November 23, 2021

40,000 children trapped in “zombie” academy schools | Academies

The government has been urged to review its policy on multi-academy trusts after it was revealed that more than 40,000 children were enrolled in “zombie schools” awaiting transfer to another chain of academies. .

Education Ministry figures, obtained through an access to information request, show 64 academies are waiting to find a new sponsor after being abandoned or stripped of the trust that originally held them. A calculation using the average number of pupils in state-funded primary and secondary schools in England – 279 and 946, respectively – suggests that the 64 schools would have over 40,000 pupils.

The government has encouraged academies to join multi-academy trusts, portraying them as support for schools that have left the control of local authorities, although some have been criticized for poor financial management and lack of control.

Half of the 64 “zombie schools” are waiting to be transferred from two chains: the Education Fellowship Trust and the Wakefield City Academies Trust. In March, the first became the first trust in England relinquish control of its 12 academies – including a school in the Prime Minister’s constituency of Maidenhead – following concerns about educational standards. In September the Wakefield Trust declared he would divest himself of 21 schools across Yorkshire because he could not undertake “the rapid improvement our academies need”.

The DfE said it was in the process of securing new academy chains for schools in the two trusts.

Until a new multi-academy trust is found, schools remain in limbo, often unable to make long-term planning decisions, hire new permanent staff, or organize salary increases. salary. They do not have the possibility of coming back under the control of the local authorities. Campaigners say the government is struggling to find new channels willing and able to support schools, many of which have been left in dire financial straits by their former sponsor.

“The Conservatives’ fragmented education system is now creating ‘zombie schools’ wedged between chains of academies that don’t have to support them and a government that won’t step in to help them,” said Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary of Labor. . “Even in the Prime Minister’s seat itself, it seems there are classes of children who are not getting the education they deserve. “

The figures come after it was announced Thursday that the Bright Tribe academy trust would abandon the Whitehaven academy in Cumbria following complaints from teachers, parents and students that the school was in a state of disrepair advanced. Regarding her decision to drop out of school, which she resumed in January 2014, Bright Tribe said: “As we have not been able to grow beyond one school in Cumbria, we recognize the need to explore other sponsorship options for Whitehaven Academy.

In October, the issue of failing academic chains received renewed attention when it was revealed that the Wakefield Trust had transferred millions of pounds from its schools’ reserves to its own centralized accounts before announcing, a few days after the new term, that new sponsors should be found.

In November 2016, a draft report leaked by the DfE Education Funding Agency said the trust was in an “extremely vulnerable position due to governance, leadership and financial management. overall inadequate ”. Rayner called on the government to say what it knew about the trust’s financial situation before it collapsed.

Wakefield City Council last week backed a motion asking that the trust be allowed to return to local government control, arguing that police should investigate the trust’s finances. Advisers said the trust should not be allowed to dissolve until an investigation has taken place and the results are made public.

“This scandal could happen again if we don’t learn from it,” Rayner said. “The Conservatives have abandoned proper oversight of schools, and we now have a fragmented and irresponsible system. “

The Tories rejected Labor’s proposed changes to the education law in 2015, which would have given Ofsted the power to conduct full inspections of trusts as well as their schools.

National Education Union activist Sally Kincaid, who has worked closely with WCAT schools, said schools were unable to take steps to improve while waiting for a new sponsor. “In a way, the kids are still going to school and the teachers are still teaching them, but you can’t do anything because the mechanisms by which you do it aren’t there. So, for example, staff won’t know if they have a 1% pay rise this year because there is no one to make that kind of decision.

The DfE said: “The academic trusts operate under a strict system of oversight and accountability, and in any case of underperformance, we will not hesitate to take swift action, including relocating schools to new ones. trusts if necessary. ” He said that in 2016-2017, 165 of the 6,500 academies had been “rebrokered”.

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