Schools commissioner says standards at school are “unacceptably low” as councillor calls for more time

Ernulf Academy, in St Neots.

Ernulf Academy, in St Neots. - Credit: Archant

The Department for Education (DfE) has made public its concerns over the future management of Ernulf Academy - describing the standards and performance of pupils as “unacceptably low”.

Last week, The Hunts Post reported that the St Neots Learning Partnership (SNLP), which manages both St Neots’ secondary schools, had received a pre-termination warning notice from the DfE, setting out its plan to possibly remove Ernulf from the partnership.

In a damning letter, regional schools commissioner, Sue Baldwin, outlined a list of “matters” which are likely to raise serious concerns for parents of existing pupils and those whose children are due to make the move to secondary school in September.

The letter makes clear that standards at the school are believed to be so poor that the government is demanding remedial measures and is prepared to step in and seek an alternative academy trust to run the school.

The warning notice highlights the following concerns:

* Performance is significantly below local authority and national averages in Attainment 8 and Progress 8;

* percentage of pupils achieving grade five or above in English and maths GCSE in 2017 was below average;

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* Attainment 8 figure has dropped by almost three points in 2016/17;

* performance of disadvantaged pupils is of particular concern.

The letter went on to point out that: “Previous visits to Ernulf Academy have indicated that improvements were being put in place, but they have had insufficient impact on performance”.

Regional schools commissioner, Sue Baldwin. met Karl Wainwight, chairman of the Ernulf Academy governing body, and Rick Carrol, who is chief executive of the St Neots Learning Partnership Trust, on January 12.

It was following this meeting that she concluded that standards at Ernulf were “unacceptable low” and insisted on seeing remedial measures.

She also pointed out: “Financial information provided by the trust indicates it is forecasting a deficit position and I am concerned this will limit the capacity of the trust to provide sufficient improvement support.”

The trust has been given a deadline of February 16 to respond, but both Mr Carroll and Mr Wainwright are confident they can turn things around and have expressed their disappointment.

Mr Wainwright said he accepted “things are not where they should be”, but does not agree that standards are unacceptably low.

Mr Carroll added: “Our driving vision is to ensure that we continue to improve and although the outcomes this summer were not where we would want them to be, there were clear indications of significant improvement. Our Progress 8 figure - the priority performance indicator - improved significantly (from -0.6 to -0.3). We are working extremely hard to reduce it by that extent again this year in order to achieve the government expectation of at least 0.

He continued: “The current Year 11 are working extremely hard with the support of parents and staff and we are forecasting significant improvements again, based on their mocks and assessments, on all performance measures for summer 2018.”

Cambridgeshire County Council issued a statement this week in which it said it was liaising with the schools’ commissioner.

“There is no suggestion or proposal that Ernulf Academy will close. What is being considered is the possibility of another multi-academy trust being asked to take on the responsibility for leading and managing Ernulf in place of the SNLP with the primary aim of improving children’s educational outcomes.”

St Neots town councillor, Simone Taylor contacted The Hunts Post to say there had been a degree of “scaremongering and panic” about the situation.

“They need more time and money to get things back on track,” she said.

Cllr Taylor said she was meeting the regional schools’ commissioner on February 26.