Calls for Basingstoke secondary school to be brought back under local authority control

First published in News Daily Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

CALLS are being made for a Basingstoke secondary school to be brought back under local authority control.

Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), which runs Everest Community Academy, in Popley, along with 67 other schools, has been asked by the Department for Education (DfE) to focus on raising results in its existing academies, many of which are weak or failing, rather than taking on more schools.

The trust formed three years ago and took on 42 new schools last year. But at least 18 of its schools are failing and 30 are in need of improvement.

Everest, in Oxford Way, Popley, was the first secondary school in the borough to convert to an academy in September 2011, despite opposition from local councillors and some members of the community. The school, right, had only opened in September 2007 following a £26.8million cash injection by Hampshire County Council. Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council contributed £2.5m.

Now, Labour borough councillors are calling for the school to be brought back into control of the county council, which is the local education authority.

Norden Labour borough councillor Paul Harvey, pictured, said: “None of the children, and none of the staff or parents deserve to have a school that isn’t succeeding, but which can succeed with the support of the Basing-stoke family of schools.”

He pointed out the promises made that the school would improve, and said: “Basingstoke MP Maria Miller was adamant that by turning the school into an academy, Everest would go from strength to strength, and she couldn’t be more wrong.”

In 2010, Everest was one of the worst schools in the country for its performance in the GCSE exams, when just 17 per cent of pupils gained five A* to C grades, including English and maths.

At the time, Julie Rose, then headteacher and now principal, promised that standards would raise after Everest converted to an academy.

The following year, results rose to 39 per cent, only to fall again last year when they failed to hit the Government benchmark. It is now one of 195 schools in the country not to hit the Government target and is classed as ‘failing’ by the DfE.

Mike Barnett, from AET, said the trust had agreed with the DfE that following a period of rapid expansion, it would “pause and consolidate our operations.”

He added: “We currently have 68 schools and will expect this number to grow with DfE approval to 80 by the end of the school year. We have not been ‘barred’ from expanding.

“To call for Everest to return to the local authority on the basis of one set of results is, we believe, very premature.

“Education Secretary Michael Gove has recently stated that to make significant improvements to a school’s performance will take time. Nevertheless, we are determined that this will be achieved at the earliest possible opportunity with Everest as an AET Academy.”

A DfE spokesman said: “At the moment, we want AET to consolidate its existing schools and concentrate on ensuring their performance improves.

“At the moment, we want AET to focus on making sure that the schools they already look after are performing well. We are working with AET to ensure the children attending their academies receive the best possible education.”

John Coughlan, Hampshire County Council’s director of children’s services, said it no longer has a “role” in determining Everest’s future.

He added: “We are far more concerned with school performance and the achievements and welfare of pupils, and we will continue to challenge academies and their sponsors on behalf of Hampshire children as is appropriate.

“The full suite of services we provide to schools, ranging from financial and HR advice to school improvement in teaching and leadership, remain available to all, and we are pleased that the vast majority of academies in Hampshire continue to purchase those servi-ces because they are highly effective.”

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