Criticism after Wakefield education trust pulls out of running schools

A senior Wakefield councillor has launched a stinging attack on the Department of Education for its response to the collapse of an academy chain.

The Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) pulled out of the running of all of its 21 schools, including eight in the district, in September.

The government has pledged that all of the affected schools will have new leadership by the end of the academic year, with all but one already transferred to new trusts.

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But Coun Margaret Isherwood, chair of the children and young people’s scrutiny committee, has criticised the government’s regional schools commissioner for West Yorkshire, Vicky Beer, over a lack of communication about the issue. The Department of Education has disputed this.

As local authorities have no say in the running of academies, they are unable to intervene in their affairs directly, though the government can.

In her annual report on the work of the committee, Coun Isherwood said: “Although not part of our work programme, we have monitored developments following the announcement in September that Wakefield City Academy Trust intended to pull out of a number of schools in our district.

“This raised many concerns for the committee and a high level of frustration due to academies being outside the council’s control. Although limited in what influence we could have, we have invited the regional schools commissioner to meet with us to discuss ways of working together and scrutinising education more effectively.

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“Although there has been some communication with commissioner, we have been extremely disappointed at the level of response we have received and are no nearer to arranging a meeting.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said: “We are pleased to have confirmed new trusts for 20 of the 21 Wakefield City Academy Trust schools, with 15 of the schools having already transferred to their new trusts. All the new trusts have the expertise and capacity to improve education standards for these schools.

Schools that are yet to be transferred are being closely monitored by the regional schools commissioner, with our priority continuing to be to minimise disruption for all concerned. We are working hard to confirm the final trust for the one remaining school as soon as possible.

“Throughout this process, the regional schools commissioner’s Office has kept in close contact with the council on progress, including through regular meetings and writing to the local authority at various milestones throughout the process.”