The chief executive and founder of one of England’s largest academy chains is to step down – as the trust announces it is now free from debt.
Libby Nicholas will step down from Astrea Academy Trust, which hit the headlines earlier this year after more than a third of its schools recorded a financial deficit in 2017-18.
But the trust today said it expected to post a surplus of at least £500,000 for 2018-19 – despite inheriting debts of £5.2 million since its creation in 2015 – and that it had put in place “prudent financial management and robust financial curriculum planning”.
Quick read: Increase in academy trusts in deficit
The trust, set up as part of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, has since grown to include 27 schools, including primary, secondary, all-through schools and special schools mostly in South Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire. The trust also took over schools from the failed Wakefield City Academies Trust.
Astrea chief 'a force for good'
Ms Nicholas said: “It has been an absolute honour to set up Astrea and to bring together a family of such wonderful schools working alongside dedicated and caring colleagues.
“We have achieved a huge amount in a relatively short space of time and have moved the profile of the schools from predominantly special measures to predominantly 'good' or better."
The trust today also said it had “significantly improved” results in reading, writing and maths in its primary schools, amounting to a 28 percentage-point increase in three years. It said all schools had improved or retained their "good" or "outstanding" status with Ofsted and that “many” schools have come out of special measures to gain “good” ratings.
James Muir, chairman of Astrea, said: “We were deeply disappointed when Libby told us she felt it was time for her to be moving on from Astrea, but equally we absolutely respect her decision. Thanks to her drive and determination, Astrea has established itself as a force for good."
An Astrea spokesperson added: “It’s four years since Libby set up Astrea – she has achieved a huge amount in that time, and she now wants to spend some time with her family, particularly so given she has an eight week old baby.”
The board of trustees has begun a recruitment process to appoint the new chief executive, with a view to having a candidate in place early in 2020.