An academy chain in charge of running six state schools became the first in the country to fold today - forcing a sudden hunt for new sponsors to take them over.
The Prospects Academies Trust, which runs six schools in Paignton, Bexhill and Gloucestershire, was one of 14 chains told by the Government it could not take on any new schools because of concerns over standards.
Two of the schools it ran were in “special measures”, having been declared “inadequate” by education standards watchdog Ofsted.
The decision to wind up the trust, though, came “completely out of the blue”, according to Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in a letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove.
She said the decision to pull out would have a “destabilising” effect on the school both now and in future “as teachers will believe they have no alternative but to look for another job to gain stability”.
Parents also attacked the decision, coming as it did just weeks before pupils sit crucial GCSE and A-level exams.
In a statement to parents and staff at the schools, the Trust Board said it had found it “very difficult to provide the required support and services to all our academies because of the geographical spread of the Trust academies”.
“The notification by the Department for Education that the Trust will not be able to expand has meant that our resources... are limited,” said Peter Evans, its chairman.
Dr Bousted added: “Academy chain failures are very stressful for pupils and parents who do not find out for a considerable amount of time what is going to happen to their school and their education.
“They are also very difficult for staff who may want to look for new jobs as soon as they can and, thus, add to the school’s problems.”
The six schools concerned are: Curledge Street Academy, Paignton; Kings Ash Academy, Paignton; Paignton Community and Sports Academy; Bexhill High, Bexhill; The Dean Academy, Lydney, Gloucestershire; and Gloucester Academy, Gloucester.
Prospects Academies Trust is the first academy chain in the UK to fold. Earlier this year E-ACT, one of the largest academy chains, was told by the DfE that it would have to give up 10 of its academies because of concern over standards and the support given to them.
Union leaders believe that other chains - especially those on the list of 14 refused permission to expand - could also fold.
They are stunned by the suddenness of the closure as only three weeks ago they concluded a union recognition agreement with the Trust without any warning that its collapse was imminent.
In his letter to parents and staff, Mr Evans said the Trust would be working closely with the DfE “to find a way forward to ensure an orderly transfer to alternative governance arrangements”.
In a message on the school’s website, Jessica Humphrey, head teacher of Curledge Street Academy, said: “This means we now have an exciting opportunity to look at the future of the academy. The change will not impact on the quality of education that we provide in the academy.”
However Dr Bousted argued: “At the moment, there is no mechanism for dealing with failing academy chains or sponsors who relinquish their academies, other than a kind of ‘fire sale’ whereby the DfE looks for new sponsors. Parents and unions have no input into this ‘auction’ and this adds considerably to the stress.”
She said one solution could be to allow the schools top return to local authority control.
In a statement the DfE said it was “working with the Trust”, adding: “Two of these schools are in special measures and it is disappointing that the pupils are not getting the education they deserve”.
It added that pupils’ education would “not be disrupted” and that the schools would be “re-brokered with excellent sponsors to ensure they are able to thrive”.
The DfE added: “We are tough on underperformance in all types of schools, including academies. When we have concerns about the performance of academy sponsors, we act quickly – for example by stopping them from taking on new projects so that they focus on their existing schools, and in some cases rebrokering their schools with other sponsors.”