Wakefield City Academies Trust run on 'basis of fear'

Report written by interim chief executive brands the multi-academy trust as secretive, 'naive', and a 'free-for-all'

Martin George

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A confidential report has outlined the deep-seated problems in the leadership, culture, education and finances of an academy chain that is giving up all its schools.

Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) blamed a lack of “capacity to facilitate the rapid improvement” in its schools when it last month told parents it had asked the DfE to find new sponsors for its 21 academies.

However, a report by its interim chief executive Chris Pickering, dated June 2017 and seen by Tes, also highlights “great concern” about its financial position, “inadequate” leadership and management, a “blame culture”, and a failure to operate as “a single organisation with a corporate identity”.

There was evidence that the organisation was "run on a basis of 'fear' with scant regard to proper HR procedure and process", the report says.

It says that, although the trust did not have the capacity to bring about the required improvements in its schools on its own, it had “sufficient expertise” to build the required capacity with support from a “well-established partner”.

It also reveals that its trustees believed “a significant overhaul and rebranding exercise [was] urgently required”.

Mr Pickering’s report found that the trust was “currently operating at a significant in year deficit and reserves are disappearing at an alarming rate”.

It says the trust is “financially insecure and in need of a significant well planned and executed cost-saving plan”.

However, it also warns that proposals to save money by restructuring WCAT’s finance and core education team “will reduce the already inadequate capacity of the trust to deliver its education function even further”.

The report says the trust had grown “far too quickly”, describes it as “inefficient and ineffective” and concludes that the “leadership and management of the organisation is inadequate”.

Two weeks ago, the DfE announced its preferred sponsors for WCAT’s schools.

Key comments from Chris Pickering’s June 2017 report:

  • “WCAT is not operating as a single organisation with a corporate identity. It is a collection of individual academies operating mainly in isolation and is therefore inefficient and ineffective. As a consequence, the organisation is not enjoying any of the many benefits of a well-run multi-academy trust [MAT]”
  • “Academies have been promised a level of autonomy and independence beyond that which is realistic within a MAT and have not adjusted to this after becoming part of WCAT. The trust has also failed to set out clear expectations and hold people to account. This has led to a ‘free for all’ with some academies ignoring trust requirements altogether”
  • “Leadership is inadequate at all levels within the organisation with the exception of pockets of good practice in some academies”
  • “The organisation has developed a blame culture where the academies blame the ‘trust’ and vice versa”
  • “There is evidence that the organisation was run on a basis of 'fear' with scant regard to proper HR procedure and process”
  • “The Wakefield City Academies Trust does not have the capacity on its own to secure rapid and sustained academy improvement either within its current 21 academies or if it were to reduce down to 11”
  • “The trust does not have a recruitment strategy to address the severe recruitment issue being experienced within the academies”
  • “The trust has been run on the basis of secrecy, a closed organisation typified by lack of transparency”
  • “Past financial practice, particularly in respect of contracts, has been at best naïve and at worst ill-considered. Those running a trust have both legal and moral responsibilities. There are simply things that you do not do regardless of whether it is legally possible or not”
  • “Functions delivered by the trust are being duplicated within academies and are therefore effectively double funded as academies have failed to remove the staffing/costs”
  • “The financial position of the trust is of great concern. It is currently operating at a significant in year deficit and reserves are disappearing at an alarming rate”

However, the report also says there was “a strong, almost universal will for change”, “people have a strong desire to engage in partnership and collaboration”, and “the previous leadership regime has now been replaced”.

It also said: “There is a level of expertise, commitment and desire amongst the existing workforce to suggest that there is enough core capacity to develop an effective corporate function with appropriate support and shared leadership and within an established framework.”

The DfE and WCAT have been approached for comment.

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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