Herts for Learning academy ‘had capacity to sponsor Barclay’

PUBLISHED: 06:58 28 February 2019

Thousands of people protested against the academy plans for Barclay, through a petition, strike action, a march and a rally. Picture: DANNY LOO

Thousands of people protested against the academy plans for Barclay, through a petition, strike action, a march and a rally. Picture: DANNY LOO

©2019 Archant

A Hertfordshire academy trust poised to take over a struggling secondary school did not buckle under the pressure, but was instead sidelined before a big-hitter from The City was appointed.

The Barclay Academy in Stevenage was taken over by Future Academies Trust on February 1, despite a sustained campaign against the move by thousands concerned about the potential changes to the curriculum, school structure and systems.

An academy order was placed on Barclay after the Walkern Road school was rated inadequate by Ofsted in 2016, and Herts for Learning multi-academy trust was appointed as the school’s sponsor in February 2017.

However, regional schools commissioner Martin Post took the decision to identify an alternative sponsor in July 2017.

His office said the reason for the decision was because: “HfL MAT had been expressing increasing concern at the scale of the challenge involved in the sponsorship of The Barclay School in the months leading to the proposed conversion.”

But around the same time as the RSC’s decision, HfL’s interim chief executive Patrick McAteer unequivocally set out the MAT’s unwavering position. In an email seen by the Comet, he wrote: “I have consistently said the MAT is prepared to take the school, work with it and improve it.”

Now HfL’s chief executive Alex Thomas has confirmed: “HfL was keen and had the capacity to sponsor and support Barclay in becoming a good school.

“We established relationships with the governors and the new leadership team; all were optimistic and focused on working together to bring about rapid improvements.

“During the summer of 2017 the process of finalising the funding agreement was unexpectedly halted and HfL was informed another sponsor was being sought.

“The HfL MAT has continued to be willing and able to sponsor Barclay.”

During the campaign by parents and staff to stop London-based Future Academies Trust from taking over Barclay, Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland came in for criticism for failing to support his constituents.

But far from sitting on the sidelines, it transpires Mr McPartland met with Future Academies Trust founder Lord John Nash – in his capacity as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System – in June 2017 to discuss Barclay’s sponsor options. Mr McPartland also met to discuss sponsor options with the Minister of State for School Standards Nick Gibb in March 2017 and regional schools commissioner Martin Post in September 2017, suggesting The Meller Educational Trust as a sponsor option at the March and June meetings.

In a letter to Mr McPartland from Lord Nash – again in his role as Parlimentary Under Secretary of State for the School System – in July 2017, he writes: “Thank you for setting out your concerns about the proposed sponsorship of Barclay School by the Herts for Learning multi-academy trust.

“The regional schools commissioner asked a number of academy trusts in Hertfordshire last year to consider sponsorship of Barclay. All the trusts approached were reluctant to do so.

“Since we approved HfL MAT as sponsor, the local authority has been developing a financial package to support the school’s transition to academy status. This financial support should improve the school’s viability and may make the school more attractive to potential sponsors.”

Lord Nash subsequently resigned from government in September 2017 and, in March 2018, his Future Academies Trust was chosen by the Department for Education to be the sponsor for Barclay.

Barclay teacher Jill Borcherds, who is also a National Education Union representative, said: “Staff returned to school in September 2017 fully expecting to work for Herts for Learning. We were looking forward to this important step to continue the rapid and sustained progress we had already begun.

“Until now, we have had no explanation whatsoever as to why the original HfL MAT sponsorship was revoked. Instead we faced nearly 10 months of complete uncertainty.”

Herts County Council member for Old Stevenage, Joshua Bennett Lovell, added: “This makes clear the reality of how these decisions are made – behind closed doors and with total disregard to local people, staff, students and associated educational professionals. The process that has been applied at Barclay School is deeply flawed and unfair.”

Mr McPartland declined to comment, while the Comet has yet to receive a response from the Department for Education on behalf of the regional schools commissioner.

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