shock announcement from Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) earlier this month, with union leaders and politicians arguing that they lack democratic oversight.

However, Mr Ludlow said: “Each of our schools are accountable to their local governing body, which itself is a committee of the main Ebor Academy trust board. Trustees, and governors, are unpaid volunteers who do this for a moral purpose and the greater good. As a publicly funded registered charity, the trust board is accountable to the Department for Education (DfE) and the Education Funding Authority for all aspects of financial probity. Academies continue to be inspected by Ofsted.”

Mr Ludlow said failures, such as WCAT, present an “opportunity to unpick and see where such organisations went wrong and what lessons can be learned by other trusts”.

A spokesperson for YHCLT added: “Schools wishing to join our trust can only do so with prior approval of the DfE. Our trust is in a sustainable growth phase and in line with our strategy.”