Education Secretary criticises charity after academy placed in special measures

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Parliamentary Correspondent

A CHARITY that runs five North-East academies has been criticised by the Education Secretary – after one was placed in special measures.

Michael Gove admitted the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) had “not done everything they promised”, telling MPs: “We have taken steps to deal with that.”

Mr Gove has championed the spread of independent academies and encouraged all local authority schools to make the switch.

AET is the largest sponsor of academies in the country, running 74 across England and hoping to take on six more by the start of next year.

Those 74 include five academies in the Middlesbrough area; Caldicotes Primary, Eston Park, Gillbrook, North Ormesby Primary and Unity City.

Last week, Eston Park, in Teesville, was placed in “special measures” by watchdog Ofsted, which found it was failing to provide an acceptable standard of education.

A damning report said its GCSE results were “far too low” and that inadequate teaching “does not provide students with sufficiently challenging work”.

A few weeks earlier, Duncan Haig, Eston Park’s principal, quit and has been replaced by David Fuller, AET’s national director of education. He has promised an “action plan”.

The problems were raised in the Commons by Ian Swales, the Redcar MP, who urged Mr Gove to ensure all academies benefited from his “excellent thinking”.

The Liberal Democrat said: “Since becoming an AET academy, Eston Park in my constituency has gone from good to special measures in less than two years.”

Speaking later, Mr Swales said he was taking up the issue with other ministers, adding: “I am trying to find out what they are actually doing.”

In a statement, the Dfe said it was “concerned” about performance, adding: “DfE representatives have visited AET academies that are not making the necessary improvements.

“We have regular meetings with AET, are monitoring progress closely and will take further action if not enough improvement is being made.”

In March, the department said it was barring AET from taking over more schools, because of concerns that its rapid expansion was hitting standards.

But a spokesman for the Trust said that was incorrect, insisting it had always intended to stop expanding when it reached about 80 academies.

He said: “In the ten months following that story, we will be taking on another 14 academies, so it’s not true that the Secretary of State said we were barred.

“Our original agreement with the Dfe was that, when we got to a certain level of academies, we would consolidate our efforts into improving those – rather than take on new ones.”

Asked about its record, the AET spokesman added: “We have regular meetings with the DfE, in which we jointly monitor our performance.”

And, arguing Easton Park’s results had been in decline since 2009 – long before AET’s sponsorship began, in January 2012 – he said: “We have full confidence that this trend will be reversed as soon as possible.”

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