Brighton and Hove councillors ask for more detail about academy trust

Councillors have asked for more information about the multi-academy trust that is taking over the running of Moulsecoomb Primary School.

They asked whether proper checks on the trust had been carried out, whether there was a financial cost to the council’s schools budget and how they could be sure that the trust was the best sponsor for the school.

Information that should have been published – including the trust’s board meeting minutes – did not appear to be publicly available, Green councillors said.

And there was disappointment that the academy decision had “totally ignored” the overwhelming views of parents as expressed in a ballot.

The government’s regional schools commissioner announced earlier this year that Moulsecoomb Primary School would be converted into an academy after it was rated “inadequate” by Ofsted. The decision will remove the school from “local authority control”.

Brighton and Hove City Council’s head of education standards and achievements Mark Storey said that the regional schools commissioner and the head teacher board had considered three potential sponsors.

They chose New Horizons, which runs Seaside Primary School, in Lancing, and is due to open another school.

Conservative councillor Alistair McNair asked how the trust had been chosen at a meeting of the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee at Hove Town Hall yesterday (Monday 11 November).

He said that he wanted to be sure that the best organisation would be taking the school on.

Labour councillor Kate Knight asked if the council had carried out any form of due diligence on the trust and sought any assurances about it. But she found herself frustrated as the council had no say.

The council’s executive director for families, children and learning, Pinaki Ghoshal, said: “We are not involved in the decision-making in any way whatsoever. We were not present when the decision was made.

“That’s a matter for the regional schools commissioner and the head teacher board.”

Karen James, a parent governor representative on the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, said that she understood the legal situation but felt frustrated for parents.

She said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that parents’ views have been so totally ignored.

“We need to look to how we can best support those parents and carers through this process, irrespective of the fact the council can’t get involved in certain aspects.”

Banners on the March for Moulsecoomb – Picture by Councillor Sarah Nield

Green councillors Elaine Hills and Hannah Clare said that the academy trust’s board meeting minutes should be made public but did not appear to be on the trust’s website. They asked for copies to be made available to the committee.

Fellow Green councillor Sarah Nield asked for a further report on the trust so that councillors had as much detail as possible.

She said that a growing proportion of academy trusts collapsed, changed hands or even offloaded schools, which meant that New Horizons might not keep hold of Moulsecoomb Primary School.

Councillor Nield said: “This academisation will have a huge effect not only on Moulsecoomb School but on the whole community and we do need to be regularly updated.

“We ask that this committee formally notes our support for the outcome of the parental ballot as a recognition of the strength of feeling.

“Ninety-six per cent is a huge rejection of academisation by the community and I think that as a committee we should be expressing our support for the parents and this campaign.”

The committee unanimously supported her request for more information.

Despite disappointment over the decision to convert the school into an academy, Conservative councillor Vanessa Brown urged the council to build good relations.

She said: “As a committee, we said we would support the parents but this has been taken out of our hands by the regional schools commissioner.

“Although we are sorry this school is unlikely to stay in local authority control, we are not ideologically opposed to academies.

“Sadly, we feel that some of the anti-academy rhetoric could be damaging to relations with our two good secondary academies.”

Councillor Brown added that the council should be reaching out to New Horizons, not condemning the trust before it had even started running Moulsecoomb Primary School.

Since the school received its “inadequate” rating from Ofsted in May, academic achievement at all key stages has improved, along with pupil behaviour, teaching and learning.

Issues raised in the Oftsed report included poor results in the “key stage two” SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) in 2018 and attendance in “key stage one”.

In 2019, 41 per cent of the school’s 34 pupils in year six achieved the expected levels in reading, writing and maths. This was an improvement on the 13 per cent of 38 pupils in 2018.

A spokesperson for New Horizons Academy Trust said: “Every school, like every child, is different, but we hope that, with everyone’s support, we can replicate the same success and positive outcomes at Moulescoomb that we have nurtured at New Horizons Seaside.

“We have the capacity and expertise to do so and know that we can make a very positive difference for the school and its children, which is our only motivation.”

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