Warned Lowestoft academy set for takeover
A Lowestoft academy which received an official government warning over its poor performance is set to be taken over by a leading Norfolk-based academy trust.
East Point Academy has been in special measures since April last year, and in September academies minister Lord Nash wrote to its sponsor, the Essex-based Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), raising concerns it was isolated and had few partnerships with good schools.
AET is the largest academy chain in England, but last year the government stopped it taking on further schools because of concerns it had expanded too rapidly.
Now, AET is in talks about the Norfolk-based Inspiration Trust taking over. Its schools include the Great Yarmouth Primary Academy and the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form in Norwich.
A spokesman for the Department for Education (DfE) said: “We have consistently demonstrated that where we find failure we will not hesitate to take action – regardless of the type of school. We are now working closely with AET and the school to ensure pupils’ education is not disrupted.”
East Point – formerly Kirkley High School – is believed to be the only AET school leaving the trust.
Stephen Chamberlain, AET’s regional director of education for Suffolk and North Essex, said East Point’s geographic isolation from its other schools – the nearest are in Felixstowe – made it hard for the trust to give it the support it needed over the long term.
The sponsor appointed a new principal, Neil Powell, this year, and a monitoring inspection in May pointed to a “steady improvement” in students’ attainment and progress, saying East Point was making “reasonable progress towards the removal of special measures”.
Mr Chamberlain said: “We would not consider just any sponsor. It has to be the right sponsor with a track record and an ability to drive the academy forward.”
Dame Rachel de Souza, Inspiration Trust chief executive, said it was approached by the DfE about adding the academy to its growing portfolio.
She said: “There’s a geographic logic to the change. They are 10 miles from Great Yarmouth, where we have the primary academy. I think that’s what can make the difference.”
She said any changes proposed at East Point would be evolutionary, not revolutionary, but she would not be drawn on any future staff changes, apart from saying that Inspiration Trust staff would “work alongside colleagues in the school in a positive and co-operative way”.
She said the proposed transfer process, which will include a consultation, could take up to four months.
The latest developments come after a difficult few years for East Point which adopted academy status in September 2011 after changing its name from Kirkley High School.
Kirkley High had been placed in special measures in March 2009, then failed to improve quickly enough, according to Ofsted, and there were hopes the change would improve its fortunes.
But in April last year, East Point was placed in special measures after being rated “inadequate” by Ofsted.
The academy sought to tackle its problems head-on by calling in a hard-line executive headteacher, Dr Rory Fox, to work alongside its principal, Liz Redpath, and introducing Saturday detentions.
However, concerns over a lack of progress prompted the government to issue its warning last September and this year the AET appointed Mr Powell to replace Ms Redpath.
Mr Powell said East Point had become “a very different school” over the last three months, but the support from AET was not sustainable because of the four-hour round trip its staff faced when visiting the academy.
Mr Powell said: “If we do not have more local support, we would not be able to maintain the pace of change we are currently on.”
He added: “We are in a position to ask for more help. It positively builds on what we are doing with AET, but we have a local sponsor who will give us more intervention and give us more resources that are local.”
Asked about new policies the Inspiration Trust might introduce, he said: “I personally don’t know if there will be any changes, but I don’t see whether there is any need to, whether that’s uniform, timetable or name, and that goes for staff as well.”
Waveney MP Peter Aldous has been visiting the academy regularly to check its progress and last April he had raised concerns that students in south Lowestoft were not receiving the education they deserved.
He said he saw the potential benefits of the proposed change as a smaller, more locally-based trust was better suited to running East Point.
He said: “I think it is appropriate that the Inspiration Trust sponsors the academy and builds on the success of Neil Powell and his staff.
“Since last April there has been significant improvement at the academy under the AET.
“I believe everything possible should be done to provide access to the highest quality of education parents and pupils in south Lowestoft are entitled to.”