An academy trust twice refused to give back control of an “underperforming” Houghton Regis school to the local authority, a meeting heard.
Greenwood Academies Trust has now requested permission from the Department for Education (DfE) to close Houghton Regis Academy.
The Parkside Drive secondary school was rated 'Inadequate' by Ofsted in January.
Issues concerning the potential closure of the school were discussed by Central Bedfordshire Council’s children’s services overview and scrutiny committee on Monday. (Oct 7th)
“We’ve twice offered to take over the school and that offer has been refused,” Conservative Cranfield and Marston Moretaine councillor Sue Clark explained.
“We offered to take back control because we could see what was happening.
“Our own school improvement team is working in there. But the legal responsibility does not rest with us.
“We’re responsible for maintained schools and not the academies,” said councillor Clark, who is the executive member for families, education and children.
“The blame always comes back on the council, when it’s out of our control.”
She described the Houghton Regis Academy’s £1.1m deficit as “again completely out of our control”.
Greenwood Academies Trust manages the finances, she added, and “it’s up to the group of academies how they manage their books”.
Independent Ampthill councillor Mark Smith said: “It seems to me there’s been a huge failure of oversight here.
“Surely there should have been alarm bells ringing here long before it comes to this committee about potential closure by the trust?
“There was a considerable drop in educational attainment for that school.
“The Key Stage 4 figures have been poor since the start of the millennium.
“The potential closure of the academy is going to lead to huge uncertainty for families, children and the remaining staff.
“How can we stop this happening again?” he asked. “We’re letting down a generation of children. It’s been a massive failure. “
Councillor Clark replied: “I think the children and families in Houghton Regis have been let down.
“But the failure of oversight doesn’t rest with the council. The school had been underperforming for a number of years.
“The responsibility for providing resources needed to support that school rests with the DfE.
“The council has not been content with that.”
CBC head of partnerships, community engagement and youth services Peter Fraser said: “The school has appointed a head teacher. Leadership support is being provided.
“They’re reviewing the curriculum to make sure it meets the needs of the pupils and they’re managing pupil behaviour.
“A detailed action plan is in place for that school.”
Labour Parkside councillor Antonia Ryan said: “For the last 20 years, we have not got the education programme right for Houghton Regis.
“We have to admit we have been at fault. There have been decisions taken at council meetings which have had a huge impact on this.
“The most vulnerable area in Central Bedfordshire is Houghton Regis.
“I want to ensure this new school and promise will deliver the education programme the area needs.
“I want to express the anxiety this has caused the young people, who asked me to raise this.
“What is our education programme looking like until a new school is built?” she asked. “And, if the council decides not to build a new school, what will happen to these young people?”
Councillor Clark responded: “We want to raise educational standards in Houghton Regis and build a lovely new school for the families and children of the town.”