Future of town’s secondary schools “cast into doubt” as government issues warning notice to learning trust

Karl Wainwright

Karl Wainwright - Credit: Archant

The future of both St Neots’ secondary schools have been “cast into doubt” by a government plan that could split the St Neots Learning Partnership (SNLP) and set Ernulf adrift.

The SNLP, which manages Longsands and Ernulf academies, has received a pre-termination warning notice from the Department for Education setting out its plan to remove Ernulf from the partnership.

The SNLP trust board has condemned the decision describing it as a “misguided judgement” that will “put the education of vulnerable children at risk”.

Rick Carroll, chief executive of the SNLP, said: “We know that further progress needs to be made at Ernulf Academy, but we have already transformed the behaviour, attitudes and attendance of pupils and we have robust plans in place to create a step-change in educational outcomes at the school. The DfE has been consistently supportive of our approach during the last two-and-a-half years, but we need additional funding to complete our transformation strategy, which the DfE has failed to deliver despite encouraging our approach.”

The pre termination notice is a warning that the DfE is considering whether to remove Ernulf Academy from the trust, but the lack of detail and transparency is likely to cause distress to staff, pupils and parents, according to Mr Carroll.

“The regional schools commissioner who made this decision has never visited the academy,” he said.

Adding: “The national schools commissioner, Sir David Carter, has previously said it can take up to five years to turn around a failing school. St Neot’s Learning Partnership is only in the third year of its plan of action for Ernulf Academy.

Most Read

The trust board has spoken of its disappointment, arguing that it ignores two years of good progress at the school and casts the future of both Ernulf and Longsands into doubt.

Karl Wainwright, chairman of the trust board, said: “To receive this pre-termination notice is absolutely heartbreaking for the staff, pupils and parents who have worked so hard to turn around Ernulf Academy. It’s a kick in the teeth for everyone because we know we’re on the right track and are making progress. We’ve seen a big improvement in the Progress 8 score. We are just not progressing fast enough because we’re starved of funding. I am certain that splitting up the St Neots Learning Partnership – which developed to meet local educational challenges and opportunities - will set back education in St Neots.

“We now have a shared sixth form between our two schools, which is delivering good results for all the students, with some of our top performing pupils last year coming from Ernulf Academy. That is an achievement of which we are all immensely proud, and which we can replicate across the whole town with the DfE’s support and investment.”

With the DfE yet to announce its final decision on the school’s future, Mr Carroll called on officials to visit the school to get a more informed and up-to-date view on progress and commit to investing the resources Ernulf Academy so desperately needs.

“I am calling on the DfE to visit Ernulf, meet our pupils, staff and wider school community and see the difference we have made,” he said.

“It’s not too late for the government to reverse this decision and work in partnership with the school to improve outcomes for the children of St Neots.

The partnership trust was set up in 2011 and is made up of Longsands (1,900 pupils) and Ernulf (500 pupils). The schools have a shared management structure, learning strategies and joint procurement arrangements, which would make managing the split difficult. The Hunts Post understands that some teachers also work across the two sites.

The Hunts Post contacted the DfE for a comment and asked it for an indication of the timeframe, and what the plans were for Ernulf, should the decision should go ahead, and if any other organisation had expressed an interest in running the school, but the department was unable to respond in time for the newspaper’s deadline on Tuesday, but provided this statement on Wednesday morning.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our priority is to make sure children get the education they deserve. The department and the regional schools commissioner are working with the St Neots Learning Partnership in relation to Ernulf Academy.”