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UPDATED: The Isle of Wight Council’s Lead Member for Children’s Services has today (Thursday) hit back at claims by Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) that revelations by the councillor on Tuesday were inaccurate.

As previously reported by Island Echo, Cllr Whitehouse issued a statement earlier this week claiming that AET were diverting cash away from Sandown Bay Academy. The Trust came back to say they absolutely refuted the allegation that they were removing funds from Sandown Bay Academy to cross-subsidise activities elsewhere in the group.

However, Councillor Whitehouse (Conservative Member for Newport West Ward) has released a document created by AET which states that £430,000 ‘restructuring’ has been agreed versus an initial £850,000, with an implementation date of September 2017. This is despite AET saying on Tuesday evening that “following discussions with the Head, the current target is less than £250,000″.

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Cllr Whitehouse has said:

“It is a matter of fact that on or around 24th January, Sandown Bay Academy was told by AET it had to find £850,000 in cuts in the coming year so that the money could be retained by AET.

“Following representations over the last two months from many associated with the Academy, including myself, AET has now reduced its demand from £850K in the current year to £430K this year, but with the expectation of further cuts in the next year. Clearly as the first massive cut will be a recurring reduction, a potential £850K hit overall is potentially a huge underestimate of the impact of this savage reduction and diversion of funds to meet AET’s other costs over the next two years”.

The document, which is a review of the Academy, says that “the academy has been identified as a coasting school; it is RI [Requiring Improvement] and not making rapid enough progress to good”. Page 5 of the document also reveals the AET’s view that “Sandown Bay’s academic performance is very weak in an overall weak market”.

It’s stated that the Academy’s roll has declined steeply from 1,252 in 2012 to 1,054 in 2016 and that an external consultant has been brought it for 5-days a week until June 2017. It is also said that the school building is in poor shape and needs repair, but there are insufficient funds for a rebuild.

Cllr Whitehouse has continued by saying:

“By their latest inaccurate, disingenuous and misleading statement to Island media, claiming that a cut of only £230K is being sought, and trying once again to sweep this potential financial and educational disaster for one of our high schools under the carpet, they [AET] have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted and are unfit to be involved any longer in this school.

“AET should admit they have got this fundamentally wrong, apologise to parents, students, teachers and governors alike; and then surrender their responsibilities for Sandown Academy as soon as a replacement support organisation can be found.

“The review constitutes a damning indictment of AET’s dreadful record in running Sandown. For as long as I have statutory responsibilities as Lead Member for Children’s Services, AET can be confident I will continue to highlight their failures on behalf of all those students whose welfare and education are now, in part, my legal responsibility. There will be no hiding place on this Island for underperformance; parents would expect no less from me, and I won’t let them down.”

Councillor Whitehouse has repeated his call that AET “be relieved as soon as possible from its responsibilities in running Sandown”.

UPDATE FRIDAY – Julian Drinkall, CEO of Academies Enterprise Trust has released to the media a letter of response to Councillor Whitehouse.

The letter reads:

“Dear Councillor Whitehouse

“I am writing in response to your letter to me of 28 March, regarding Sandown Bay Academy.

“As you will know, we have already responded to a number of immediate media requests prompted by your letter.  We categorically refute the allegation that AET is removing funds from Sandown Bay to cross-subsidise activities elsewhere in the group.  I wish to put that statement firmly on the record.

“However, as we have indicated in our press response, Sandown Bay is working within a very difficult financial environment.  The current funding crisis for education has been widely reported, and schools right across the country are experiencing severe difficulties as a result.  On the Isle of Wight these problems are exacerbated by over-capacity, and many schools on the island are seeing a decline in student numbers.  You may be aware of the recent letter from Chairs of the Governing Bodies of a number of Isle of Wight schools, alerting the Secretary of State to the specific funding challenges they are facing.  In the case of Sandown Bay, these challenges are severe:  student numbers have fallen by 10% per year over the past three years, and are predicted to continue declining.

“Within this difficult context, Sandown Bay has needed to make some very tough decisions, and we have been working closely with the Head and Governors to agree restructuring plans.  The figure you quote in your letter of £850,000 was the original level of savings recommended, in the light of current and projected pupil numbers, in order to get the school in good financial shape as rapidly as possible.  Following discussions with the Head, who was concerned about the strains this approach would place on the school, it was agreed to adopt a two-year approach, which resulted in the figure of £430,000 you have quoted; while further discussions around the level of staffing needed give us the current target which is less than £250,000.  The figure remains subject to continuing discussions and consultation as to how best the resourcing needs of the school can be met.  However, these figures have absolutely nothing to do with taking money from the school.  They are to do with the school identifying the best way of allocating its very limited funds so as to balance its books while meeting educational needs and delivering the improvement that is the school’s, and AET’s, first priority.

“You may be aware that I became CEO of the AET Group only in January of this year.  Since joining, my prime focus has been to undertake a rigorous programme of work with those schools, including Sandown Bay, that give cause for concern.  We have accordingly been working closely with the Head to develop an action plan to bring about rapid and tangible improvements in terms of finance, governance and – most importantly – educational performance.  These three issues are all interlinked.

“In this programme we have also been working closely with the Department for Education and the National and Regional Schools Commissioner, to develop appropriate plans for Sandown Bay, and have been very grateful for their support.  Indeed, we have invited a representative from the Department to join the Governing Body for the school.  I am accordingly copying this letter to those MPs, Ministers and officials from the Department for Education who received your original letter.

“I had not originally intended to send this response to the media.  I do not feel it is helpful to Sandown Bay Academy, its pupils or their families, for the school to be the subject of local media gossip and hearsay.  However, in the light of your continued misrepresentation of AET and the facts around Sandown Bay to the media, I believe it is necessary for us to place this statement on record.  I would like any future discussions about the way forward for the school to be held in a serious way, with those who are ready to support its aims and its drive for improvement”.


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