Our local MP Alex Sobel has criticised plans for Prince Henry’s Grammar School to enter into a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) partnership with Bramhope Primary School. The move would see children from Bramhope Primary automatically admitted into Prince Henry’s– the first primary school to be linked to Prince Henry’s in this way.

The move has attracted criticism from parents and politicians in Otley, who are worried about the potential impact on admissions for Otley schoolchildren, as well as structural issues with the plans.

Alex Sobel raised 12 points in his consultation which included critique of the potential governance structure – there are no guarantees for parent trustees, for example. He also raised changes to statutory rights on the terms and conditions for teachers, plus the impact of guaranteeing places to children of one primary school, a fair distance from the secondary school, on those children who live closer – particularly in light of local housing development plans and pressures on school places.

In the consultation Alex said:
“It is understandable that Bramhope Primary School would wish to ensure the future status of their children as students of Prince Henry’s Grammar School and that the MAT pathway is an opportunity to do that. It is important that this benefit is weighed up against the consequences of becoming an academy, which means leaving its status as a maintained school under local authority jurisdiction. Leeds’s maintained schools are well known for their standards and have better rates of good or outstanding than the academy schools.”

“It is noted with interest that none of the other local schools have taken up the offer to be part of the MAT. A partnership of only two schools does not look likely to lead to greater partnership across the community.”

“There are concerns within the community that there may be a knock-on effect for children living in the Otley area, who are not at Bramhope Primary School, in attaining a place at Prince Henry’s Grammar School. Whilst I recognise that some extra places are being made available for the coming academic year, I am yet to see any guarantee that there will be no structural effect on local children and parents as a result of this move. It also leaves open the possibility of local schools being pressured into joining the MAT because of parental fears about lack of school places.”

“It should be noted that school places are already a concern in Otley, particularly in light of new planned development. I have not seen anything that looks to have taken this into account.”

“There has been no appetite in the community for this move. I believe that MATs are fundamentally flawed and should be scrapped. Even with the additional funding they received, many have failed. The ideal situation is that all schools return to local authority control under a fair funding formula. I will continue to campaign for this outcome and, in the meantime, think any more expansion of MATs is unwise.”

Alex Sobel used the example of the Wakefield MAT which ended in controversy last year. As he said:

“Despite the Trust operating with a huge deficit before it folded, a draft DfE report of their finances showed that Mike Ramsay, the Chief Executive was paid over £82,000 for just 15 weeks of work. It then came to light that WCAT had transferred millions of pounds from the schools into its own accounts before it collapsed. Although this money was originally borrowed under the guise of a loan, WCAT has now refused to repay it – highlighting the ease with which ‘asset stripping’ of our educational institutions can occur within a MAT framework”

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