A report on a failed Hereford school says it was ‘ahead of its time’ and its closure has left young people with little support.
Former leaders of the Robert Owen Academy, which closed in August last year, say the school was mired by challenges from the very first intake of students five-years earlier.
They say the academy’s closure came despite there being a continuing need to help Herefordshire youngsters who face challenging situations and have difficulties in mainstream education.
The 120-page report published today includes criticism by the academy’s former trustees of both the Department for Education and the Regional Schools Commissioner.
Their decision to announce the school’s closure arrived at the same time as an Ofsted inspection report which stated that the Academy was ‘improving’.
The closure meant that some 50 students had to be relocated to other schools including those not geared towards their specific needs, according to former academy chairman Chris Morgan.
Staff also faced redundancy and job moves.
The report blames the failure of the academy on several factors including ‘suspicion and uncertainty from the Department for Education’, a lack of understanding about what the academy was trying to achieve and significant budgetary blockages and restraints.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System made the decision to close the Academy on March 8, 2018.
In an official letter from the Under-Secretary’s office, financial constraints were to blame for the closure – despite the academy receiving an encouraging Ofsted report that same week.
However, the former trustees and governors claim, ‘the reasons given for potential closure have shifted from poor Ofsted outcomes to a shortfall in recruiting, to opposition from the local authority, to financial difficulties’.
Some remain unsure as to the real reason for the closure.
Prepared by the former trustees, governors and some of the senior staff, the report is intended to help others learn from the challenges faced by the academy during its short life.
The report also admits errors on the part of the trustees and governors including a lack of clarity of roles, responsibilities and demarcation lines, early skills shortages in key subject areas and a lack of proactivity in promoting the Academy to the wider-community.
But it also highlights the external challenges that were faced.
“We have produced a balanced summary of what happened to a concept that was, in hindsight, ahead of its time,” said Mr Morgan.
“Our projections of student-need have proved correct. Our concern is with those who now lack the vocational support we offered and the some-350 young people who are now outside the system and often sleeping rough.”
Mr Morgan paid tribute to those who had worked hard to deliver a concept that was solely aimed at serving the young people of Herefordshire that mainstream education “left behind”.
“Our report aims to show not only the challenges we faced both internally and externally but the inexhaustible and never ending hard work of teachers, governors and trustees who helped bring the Academy to reality.
“Without their dedicated efforts we would have been unable to give struggling young people a chance to rediscover their confidence and self–respect. Education is not a one size fits all issue. We wanted to give every young person a chance,” he said.