Trust steps away from one of Doncaster's largest schools amid progress concerns

An academy trust is pulling out of one of Doncaster's biggest schools - after it admitted failing to drive forward 'rapid enough' progress following damning criticism from education watchdogs.

Thursday, 24th March 2016, 11:01 am
Updated Thursday, 24th March 2016, 11:32 am
Sir Michael Wilkins, Outwood Academies prinicipal and chief executive

The CfBT Schools Trust (CST) will relinquish control of Danum Academy two and a half years after it was placed into special measures by Ofsted after inspectors gave it an ‘inadequate’ rating.

The trust accepted it had not been able to spark enough improvement in recent years and added it is “in the interests of the children and young people” that another trust should “take over responsibility for them.”

Rebecca Staples, Danum Academy Headteacher. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP 17-11-14 Danum Tributes MC 3

Danum Academy, based in Armthorpe Road and with nearly 2000 students aged 11-18, will be taken over in September by the Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT).

The move comes as the government revealed plans to transform every school in England into an academy, which means taking them out of local authority control. But one angry parent said the situation at Danum showed the academy model is not a guarantee to success.

The mum, who did not want to be named but has three children who attend Danum, said: “I don’t see why it should take another trust to come in and make the necessary improvements - these should have been made already. A lot of parents are concerned but the new incoming trust has a good track-record so we are more hopeful things will improve.”

Steve Munby, chief executive of CST’s principal sponsor Education Development Trust, said: “In its early days the schools trust grew too quickly and took on too many schools all at once – many in areas where CST had no other local presence.

Danum Academy, Armthorpe Road, Doncaster

“In these three schools (Danum Academy, Sir John Gleed School in Spalding, and Ely College in Cambridgeshire) the progress has not been rapid enough and it is in the interests of the children and young people that another trust – more local to the area – should take over responsibility for them.”

Pupils, parents and staff were supposedly told about the changes at the end of February.

Chris Tweedale, chief executive of the CST, said: “While progress has been made we have to be realistic about what we can, and can’t, offer in order to keep that momentum going in these three schools. In light of this, we believe transferring these schools represents their best chance for future success.

“We understand this could be a worrying time for these school communities, and will work closely with the new sponsors to ensure an orderly transfer in all three schools, and to minimise disruption for students and staff.”

Rebecca Staples, Danum Academy Headteacher. Picture: Marie Caley NDFP 17-11-14 Danum Tributes MC 3

He added: “We have had to recognise that Danum’s long distance from the rest of our schools is a real barrier to providing the level of support the school needs and, as we have no future plans to expand in the region, this is unlikely to change. The transfer means Danum will get this much needed support on its doorstep, and benefit from the injection of funds from the government initiative to boost education in the area.”

OGAT has a strong track record of improving schools and was handed a share of nearly £5 million in government grants last year to take on more schools in poor performing areas. It has 18 academies across the region including Outwood Academy Adwick, which received an ‘outstanding’ in all categories Ofsted report earlier this month.

Sir Michael Wilkins, OGAT chief executive, said: “We believe that we have capacity and experience within Doncaster to provide tremendous support to the students and staff and to build on the work undertaken to date.

“Our vision for Danum Academy is to now lead it through its journey to becoming outstanding.”

Danum Academy, Armthorpe Road, Doncaster

A Department for Education spokesperson said it is “working closely” with both academy trusts to agree the re-brokerage of Danum.

They added: “The academies system is designed to allow us to intervene swiftly to tackle issues of underperformance and poor leadership, allowing schools to benefit from the guidance of expert sponsors with the necessary expertise to turn schools around.”

In September 2013, Ofsted inspectors ruled Danum Academy had dropped two stages in the official ratings from ‘good’ to ‘inadequate’. It highlighted achievement and progress between Years 7 and 11 as being slow, and weak in maths particularly. A follow up monitoring inspection in January this year said the school is “taking effective action towards the removal of special measures.”

Headteacher Rebecca Staples said academy bosses “are confident the school will exit special measures in the summer term when the full Section 5 Ofsted is expected.

“The transfer to OGAT, as part of the Government’s northern sponsors initiative, will provide expert, local support to help build on the work the school and CfBT have done and drive further rapid improvement.”

Ms Staples added “all of the school’s leadership team” will transfer to the new trust in September and they are ”really looking forward to being part of the OGAT family of schools and the great opportunities this will give Danum students and staff as the school continues its journey to outstanding.”

Second piece

Chancellor George Osborne confirmed that the Government wants to turn all schools into academies in his Budget on Wednesday last week.

The move would effectively abolish local councils’ century-old role in running education in their local areas.

It has caused controversy and more than 110, 000 people have signed a petition on the official Parliament website opposing the plans, which they say is “not in the Government’s manifesto and is therefore a completely undemocratic move.”

In addition, teachers have warned the academisation of schools will push down pay and make it harder to attract young people into the profession as it could free schools from a national pay scale.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “There is already a teacher shortage and the fact that you can’t advertise pay scales or say what you’ll be earning in four years will put young people off.”

But one Doncaster headteacher said there are many benefits to the academy model and that his school had benefited from it.

Joe Brian, headteacher at Ivanhoe Primary Academy in Conisbrough, said the school became an academy in 2012 and was recently rated as good by Ofsted.

He said: “For us, it has given us a much greater feeling of independence, so it has encouraged us to feel as though anything is possible. For instance, we took a group of to Stratford upon Avon to see a Royal Shakespeare Company production of the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing.

“We have felt freed from the normal constraints. We look for every opportunity to give our children the best, and we feel more charged with that opportunity.”

He added: “We feel we can do anything. At the time, we changed our school logo and uniform and it seemed to re-invigorate everyone. We are independent, not part of a chain, so we are on our own.

“In terms of the building, we’re a growing school and lots come here. But the local education authority did not have the money for us for new classrooms. But we applied for academy funding to get a new classroom and then a new roof.

“We’re in charge of our own finances so can look for our own efficiencies, which makes the budget go further.”