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Wednesday, 28 February 2018 06:21

Brook Learning Trust Schools in Trouble: Ebbsfleet Academy; Hayesbrook School; High Weald Academy

 The Brook Learning Trust runs three schools, Ebbsfleet Academy, Hayesbrook School in Tonbridge, and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook and appears to be in serious trouble, both financially and in terms of the standing of all of its three schools. 

Ebbsfleet 1       High Weald 1    Hayesbrook 2
I monitor a number of factors that indicate how a school supports its students and how it stands in its locality. These include: pupil vacancy rates in year Seven; popularity of schools expressed through first preferences when making applications; percentage drop out rates from the school for all reasons; and proportion of pupils leaving for Elective Home Education; together with academic performance. These three schools are each amongst the worst in the county on four in the case of Hayesbrook or all five of the first five measures for the other two schools. I consider that they can therefore be regarded as generally, if not academically, failing. These common themes across the Trust’s schools suggest the problem starts with the ethos and standards set by the Trust.

The situation at High Weald Academy is especially dire, as government is proposing a multi-million pound premises investment into this school which appears to have no future under the Trust.

I look below at the factors affecting each school and the Trust as a whole. I now have data showing a further fall in first choice applications for each school for Year Seven admission in September 2018, which will surely see the Trust heading for insolvency and for each school immense financial difficulty in providing an acceptable level of education. 

Trust Finances
The Brook Learning Trust accounts for 2016, the most recent available, record that unless its finances improved in 2016-17 the Trust would not have sufficient funds to continue to operate. This situation has clearly been brought about by the low numbers in each school, and the data below leaves no doubt that the situation will have deteriorated further.
Excerpt from Company Accounts
The academy trust has been very concerned for some time about funding limitations and, despite having discussed it at length with the EFA over some years, no resolution is in sight. So whilst these accounts have been prepared on a going concern basis, the board of trustees is concerned that, unless 2017/18 funding is higher than currently expected, the trust will not have sufficient funds to continue to operate for that academic year. Thus in conclusion there are material uncertainties about the academy trust's ability to continue as a going concern, but these accounts have nonetheless been prepared on a going concern basis”.
Other Schools in Difficulty
The largest element of any school’s finance is generated by the number of pupils on roll. In recent years, Marlowe Academy, Chaucer Technology College, Pent Valley School, Oasis Hextable Academy, and Walmer Science College, have all featured in my high vacancy list, all being in the top ten as long ago as 2012, and all have closed. Angley School, the predecessor of High Weald Academy, had the sixth highest vacancy rate in that year at 39%. Swadelands School, another school in long term difficulty, was taken over last year after being placed in Special Measures and has been renamed The Lenham School.
Year 7 Census
Vacancy Rate 
1st Preferences
out of capacity
Local Authority
Allocations 2018
      2018 2017 Number
of Intake
The Ebbsfleet Academy 43% 150  46% 46% 67 46%
The Hayesbrook School 48% 151 36% 40% 57 38%
High Weald Academy 60% 150  27%  44% 32 38%
County N/S Average 7%   91% 85%  731  6%

 Note: 46 of the 63 schools had no LAAs.

2017 GCSE
2017 GCSE
% Fall in Numbers
Years 7-11 
2016-17 Home
Educated %
The Ebbsfleet Academy  -0.27% 42.4  24%  4.8%
The Hayesbrook School  -0.12% 43.8  12%   1%
High Weald Academy  -0.38% 35.9  18%  3.2%
 County N/S Average   -0.22%  38.4 -1% 1.6%
Year 7 Vacancy Data
This measures the number of empty spaces in Year 7 for each school at the time of the Year 7 Schools Census which took place in October 2017, compared with the Planned Admission Number for the school.

There are 66 non-selective schools in Kent. High Weald Academy in Cranbrook had the highest vacancy rate at 60%, with just 60 Year Seven pupils in a school designed for 150. After Holmesdale School and New Line Learning, the next two highest vacancy rates are at The Hayesbrook School 48% and Ebbsfleet Academy at 43%. You will find a recent article on vacancy levels across the county here.

First Preferences As a Percentage of Capacity
This refers to the percentage of first preferences for each school at allocation time on 1st March each year, compared with the capacity of the school. The County Average of 91% shows that most schools will take in first choices for nearly all their places, so these very low percentages are a second indicator of unpopularity with local families.

High Weald has the lowest percentage of first preferences for 2018 admission at 27% of capacity, then come: Hartsdown 28%; Hayesbrook 36%; New Line Learning; Holmesdale; Aylesford; then Ebbsfleet at 46%.

For 2017, lowest was Hartsdown at 31%, then: New Line Learning; Holmesdale; Hayesbrook 40%; Royal Harbour; High Weald Academy 44%; and Ebbsfleet 46%.

The situation is deteriorating most sharply at High Weald, followed by Hayesbrook.

Local Authority Allocations as Proportion of Intake
Local Authority Allocations (LAA) are children who are are offered to no school of their choice, but allocated to a local school (where possible) with vacancies. Highest proportion is at Hartsdown Academy where 47% of allocations, nearly half of the children offered places in the school for September 2018, are LAAs, and so presumably don't want to be there. Next come: Ebbsfleet Academy at 46%; New Line Learning at 45%; and Hayesbrook and High Weald at 38%. 
GCSE Performance
Progress 8, explained here, is the government’s preferred measure of performance at GCSE, measuring the progress of individual children from KS2 at the end of primary school through to GCSE. Whilst theoretically non-selective schools could perform as well as grammars, the framework still favours selective schools in general. Attainment 8 measures the achievement across 8 subjects, and so grammar schools will generally out-perform non-selectives.

The unpopularity of the Brook Trust schools does not appear to be primarily dissatisfaction with academic performance with Hayesbrook, in particular, well above average on both measures, and Ebbsfleet above average on achievement. However, these performances are likely to have been achieved at the expense of less able children leaving the schools – see the other factors below.

% Fall in Numbers Years 7-11
 This figure measures the change in numbers for the Year Group between Year 7 on entry, measured in October 2013, through to Year 11 in October 2017. Some schools will see a further loss round to January 2018, the deadline for being counted in GCSE results, but these figures are not yet available. Overall, there is an increased roll of 1% across all non-selective schools, reflecting increased numbers coming into the county, dampened by children leaving the system. Fall in numbers at individual schools can be brought about by several reasons, most commonly change of school, withdrawal for Elective Home Education and Children going Missing from Education, which can include transient populations. It is not possible to separate these out. Excessive numbers are most likely to reflect unhappiness with provision. My recent article on vacancies, referred to above, is here.

Biggest loss is at Holmesdale which lost 34% or an astonishing third of its population. Next comes Ebbsfleet Academy with 24% followed by Aylesford 21% and High Weald 18%. Then come: Lenham/Swadelands; Oasis, Isle of Sheppey; Towers; Cornwallis; Hillview; Charles Dickens; and then Hayesbrook at 12%.

2016-17 Home Educated %
There is considerable media discussion on the reasons for families choosing Elective Home Education (EHE). One that is usually ignored is where a school is failing its children for whatever reason, to the extent that parents withdraw their children. This is not the positive reason that so many home school enthusiasts put forward. Whilst we do not know specifically the reasons from the broad statistics provided, when 4.4%, or an average of more than one child per class, is withdrawn in one year there is something badly wrong. This is the figure for Ebbsfleet Academy, the largest percentage in Kent. It is followed by what could be called ‘the usual suspects’: Oasis Academy, Sheppey, 3.3%; Hartsdown 3.1%; Community College Whitstable and New Line Learning 2.8%; and High Weald 2.6%. Hayesbrook does not feature.
The Brook Learning Trust Academies
Ebbsfleet Academy
This is one of three schools that I have called ‘Tough Love Academies’, and which appears to revel in its tough media image. The link provides further links to background on the school.

The school is in Dartford, along with five other non-selective schools, all oversubscribed. The situation in 2018 with all local boys’ grammar schools oversubscribed has seen a number of grammar qualified boys allocated to Ebbsfleet to the horror of many families. For 2017 entry, 13 children were allocated by the Local Authority (LACs) who did not apply to the school. This figure has soared to 67, the second highest percentage in the county at 46%, for 2018 admission. If they were all to turn up, which is most unlikely, it could present a major problem to have so many children who did not want to be at the school. However, 'Tough Love' would soon see many of them packing their bags and going who knows where. 

The school performs relatively well academically but a quarter of its current Year 11 cohort, the second highest figure in the county, disappeared from the school since Year Seven. If these were factored in, performance would fall. I do not believe that all, or indeed most of the 4.4% of the school numbers, who ‘chose to leave’ for Home Education did so voluntarily, and the Trust surely ought to have investigated what is going on. Clearly ‘Tough Love’ does not work, except to drive out weaker pupils. With just 46% of its places chosen by first preferences ‘Tough Love’ is also failing badly to attract or retain pupils at Ebbsfleet Academy. The other two TL Academies are Hartsdown and Oasis Academy, Isle of Sheppey, that also appear on most of the above lists, underlining the complete failure of the philosophy.

High Weald Academy
A disaster area by every single measure above. There is also a high turnover of headteachers to take into account as the Trust attempts to turn the school round, but does not appear to have the ability to do so. I remember a generation ago when its predecessor, Angley School, was popular, successful and oversubscribed. Frankly, its current roll, intake numbers, high proportion of LAAs, retention level, drop out levels and academic performance now offer little realistic prospect of recovery under the Brook Learning Trust. The Trust pins its hopes on new premises being built under the Priority Schools Programme, ‘one four projects in our region’ (actually 13 in Kent!). The article claims: The High Weald Academy continues to go from strength to strength’ taking hyperbole into fantasy. Surely the Brook Trust should not be trusted with such an investment under its control, as the school is not currently financially viable because of falling numbers. If it is to remain open, then it desperately needs competent sponsors and Brook Learning Trust has lost any credibility.
Hayesbrook School
This is the puzzle for me. Academically performing well, in the top quarter of non-selective schools for Progress 8, and eighth highest for Attainment 8, highest performing non-selective in Tonbridge, it ought to attract pupils in large numbers. However, it does not. Fourth highest vacancy rate in Year Seven; second lowest percentage of first choices; fourth highest proportion of LAAs; tenth highest drop out rate Year 7 to 11 - but presumably boys moving to other schools as there is an insignificant take up of EHE. I have heard suggestions of a tough disciplinary approach but nothing more. Any answers?
Brook Learning Trust
For unclear reasons, KentLive, the online version of The Kent and East Sussex Courier, decided to publish the following statement by the Brook Learning Trust this week, without any context or explanation. 

Brook Learning Trust manages its resources well, has sound financial controls in place and sets balanced budgets with its academies. However like very many education providers at this time we face the funding challenges which have frequently been reported by the press, including the problems of a National Funding Formula which lacks the sophistication to address these issues and to ensure we deliver the best possible education to our students

I assume that was in response to this article. It is therefore odd that the statement makes no reference to the falling rolls and high drop out rates at each of its academies, authenticated by KCC Freedom of Information requests, nor the failure to come up with a solution, that will inevitably be playing havoc with its finances. 
The current CEO of the Trust, who had previously worked in a senior role in the Trustm took up post in January 2016, following the resignation of  the previous CEO, Deborah Coslett, who had previously been head of Hayesbrook School. She also had time to run an Education Consultancy part-time with Nigel Blackburn, KCC's Principal Secondary School Adviser (also part-time) and also a previous Headteacher at Hayesbrook. It may well be that the Trust needed an external influence to challenge its own view that ‘the Brook Learning Trust is a successful and nationally recognised multi-academy trust’' which it clearly is not. It certainly would not come form KCC! The Trust’s website advertises for other schools to join it. Due diligence may be the reason that none have taken up the offer.

The big question now is:’where now for the Brook Learning Trust?’ The Education and Skills Funding Agency has surely identified the above data, especially the massive worry of High Weald Academy, and the major capital investment planned. Far too many children’s futures are being damaged because of the Trust.

Like a number of other Academy Trusts, Brook is running a large Local Authority Pension Deficit, of £7.5 million, I calculate possibly the fourth highest in Kent. With its finances in such a dire situation, the Trust appears to have no way of recovering this. The get out clause is that if the Trust is disbanded, then government (i.e. the taxpayer) underwrites the loss ; it is not passed on to another Trust which takes over.

The evidence points strongly towards this as the solution for the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

Last modified on Thursday, 11 March 2021 19:11


  • Comment Link Monday, 04 June 2018 15:02 posted by Ben Barnes.

    I am familiar with Hayesbrook school and have also spent a short time at Ebbsfleet. Both schools are indeed on the road to ruin, with a complete disconnect between senior management and the rest of the school. Budgets being cut in essential places but high salaries being paid to the senior leaders is just one of the problems.

    I think the reason for the falling role at Hayesbrook is the somewhat laddish, almost thuggish culture that exists in the school puts a lot of parents off. Not sure if that's typical of most boys schools or not.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 11 April 2018 20:45 posted by Lara randall

    Staffing resignations / absence due to stress in the workplace need to be looked at, since 2013 at Swan Valley / Ebbsfleet Academy.

    Key staff were threatened and forced to sign compromise agreements. PETER: Oh dear; it really does look as if the school may be unravelling. This looks like inside information.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 22 March 2018 23:09 posted by Lucy

    If you look at the summer 2017 GCSE results Hayesbrook are in the top 5 of non-selective schools in Kent, also their year 7 intake has increased for the second year in a row (from the dip in 2016). As a parent I can only offer a personal opinion but I know local grammar schools have been taking more children which will have an effect on numbers for regular schools, the opening of nearby Hadlow Rural Community school will have had an impact also (it opened in 2013 but took a few years for numbers to build up). Hayesbrook is a lovely school so here’s hoping the numbers continue to rise again in 2019 and beyond. . PETER: I have made clear in the article my appreciation of its good GCSE results ( actually 8th on Attainment, not 5th, just behind Hillview, and 17th on Progress, some way behind Hillview. Better than Hugh Christie in both. According to the most recent census, Hugh Christie is 93% full in Year 7, Hillivew is 83%, with Hayesbrook way down at 52%, 4th emptiest in the county. It also sees a net 12% of children leave between Years 7 -11, with just ten out of the 63 non selective schools doing worse (including High Weald and Ebbsfleet much worse!). I agree that numbers look slowly on the turn after the disastrous 2016 intake, but the fact remains that 57 boys have been allocated to the school for September who never applied for it. I am not knocking this academically successful school that ought to have boys flocking to it, just asking, as I am sure the school is, why they are not coming, or in some cases, not staying.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 22 March 2018 17:04 posted by Lucy

    Read this article after seeing the Kent Live story, as I am a parent of two boys who are both performing academically very well at Hayesbrook. The 11+ wasn’t for them and they are far happier bobbing around near the top of a regular school than struggling in a grammar. Pastoral care is excellent and many teachers go above and beyond to help pupils. I am particularly impressed with the extra hours put in by staff after school, over holidays and weekends for GCSE revision sessions and also extracurricular activities like the Duke of Edinburgh award. They have made far better progress here than at their primary (rated outstanding by Ofsted). What has been heartening is that on social media there has been an outpouring of 100% supportive comments from other Hayesbrook parents. If any future year 7 parents read this blog and are concerned I urge them to visit the school and make up their own mind. PETER: You will see from my article that I remain puzzled as to the reasons why the school is so unpopular with many. The school is half empty; large numbers of children have been allocated places there who don't want to go; large numbers drop out during their time at the school. Can you supply a reason why this is happening? The only other two schools with a similar profile across the county just happen to be Ebbsfleet and High Weald, both run by the Brook Trust. To me this suggests where the problem is.

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 21 March 2018 20:36 posted by Xxxxxxx

    I find it disturbing to read this report, however the content was sadly expected. I previously worked for one of the schools mentioned.
    When I first started working at the school I was overwhelmed by the ethos. This was of a time when the school was truly all about the students, their well-being and education. All changed when the school became an academy and the original head left.
    To many colleagues and myself this was the beginning of a significant change in the education system. No longer is it about the students their education, wellbeing and future but nothing more than a business benefiting only those in the unfortunate role of management.
    I say unfortunate as those poor souls have lost their way. They have forgotten the very reasons we enter the system, they have lost the ability to share/show their care, compassion, drive and passion all vital for outstanding educators. PETER: Name and email address supplied.

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