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Thursday, 11 March 2021 19:47

Leigh Academies Trust to take over (merge) the Brook Learning Trust

Update November 2021: Closure of High Weald Academy is announced.

Plans have been announced for Leigh Academies Trust to merge with (take over) the struggling Brook Learning Trust. I have regularly looked at the failures of the three Brook schools for too many years: Ebbsfleet Academy; Hayesbrook Academy in Tonbridge; and High Weald Academy in Cranbrook. Although I have doubts about such large Trusts, the children attending these schools and those who will follow them would surely have a much better future under Leigh Academies Trust. 

I look in some detail below at the many challenges facing Leigh if they follow this takeover through, but this is a very thorough and professional organisation and its leaders will surely have carried out due diligence and know the size of the task before going ahead. 


Leigh Academy Trust (2)

Assuming this takeover goes through, the Leigh Academy Trust will be running 15 secondary schools (with the opening of the new Leigh Academy Rainham in September), 15 primary schools and two Special Schools. These are mainly in Dartford, Maidstone, Medway and the Weald of Kent around Hub schools, regularly being allocated new Free Schools as they have come on stream, and other existing schools through Conversion or Sponsorship, as set out in the table below.

Back in 2017 the Trust's auditors expressed significant doubts about whether it could continue to operate, as confirmed by the Trustees. The warning was repeated the next year, but now Brook Learning Trust's response was to deny everything, change auditors so that there were no further doubts expressed, and sit tight until the money ran out, which appears to be the case 

In 2018 Leigh Academies Trust merged with (took over) the failed Williamson Trust in Medway, all traces of which now appear to have vanished. At that point, it comprised the prestigious Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, the struggling all through Hundred of Hoo Academy and three primary schools, having had the failed Elaine Primary taken from it. I anticipate a similar fate will await the Brook Trust which will itself soon be forgotten, assuming this takeover happens.  

Current and Pending Leigh Trust Academies
Secondary Academies        
Primary Academies    
 Leigh   2007 Sp K Hartley  2013 Con  K


 2008 Sp K Dartford 2014 Con
Wilmington   2010  Sp Oaks 2015 Tr 1* K
Leigh UTC  2014 Free  K Tree Tops  2015 Tr 1* K
 2014 Con  G Molehill  2015 Tr 1* K
Mascalls 2015 Tr 2* K Langley Park   2016 Free  K
Strood  2019 Tr 3* Eastcote  2016 Con B
Halley 2018 Tr G Cherry Orchard  2017 Free K
Leigh Blackheath 2018 Free B Horsmonden 2018 Con K
Hundred of Hoo
2019 Tr 3* M Paddock Wood   2018  Con
Tr 3*
Tr 3* M
Ebbsfleet 2021 Tr 4* K High Halstow 2019 Tr 3* M
Hayesbrook 2021 Tr 4* K Stoke 2019 Tr 3*  M
High Weald 2021 Tr 4* K Marden   2020 Con K
Leigh Rainham  2021 Free M Bearsted  2020 Free

Special Academies
 Milestone   2012 Sp 
 Snowfields  2020 Free

 Notes: Most schools named also have 'Academy' or 'Primary Academy',  with some occasional 'School' as the finish to their title apart from Leigh UTC and Sir Joseph Williamson's Mathematical School, colloquially known as 'the Math'. 

*1 Transferred from Academies Enterprise Trust

* 2 Joined from being a Single Academy Trust  

* 3 Transferred from The Williamson Trust

* 4 Transferring from Brook Learning Trust if approved

Abbreviations: K=Kent; M=Medway; B = Bexley; G=Greenwich; Con = conversion from maintained school; Tr =Transfer or Re-Broker form another Trust 

A number of links to articles on the website are included in the table, but many others will follow from an entry in my search engine (above). 

Brook Learning Trust
The lead statement on the BLT website reads: Brook Learning Trust is a successful and nationally recognised multi-academy trust which currently includes three secondary academies within Kent. It is our steadfast purpose to challenge and defy the barriers that constrain the educational progress of any child. We set high aims for aspiration and secure collective responsibility for all our children’s achievements’.
Excerpt from Kent Secondary School
Allocations for September 2021*
  PAN Offers
Ebbsfleet 150 132 58 47
Hayesbrook 151 148 51 51
High Weald 151 73 56 5

PAN= Published Admission Number; LAA= Local Authority Allocation

*Kent Secondary School Allocations for September 2021

I have written regularly about the failures of Brook, with a major article in February 2018 here, entitled: Brook Learning Trust Schools in Trouble: Ebbsfleet Academy; Hayesbrook School; High Weald Academy,  Much has happened since then, as the Trust has continued its downward slide see below. Most recently, I devoted a special section in last year's secondary allocation article on the Brook Trust here
I am currently awaiting the Kent September secondary school allocation figures, but you will find the 2020 vacancy table here, which fed into the October Year 7 census data in the table below, the three schools having 1st, 3rd and 4th highest proportion of empty places in the county. Rightly, the government preferred measure of GCSE performance is Progress 8, measuring the improvement between Years 7 and 11. Both Hayesbrook and High Weald come in the bottom ten schools in Kent, classified as Well Below Average.
 Performance of Brook Learning Trust Schools 
% Year 7
 GCSE Progress 8
(out of 101) 2019
Ebbsfleet 150 45% 31  65th BA 
Hayesbrook 151 52% 56  93rd WBA
High Weald 150 59% 32  91st WBA 

An observation: Whilst Hayesbrook is a boys' school with a somewhat macho reputation, the other two academies are mixed. It is therefore surprising that in the five picture strips heading the sections of the Trust website, 33 boys are to be seen, as against just six girls. On another page, the strip still features the notorious previous Principal of Ebbsfleet Academy, who left nearly two years ago. 

Yet another unenviable statistic is that all three Brook schools feature in the top six of Kent schools with the highest fall out of pupils between Allocation of places in March 2020, and the October 2020 schools census, Hayesbrook (second) losing 46% of its initial intake, High Weald (fifth) with 35%, and  Ebbsfleet (sixth) with 31%.

Trust Finances and Governance
In my previous article I wrote about the financial difficulties of the Trust, honestly reported in its Annual Report in 2017/18 brought about by falling rolls in all three schools. This stated: 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. However, by 2018/19 there is a more positive tone, although without any obvious reason: As a Trust operating three non-selective schools in a highly selective system, pupil numbers can be volatile and subject to risk, particularly when neighbouring schools exercise their freedom to increase their intake in response to parental demand. All three Academies face challenges in this area, but most acutely at the  High  Weald Academy which has experienced falling rolls in recent years, posing a challenge in terms of setting a balanced budget. The Trust has worked closely with the ESFA, securing additional funds to balance the budget in 2018/19. The Trust continues to work closely with the DfE and the ESFA  to ensure the long term viability of its academies. Then in 2019/20 there is a shift with the balanced budget achieved by further loans from not only the ESFA, but also KCC  to the tune of  £381056. This was not to be payable until the current 2020/21 year, although no plans were put forward to achieve this. It may well be that this failure was what has ended the Trust, although Trustees in this report considered wrongly (I hope not falsely) that they ' concluded that the Trust has adequate resources to continue in operational existence for the foreseeable future and there are no material uncertainties about the Trust's ability to continue as a going concern. I hope it is coincidence that the Chair of Trustees since the inception of the Trust in 2010, Ian Daker, and the CEO Carol Morris, both resigned from the Board of Trustees towards the end of the year. One can only speculate on the reason Jeannette Batten, Director of Estates and Facilities at Goldsmiths College, took on the role of Chair, when the Trust's very future appeared terminal. 


To be precise, the problem is down to the failure of the leaders of the Trust to tackle the issue of complete failure of all three schools to attract pupils. This is evidenced not only by the high vacancy rates, but by the high number of LAAs in each school, showing that they are all having to take in high numbers of pupils who simply don’t want to be there. This is not a function of the selective system as claimed.

In spite of the poor performance of its three schools, the 2019-20 accounts record that three employees of the Trust were paid an annual salary of £100,000 to £120,000 during the year.

Hayesbrook School
The Trust originated at Hayesbrook School, Tonbridge, an early converter to become an academy in 2010 with its Outstanding Ofsted, led at the time by Nigel Blackburn who has been a leading figure in Kent education ever since, including in his part-time role as Principal Secondary Inspector for KCC until 2015. Coincidentally that was the year in which Hayesbrook reached its acme, with the highest GCSE performance in the county for non-selective schools (also excluding three highly selective church schools), since when its academic performance and popularity have both plummeted after getting rid of an excellent headteacher. For 2019 (the last year when outcomes were published), GCSE Progress 8 was the ninth-worst in the county, classified as Well Below Average. Popularity has fallen by more than half, with just 54 first choices this year for its 150 places, 56 Local Authority Allocations and still 18 vacancies.
High Weald Academy
My previous article began A disaster area by every single measure above’and ended: If it is to remain open, then it desperately needs competent sponsors and Brook Learning Trust has lost any credibility’. There is little else to say apart from to record the following 2019-20 data: the Extended Home Education rate was the highest in the county, with 2.4% or nearly one pupil for every class leaving the school, and the fixed term exclusion rate was the fifth highest proportion in Kent, equivalent to one exclusion for 37% of all pupils. 

Senior staff turnover continues at a rate, the Executive Principal appointed two years ago has moved on, Assistant Principals come and go, five heads in seven years - the latest taking up a new post elsewhere in September, the Trust Head of Education two years ago, then became Interim CEO and is now Interim Executive Head of High Weald.

Ebbsfleet Academy
My previous article politely chose to ignore what has been the greatest issue with the school, its leadership as not being relevant to my theme. I have written multiple articles about the previous Principal who, on leaving, made her mark in what I considered to be some of the most unprofessional behaviour I have seen from a school leader. Indeed I began a survey of my concerns about the Brook Learning Trust back in April 2020, with an analysis of her behaviour and very public unwarranted attacks on the white working-class parents of Ebbsfleet children. One can only speculate how unhappy the Trust leaders are about her attacks and false claims, but 
This was to be followed by a second part looking at the Trust in more detail and the other two schools, but with other calls on my time, this article serves as the second half. With her off the scene, if Leigh Academies Trust follows through with its takeover, that is one problem solved.  

Whilst not directly relevant, the 2019-20 accounts confirm that the PFI loan taken out to build Ebbsfleet Academy, is fully funded by KCC until 2027.

Last modified on Tuesday, 30 November 2021 17:52

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