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‘Trust is not fit to run academies’ in Witham, says MP Priti Patel

PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 November 2014

Priti Patel, MP for Witham

Priti Patel, MP for Witham

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An MP has accused an academy provider of not being “fit to run” two schools in Witham which may be merged.

The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), which sponsors Maltings Academy and New Rickstones Academy, has been issued with a Financial Notice to Improve by the Department for Education (DfE).

The trust, which is the largest sponsor of academies in the UK, is planning to merge the two Witham academies to form one combined school from September 2016.

A letter from the DfE to Rupert Gather, chairman of the AET, said while the overall financial position had improved, “we have significant concerns about the volatility shown in the series of financial projections provided to us and the ability of the trust to forecast and therefore, critically, to secure finances across the group”.

The DfE also said the board’s structures and processes for oversight of the financial management of the trust and its academies needed to be further strengthened.

Witham MP Priti Patel, who has opposed the merger move, said that at a time when AET has caused concern to local parents and pupils with its plans merge the two academies in Witham or shut one down, it is concerning to see that their financial management has caused concern to the Government.

She added: “AET have claimed that they need to merge both the academies they sponsor in Witham for financial reasons but in my view, their arguments have no credibility when we see that the Government is ordering them to improve their financial management.

“I believe AET are not fit to run two academies in Witham and alternatives should be found.”

An AET spokesman confirmed there were no plans to close one of the academies in Witham, adding: “There is no link between the notice, issued just five weeks ago, and the future of Maltings Academy and New Rickstones Academy.

“The proposal dates back to a series of meetings held by their governing bodies to discuss the possible options last year.

“The notice has no bearing on the proposals or the final decision, which ultimately rests with the Secretary of State.

“Following the public consultation a report will be published containing an evaluation of the educational implications of the options considered, as well as responses to the consultation.

“It has been consistently said throughout the two-month consultation process that the amalgamation proposal has come from the two schools themselves and we support them in this action.”

The spokesman confirmed the trust has produced the action plan required by the DfE.

More than 450 people are part of a Facebook group called ‘Parents against the proposed Maltings Academy merger’ and more than 360 people have supported a change.org petition against the move.

John Nicholson, of a parent group against the merger, said: “The underlying financial issues that exist within the AET are of a concern, no question. The problem is if the AET don’t address the issues relating to the two schools in Witham.

“Doing nothing is not an option.”

The proposed merger seeks to ensure both academies remain financially viable and with a broad and balanced curriculum by addressing the inbalance in the demand for places as New Rickstones is undersubscribed and Maltings is oversubscribed.

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