Budmouth College: delay academisation request from Dorset Council

 

ESFA admits to redacting information about Aspirations Academy for fear of ‘damaging public confidence…’

Dorset Council are now voicing their own concerns.

Dorset Council’s second letter requesting that the Secretary of State agree to a delay in the forced academisation process of Budmouth College in Weymouth was made public this week.

Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP
Department for Education
Sanctuary Buildings
Great Smith Street
London
SW1P 3BT
Date:
25 July 2019

Dear Mr Williamson

Firstly, may I congratulate you on your appointment as Secretary of State at the Department for Education and I hope you will be in a position to urgently review a matter that has proven to be highly contentious.

The purpose of my letter is to explain that Dorset Council remains concerned about the arrangements to academise Budmouth College in Dorset.
Further to the letter from Dorset Council’s Executive Director for People – Children, Mrs Sarah Parker, which reflected the views and concerns of the Cabinet and Members, and the response received from Lord Agnew, we continue to have reservations about the process around academisation of Budmouth College at this juncture.

At the recent full council meeting, a motion (see attached), regarding Budmouth College received cross-party support. It was resolved that I should seek your support to delay the timetable for academisation of Budmouth College. This is so that progress since the last Ofsted report can be assessed, and consultation and engagement is undertaken with the local community, the wider council and wider stakeholders.

I will also seek confirmation from the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) of the reasons for the choice of Aspirations Academy Trust as the school’s provider and seek evidence of the adequacy of the due diligence carried out to ensure the appropriateness of the chosen organisation supplying the service.

I would like to state clearly that we are not in principle opposed to the academy conversion process but we do have continuing concerns around the visibility and accountability in this process, which have failed to be addressed to date – regardless of our representation to your office and the RSC.

We feel the local community deserves to be more fully involved and consulted on the future of their school than is currently provided for in the academy conversion process for sponsored academies.

Finally, may I extend an invitation to visit Dorset at your earliest convenience. In particular we feel there would be benefit in you seeing for yourself the educational provision in the South and West Dorset area.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Andrew Parry
Portfolio Holder for Children, Education and Early Help

This follows the Director of Children’s Services letter to Damian Hinds last month, outlining these concerns. Cllr Andrew Parry’s latest letter to new Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, said:

“…we continue to have reservations about the process around academisation of Budmouth College at this Juncture…It was resolved that I should seek your support to delay the timetable for academisation of Budmouth College. This is so that progress since the last Ofsted report can be assessed, and consultation and engagement is undertaken with the local community, the wider council and wider stakeholders. I will also seek confirmation from the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) of the reasons for the choice of Aspirations Academy Trust as the school’s provider and seek evidence of the adequacy of the due diligence carried out to ensure the appropriateness of the chosen organisation supplying the service.

Conservative-controlled Dorset Council voted overwhelmingly for Cllr Ryan Hope’s motion (67 – 1). Campaign members and union representatives protested outside and asked questions at the meeting. A further amendment from Cllr Nick Ireland to sack Budmouth’s Interim Executive Board (Governors), due to their failure to reflect their concerns about Aspirations Academies Trust (AAT)upwards, was not passed (29 for, 37 against, 5 abstentions).

ESFA finance report: “diminishing the schools [sic] viability”

Following an FOI request, a Budmouth Anti Academy campaign member received a heavily redacted Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) financial report on Aspirations last week. The ESFA’s covering letter outlines that the trust has sustainability and viability issues that could be worsened if the redacted information were made public:

A consequence of this could be a drop in pupil numbers and a loss of funding, diminishing the schools [sic] viability further.”

The financial resilience of AAT is something the campaign group and Dorset councillors have questioned for months. This followed scrutiny of AAT’s most recent financial statement and information on the schools benchmarking site. Why was this ESFA report not made available earlier – if the redactions are benign? Campaign members asked Dorset Council last week if officers and councillors have seen this report in its original format.

Kate Shaw & Budmouth’s IEB

Budmouth’s IEB, chaired by Kate Shaw* met with campaign members in March 2019. The IEB member responsible for financial oversight commented that “there were things in [AAT’s accounts] that don’t make me that comfortable”. The Headteachers Board minutes from January 2019, where sponsor trusts were decided for Budmouth and All Saints schools, mentions ESFA’s report on Ambitions trust, but not one on AAT. The ‘prescriptive’ nature of AAT is flagged up. Campaign members have seen no evidence that the RSC’s recommendation – that AAT’s CEOs make an effort to engage with the community and discuss the concerns raised – has been followed.

*Kate Shaw also chaired the Governors at IPACA on Portland when they were rebrokered to AAT in 2017. She said in the Dorset Echo  “It has become clear to us from discussions with the RSC and with Ofsted that it is in the best interests of the children of Portland to find a multi-academy trust (MAT) that has experience of improving schools like IPACA and is committed to building a presence in the region.” Dorset Echo, 29th March 2017

Aspirations’ Ethos – Isolations & Exclusions?

AAT’s ethos at their Atlantic Academy on nearby Portland, which has an exclusion rate of 3 times the national average, has galvanised parents locally to join the campaign. Silent transition between lessons, with isolation for pencil case and uniform infringement form part of their behavioural management. Atlantic recently closed their Early Years provision on the island, making staff redundant. AAT said they could not sustain further financial losses in non-statutory provision. AAT’s Magna Academy in Poole also had ‘exceptional pupil movement’ cited in their most recent Ofsted report and ‘no strategic overview of their SEND provision’. Worries that not all children were welcome at AAT’s establishments, regardless of talent or aptitude, were confirmed when Budmouth sent 260 hard copy packs home to new year 7 students. The student contract included the clause: “I am ready to do whatever it takes to gain a place at university”. This was declared ‘a mistake’ by Budmouth headteacher David Herbert on the day of the year 7 induction meeting.

The 11th Hour – Will Gavin Williamson listen?

The paperwork deadline is August 2nd for the transfer to take place on the 1st September. Land and assets transfer paperwork is included in this. Questions to Dorset Council about whether the sports centre at Budmouth will remain open, due to subsidence issues, remain unanswered. The expansive twelve acres of Budmouth’s playing fields will also be signed over to AAT, if the conversion goes ahead. The outgoing Regional Schools Commissioner, Lisa Mannall, wrote to a campaign member this week, saying:

“My office has engaged both the LA and IEB on the choice of sponsor throughout the process, and has considered their views when making the decision. This is in spite of there being no legal requirement to consult.“

Both Budmouth Anti-Academy campaign and Dorset Council would appear to disagree with Lisa Mannall’s statement. Is this decision best for an allegedly financially fragile MAT or best for Budmouth’s children, parents, staff and wider community? Will Gavin Williamson listen to the request to delay?

Burn After Reading