Struggling academy trust with schools in Suffolk and north Essex rejects closure rumours

Colchester Academy, run by the Bright Tribe Trust Picture: ANDREW PARTRIDGE

Colchester Academy, run by the Bright Tribe Trust Picture: ANDREW PARTRIDGE - Credit: Andrew Partridge

An ailing academy trust that runs five schools in Suffolk and north Essex has claimed rumours of its closure are “no more than speculation”.

Castle Hill Infant and Junior Schools, Ipswich Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Castle Hill Infant and Junior Schools, Ipswich Picture: LUCY TAYLOR - Credit: Lucy Taylor

It has been reported that the Bright Tribe Trust, which runs schools in Ipswich, Leiston and Colchester, will give up all ten of its institutions following increasing pressure from the government.

The Trust runs Castle Hill Infant and Junior Schools and Cliff Lane Primary School in Ipswich, Alde Valley Academy in Leiston, and Colchester Academy in north Essex.

Bright Tribe confirmed that two new school leaders had recently been appointed to its board of trustees, on the recommendation of the Department for Education (DfE).

The two new trustees, who are reported to have joined the board on Wednesday, are described by the DfE as “experts in supporting academies to improve”. They are responsible for negotiating the strategic direction of the Trust.

Alde Valley Academy in Leiston Picture: ALDE VALLEY ACADEMY

Alde Valley Academy in Leiston Picture: ALDE VALLEY ACADEMY - Credit: Archant

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A spokesperson for Bright Tribe said: “The future strategic direction of the trust is a matter for consideration and determination by Trustees and Members. Recently appointed trustees, with whom all future strategic decisions lie, have not yet met as a board and there has not yet been any discussion concerning the future strategic direction of the trust.

“Comment concerning potential re-brokerage is no more than speculation.

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“There is a re-affirmed commitment to the continuing success and improvements already seen at the Bright Tribe academies in Ipswich, Leiston and Colchester. The top priority of the Trust and its schools remains fixed on the education of young people.”

It was already confirmed that the Trust would reliquish four out of its five schools in the north of England.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Bright Tribe Trust and Adventure Learning Trust have recently appointed new trustees, based on recommendations by the department, who are experts in supporting academies to improve.”

The spokesperson did not confirm or deny whether the trust will be closing down.

Representatives for each of the Trust’s schools based in Ipswich, Leiston and Colchester were unable to comment on the matter.

Based in the north of England, Bright Tribe received ‘northern hub’ funding in 2015, granted by the government to raise standards in struggling schools.

It subsequently went from crisis to crisis, as the trust was made subject of a financial investigation in 2016, which found rules over payments to trustees had been breached.

Later that same year, Bright’s first school, Whitehaven Academy, was put into special measures, and more than 50 staff members wrote an open letter criticising the Trust.

In November 2017, plans emerged to rebroker the academy to a new sponsor, following pressure from staff and parents concerned over the physical state of the school site.

However the Trust insisted its withdrawal was not triggered by pressure from parents.

Then in December 2017, the GMB, which represents school support staff, called for education authorities to investigate whether Bright Tribe Trust was “fit and proper” to run schools.

Just days before, the Trust had told this newspaper that its “financial position is strong”.

The news comes soon after the Trust was labelled the worst performer of all secondary school providers in England.

The report, published by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) awarded Bright Tribe the lowest score for key stage four (KS4).

These lower performance scores did not refer to schools within the East of England region but in other areas run by the Trust.

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