DfE refuses to publish report about failed free school Collective Spirit

Move comes as ministers face renewed pressure to release findings about Wakefield City Academies Trust

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The Department for Education has refused to release a report about a troubled free school that closed at short notice this summer.

The refusal comes as pressure mounts on ministers to publish a document about the failed Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT), which announced in the first week of this term that it would give up all 21 of its schools.

Collective Spirit, a secondary free school in Oldham, said in June that it would shut, leaving the authorities just weeks to find alternative places for more than 200 pupils.

Ofsted had placed it in special measures the previous year.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA), since replaced by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), carried out a “fact-finding review” of the school in August 2016.

The DfE originally refused to publish the subsequent report following a freedom of information request in September 2016 – a decision that was supported by the Information Commissioner’s Office in May, before Collective Spirit’s closure was announced.

Ministers 'avoiding embarrassment'?

Following the school’s collapse, Jim McMahon, Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton, used a parliamentary question to ask when the report would be published.

However, in an answer given on 3 November, DfE minister Robert Goodwill said: “The ESFA does not intend to publish the report. As part of routine business, the ESFA carried out a fact-finding review in August 2016 at Collective Spirit Free School. In accordance with published policy, these routine reports are not released.”

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner suggested yesterday that ministers were refusing to publish a report on WCAT because it would embarrass them.

Schools minister Nick Gibb previously told her that the DfE would not publish the document because it would be “obstructive to the process of ensuring all the schools are placed with new trusts”.

She said at the time: “Surely any financial issues are being disclosed to potential new trusts. What on earth is in the report that is so damaging to schools that it cannot be disclosed—or is it just so embarrassing to ministers that they would rather hide behind excuses?”

In response, Mr Gibb said the issue with the WCAT was about standards, not finances.

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