Academy alliance 'will prevent failings like Wakefield'

Northern academy leaders say they could have 'fixed' Wakefield City Academies Trust if they had collaborated

Rob and Paul Tarn

An alliance of academy leaders in the North of England will improve standards and prevent high-profile failures, according to two of its members.

Brothers Rob and Paul Tarn are the chief executives of Northern Education Trust and Delta Academies Trust respectively, which are part of a newly formed Northern Alliance.

The alliance also includes Astrea Academy Trust, Outwood Grange Academies Trust and Wise Academies.

The Tarn brothers believe that multi-academy trust alliances can help to improve standards and prevent high-profile failures, such as the collapse of Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT).

WCAT is being wound up after announcing last year that it did not have the capacity to run its 21 schools.

Paul Tarn said: “You could commission a multi-MAT alliance to provide support. WCAT would be a good example.

"We all knew WCAT was in trouble, but we knew there were some systems in WCAT and some good people working for that trust – essentially if a multi-MAT alliance had been commissioned to work with that trust, we could have fixed it.

'Delivering improvement'

“I have gone into a trust and fixed a trust and Rob is in a trust and has fixed it. With a multi-MAT trust, it's not about one organisation. You could commission a multi-MAT alliance to deliver improvement.”

Other academy alliances include the Queen Street Group and the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association.

Both Tarn brothers have become academy chief executives after leaving leadership roles at Outwood Grange Academies – one of the strongest performing school sponsors in the North.

Paul became chief executive of Delta Academies in 2016 when it was called SPTA (School Partnership Trust Academies).

It had faced a major financial deficit and had been warned by the regional schools commissioner about the standards in a third of its schools.  

Rob became chief executive of the Northern Education Trust last year.

Both men say their trusts are now delivering major improvements in outcomes for their pupils but they want to do more for the North, through the Northern Alliance.

Paul said: “Let’s not look at the North as an intractable problem.  Let’s look at schools which just need a bit of support and say: ‘This is the scope of the job.’”

They believe that the quality of education is key to raising aspirations in deprived communities.

The Tarn brothers grew up in Barnsley. In an interview with Tes, they told how, during their own schooling, it was expected that pupils would go on to work as coal miners.

After leaving school, Paul worked as a miner at Grimethorpe Colliery for 10 years before training to become a teacher.

He said: “I came out of school and didn’t want to do anything else but go to the pit. I had no aspiration. I didn’t know anyone from my village who had gone to university. And I left school with no qualifications to speak of."

Paul added: “I remember asking for a careers interview at the school and being told I didn’t need one because I was guaranteed a job in the pit.

 “When people talk about five A* to C, I could tell you which six lads it was at our school – and it wasn’t me.”

Rob recalled how he failed at English and convinced himself it was a subject he was no good at. However, he needed the qualification to train to be a teacher and was later able to get an A*.

“I realised then that it wasn’t me,” he said. “And ever since then that is something which has driven me.

"There are too many children, particularly in the North of England, who think they are not very good at maths and English when actually they can be but haven’t done well because of low expectations or poor quality provision.”

To read the full interview with Paul and Rob Tarn, see the 20 July edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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