Why a Leeds based academy trust says it is not about "kingdom building" as it states case for primary schools converting to academies

The boss of a school academy trust says its growth is not "about kingdom building" as he outlines future plans post-pandemic.

By Emma Ryan
Tuesday, 2nd November 2021, 4:45 pm

The White Rose Academies Trust, part of the Luminate Education Group, was formed in 2014 when it was approached to take on what is now Leeds City Academy from another education provider.

The acquisition of Leeds West Academy and Leeds East Academy followed.

However, WRAT has, in the seven years since it formed, stuck at three secondary academies - with reason - and in December 2020 added Mill Field Primary to its registers. Mill Field Primary was renamed Alder Tree Primary as of the beginning of the current term.

The Leeds City Academy.

The trend of primary schools to convert to academies is not at the same level in Leeds as it is nationally and, in an exclusive interview with the Yorkshire Evening Post, Andrew Whitaker the CEO of WRAT campaigns for more collaboration between feeder primary schools and their secondary counterparts.

He said: "We are not a trust that has a fixed number of schools that we want to get to and sponsor. We look where we can offer value, in a range of ways."

He gives the example of communication and marketing, which some schools don't have access to, but being part of a trust gives access to that expertise. Another example is that while difficulty in recruitment and retention of teachers is attributed to how challenging it is to work in schools, Mr Whitaker believes many staff leave due to lack of career progression opportunities, while multi-academy trusts provide deployment and different roles across their range of schools.

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Andrew Whitaker, CEO of the White Rose Academies Trust.

Mr Whitaker explained: "We want to be in the position that if a school is being sponsored by us, it is because we know that we can offer real value. In the past we have been approached by schools that we could have sponsored but felt that there were other places that could support then in different ways than we could.

"It is not about kingdom building. It is not about growth in relation to the number of schools but working more efficiently with groups that work out there - third sector, churches, charities, one man band setting up a charity because they feel passionate about something. We want to maximise the support that our communities receive.

"Research will show that multi-academy trusts that grow rapidly through already failing schools - that is a difficult model to pull off."

At the time of their take-overs Leeds City Academy was only 30 per cent full, Leeds East was operating at 45 per cent capacity, while Leeds West was already a popular school. However, all three are now over-subscribed and have waiting lists. Mr Whitaker says a lot of that shift in public opinion is down to the work and relationships that the schools do in their own individual communities.

Some of that is with primary schools and greater involvement between the two tiers should be welcomed, he added.

There are more than 30 primary schools which feed into Leeds City, East and West Academies - with at least 17 into Leeds West alone.

"We want to work with primary schools in a much more effective way. That may result in them wanting a much stronger partnership, but the starting point needs to be we do more to develop a relationship with feeder schools. Some are excellent but some would benefit with more of a relationship. Their children are likely to come to a White Rose school so if we can work with them, they are better prepared for secondary school.

"One of the reasons we were delighted to be asked to take Alder Tree (then Mill Field) is that it is fantastic to work even closer with a primary school. Sometimes secondary schools have a mindset where 'up until year 6 they are your responsibility and at year 7 they come to us'. It it not just about fun days, it is a much greater relationship (such as curriculum support, science and sports facilities).

"I have been fascinated about how it has impacted our practices by working with Alder Tree"

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