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University Church of England Academy

Volume 630: debated on Monday 6 November 2017

6. What assessment she has made of progress at University Church of England Academy in Ellesmere Port since it was placed into special measures. (901602)

Ofsted judged University Church of England Academy to be inadequate in June 2017. The west midlands regional schools commissioner has been working with the University of Chester Academies Trust to help improve academic standards at the school, and an educational adviser visited the school in July to provide support. The trust has appointed a new chief executive officer and chair, and an application for emergency strategic school improvement funding and support from a local outstanding secondary school has been submitted.

This school, which his consistently failed to reach the required standard, has been letting down kids in my constituency for far too long. How long will the Minister give it before he steps in?

We always take swift action when either schools or academies fail—that has been the hallmark of this Government—which is why there are 1.8 million more pupils in good or outstanding schools today than in 2010.

The Minister, with his last answer, has widened the scope of the question somewhat. I would have argued that there was a rather long distance between Ellesmere Port and the hon. Gentleman’s constituency of Cambridge, but thanks to the Minister, the hon. Gentleman can expatiate.

The salutary example of such schools is a warning to schools such as St Philip’s Primary School in my constituency that are being forced into academisation. Extraordinarily, although there is a consultation, parents have been told that it is a foregone conclusion. Why is the Secretary of State so opposed to parental choice?

Actually, the academies and free schools programmes are increasing parental choice, because parents now have a choice of provider. It is not just the local authority providing schools; up to 500 new free schools have now been established, by parent groups, teachers and educational charities, and they are raising academic standards right across the board.

Given the broadening of the question, may I tell the Minister that I have met constituents who are parents at Freeston school, in Normanton, which has been hit by the shocking collapse of Wakefield City Academies Trust? They were promised a consultation on the school’s future—they are worried about the future of special educational needs provision and about the school losing its name, its identity, its uniform—but all they have been offered is a meeting in another school in another town. They will have to travel miles and book tickets online—or else they cannot go. Does the Minister agree that that is not proper parent consultation and that Normanton parents need consultation in Normanton, at Freeston, before the consultation ends, and will he urge the Education Secretary to honour the commitment she made to me to meet me and other affected colleagues, because this is very serious?

Wakefield City Academies Trust had taken over many schools that had been underperforming for years. We were not happy with the performance of that multi-academy trust, which is why we took swift action, and why the schools in that trust are being re-brokered to more successful trusts such as Tauheedul Education Trust, one of the most successful multi-academy trusts in the country. We will not stand still while schools underperform; we take action. We re-broker academies, or we turn failing schools into academies.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

May I follow up the question asked by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)? As the Minister will know, owing to the spending moratorium that Wakefield City Academies Trust imposed on High Crags Primary School, which is in my constituency, the school built up a surplus, or balance, of £276,000. In recent days that money has been transferred from the school’s account, without its authorisation and without its prior consent, and transferred to the trust. Surely the Government cannot stand aside and allow £276,000 to be taken out of the budget of a school in one of the most deprived parts of my constituency. Will the Minister do something to ensure that the money is reinstated for the benefit of pupils at that school?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. High Crags Primary School was put into special measures in June 2015, before it became a sponsored academy. In 2016, just 23% of its pupils reached the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, compared to a national average of 53%. The school is now being re-brokered to be supported by the highly successful Tauheedul Education Trust, and Wakefield City Academies Trust will not be able to retain any of the reserves that it holds at the point of dissolution. Schools, including High Crags, will receive the resources and support that they need in order to raise academic standards.

Last week the Minister told me in a written answer that he would not publish a report on Wakefield City Academies Trust by the Education and Skills Funding Agency because it would be

“obstructive to the process of ensuring all the schools are placed with new trusts.”

Surely any financial issues are being disclosed to potential new trusts. What on earth is in the report that is so damaging to schools that it cannot be disclosed—or is it just so embarrassing to Ministers that they would rather hide behind excuses?

The issue of Wakefield City Academies Trust was not about finances, but about academic standards in the schools in that trust. That is why we are re-brokering all the schools in WCAT to other, more successful multi-academy trusts in the area. We are concerned not with making party political points, but with raising academic standards in each of the schools that serve pupils in those areas.