Moulsecoomb Primary School has attracted interest from three potential academy sponsors, with one of them pressing for a meeting.
The school was earmarked for conversion to academy status after education watchdog Ofsted rated it as “inadequate” in May 2019 – a verdict challenged locally. The Labour MP for Brighton Kemptown Lloyd Russell-Moyle even said that Ofsted should be scrapped.
Parents, staff, governors, unions and local politicians have campaigned for the primary to remain as a local authority maintained school.
Last April, just over a month after the start of the first national coronavirus lockdown, the academy plans were put on hold.
Academies Minister Elizabeth Berridge, who sits in the House of Lords as Baroness Berridge, said that “matching a sponsor to the school” was a challenge.
And the government said that it was aware of “the depth of unease among some of the local community in relation to the academy conversion”.
At the same time, falling pupils numbers have made the school less financially attractive to potential sponsors. This has been blamed partly on the Ofsted report and partly on landlords buying up family homes in the area and turning them into student houses.
The previous sponsor, New Horizons, pulled out in December 2019, although the academy trust was not the regional schools commissioner’s first choice of sponsor.
One of the trusts now in the running to take over the school, The Pioneer Academy (TPA), was approached by the regional schools commissioner’s office in July 2019.
Pioneer’s chief executive Lee Mason-Ellis appeared to respond positively at the time.
He said in an email: “It is a school that appears to have huge potential and one we at the TPA feel we could partner and ensure significantly better outcomes for its children, in the shortest possible time.”
The trust has asked for a meeting with the school, having had talks with the Department for Education (DfE). Pioneer currently runs 11 schools in south and southeast London and Kent.
The DfE told Brighton and Hove City Council that it was in talks with three potential academy sponsors for Moulsecoomb Primary School, including Pioneer.
The other two are understood to be the Chancery Education Trust and Schoolsworks Academy Trust.
Two senior council officials, Deb Austin and Jo Lyons, are understood to have a meeting scheduled for next week with Claire Burton, the regional schools commissioner for south-east England and south London.
Dr Lyons and her colleagues are also understood to be in touch with Moulsecoomb Primary’s head teacher and chair of governors about the latest news.
The council said: “Union colleagues have been notified of the potential sponsor.”