Struggling University of Chester Academies Trust comes under fire

Ofsted say all but one of the seven schools in the academy chain require improvement
The University Church of England Academy in Ellesmere Port(Image: Ian Cooper)

A critical review has highlighted a series of failings at schools in the University of Chester Academy Trust.

Below average standards, poor pupil progress and high absence rates have all been picked out as criticisms.

An Ofsted report added the trust had ‘failed’ to plan properly in its first five years and there were ‘no quick fixes’ for this.

It did add ‘significant’ progress had been made since UCAT was branded the worst performing academy chain in the country by the Department of Education last April.

The trust said it was already working to make changes under the guidance laid out by Ofsted.

UCAT is responsible for seven primary and secondary schools, with all but one of them rated ‘requires improvement’ by inspectors.

University of Chester Academies Trust branded England's worst performing academy chain

This includes secondary schools in Ellesmere Port, Northwich, Warrington and Kidsgrove in Staffordshire.

It is also responsible for primary academies in Chester and Weaverham as well as Kidsgrove. Five of these seven schools are judged to be in areas of ‘significant deprivation’.

The University of Chester acts as a ‘sponsor’ to each institution, offering funding, expertise and opportunities.

Ofsted inspector Margaret Farrow said pupils’ progress was ‘not good enough, particularly for disadvantaged and the most able pupils’.

She also identified that boys, disadvantaged and special needs students are also at high risk of exclusion at each of the secondary schools.

Only the free school in Chester was rated as ‘good’ in its most recent inspection.

The University Church Free School in Union Street

On the positive side four of the academies under its control no longer require special measures. UCAT cited this as the progress it was making.

Inspectors carried out the ‘focused review’ of the trust in November, which included checks on three of the schools and telephone discussions with the principals at the other four.

Ofsted have laid out their steps to improving the trust’s performance including forging better links between the trust and the university as well as setting more measurable targets.

The review did highlight the UoC’s partnership providing trainee teachers to the academies was ‘highly successful’.

Another Chester free school using a public park for activities

It also said a focus on leadership was ‘beginning to bear fruit’. Current CEO Linda Rowe was picked out as ‘instrumental’ in improvements made since she was appointed in September 2015.

A UCAT spokeswoman said: “Work is already under way to address the recommendations.

“This includes the university providing further targeted opportunities for professional development for teachers and a pathway through for teachers from initial teacher education to being recruited and retained by UCAT academies.

“The governance arrangements have already been reviewed and the trust is in the process of further refining its governance process.”

Academies have greater freedom than schools governed by the council, including being able to draw up their own curriculums and set term times.

Ofsted also accused the UoC of being ‘too slow to recognise its leadership role in driving improvement’ which the sponsor has now sought to tackle.

The University of Chester added it was ‘fully committed’ to ensuring the issues around UCAT schools were addressed ‘rapidly’.

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