Governors of Greengate Lane Academy in Sheffield began looking for a new academy trust early last year.
The primary school had been a member of Isis Academies Trust – since renamed Infinity – but decided that the geographical distance between it and the trust’s two other schools in Lincolnshire was too great.
A departure was agreed by mutual consent between Infinity and Greengate Lane’s governors. By March, the governors had settled on Reach4 – a multi-academy trust (MAT) in Sheffield and South Yorkshire that has since rebranded as Astrea – as a new home for their school.
They say that they received assurances from the trust, during a meeting in March, that they could leave the MAT if they were unhappy and the school could retain its surplus of £270,000 – although Astrea disputes that such assurances were given.
Greengate Lane formally joined Reach4 on 1 August. But the school’s local governing body quickly began to have regrets when it felt that it did not have the strategic role in the trust that it had been expecting.
The doubts deepened when the MAT demanded that the school handed over its surplus to the central trust.
“I would say that every individual school has its individual needs,” one Greengate parent governor says. “The choice to meet these needs has been taken away.”
The demand for the surplus helped persuade the school’s governors to hold a formal vote on whether to leave the MAT. But before the vote could be taken, the MAT dissolved the school’s local governing body on 4 April and replaced it with a transition-management board. The decision has angered the primary’s now former governors, who point out that the school had thrived under their stewardship.
Greengate Lane was a successful school, rated “good” with “outstanding” leadership and management by Ofsted, they note.
Its chair of governors was accredited by the Department for Education as a national leader of governance. Last year, the primary’s progress score for maths was rated well above national average, and those for reading and writing were both above national average.
“There’s no way they should be able to remove a governing board from a successful school in the way they have,” one of the former governors says.
Another parent governor adds: “It takes away any local control and accountability that the parents hold the school to. We’ve been let down.
“They should be working with us, not taking us over.”
But as far as Astrea is concerned, the local governing body should not have been discussing leaving the trust in the first place.
A spokesperson for the trust says that moving MATs is not in their remit, and the school’s local governing body’s formal role “is to ‘champion the Astrea vision and values in the academy’”.
The spokesperson adds: “Having already left their previous trust, attempting such discussions a mere 15 weeks after having joined Astrea seems somewhat premature.”
Astrea says that the legal documentation about the transfer, which was signed by the school’s previous trust, Infinity, is “explicitly clear”, and that “in the intervening six months from that first meeting until the academy joined us on 1 August, there was full disclosure on all aspects of the transfer”.
“With regards the claims made about the academy’s surplus, we have a consistent approach to centralised accounts across Astrea, which the DfE views as best practice,” the spokesperson adds.
“To treat one academy differently in the trust would clearly be unfair and wrong. Again, this approach is made explicitly clear in the legal documentation that was signed by the previous trust.”