An academy backed by grade one-rated Walsall College has been warned by the government about “unacceptably low” standards.
Schools Minister Lord Nash has written to Walsall College Academies Trust chair Jatinder Sharma, who is also the college principal, with a “pre-warning notice” over standards at the Mirus Academy.
He warned that the sponsor college, which just under a year ago became the first outstanding college under Ofsted’s current FE and skills inspection framework, had “neither the expertise or capacity to resolve the issues needed to bring about sustained improvement “.
Mr Sharma said he was “fully aware of the challenge”, but confident he could replicate the level of success achieved by the college at the academy.
The academy, for ages three to 18, was graded as inadequate by Ofsted following an inspection in December and put in special measures, and in his letter Lord Nash highlighted problems with achievement at GCSE level.
He wrote: “The percentage of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs including English and maths in 2013 is below the national floor standard of 40 per cent with only 25 per cent of pupils achieving this standard.
“The academy’s 2013 GCSE results show that too few pupils make or exceed expected levels of progress with only 24 per cent of pupils making expected levels of progress in English and only 33 per cent of pupils making expected levels of progress in maths.
“This compares to the 2013 national median of 73 per cent in each subject.”
Lord Nash said that if standards didn’t improve he could appoint new trust directors. Ultimately, Walsall College could be replaced as the academy sponsor.
And Lord Nash warned he expected academy performance to fall short of the 40 per cent target this year too.
“It is my view based on the evidence from the Education Adviser visit, that the academy and the sponsor do not, at present, have the expertise or capacity to resolve the issues needed to bring about sustained improvement and in particular those associated with assessment and raising achievement in the core subjects,” he wrote.
“More experience of secondary school improvement within the governing body and effective external quality assurance could have resolved the issues sooner. The needs of the primary phase have not yet been properly met.
“There are still barriers between the primary and secondary phases, and much still needs to be done to ensure the seamless progression of pupils and synchronisation of the senior leadership teams between the two phases.
“The Secretary of State and I are therefore satisfied that the standards of performance at Mirus Academy, Walsall, are unacceptably low.”
At the end of his letter, Lord Nash demanded a response from the trust, within 15 working days, outlining a plan of action for improvement at the academy.
Around 40 academies have had pre-warning notices since September 2011. The letters warn academies to improve or face action — which could ultimately lead to a new sponsor.
Mr Sharma said: “We were invited to set up the academy by bringing together the failing primary (at the time of conversion in special measures) and failing secondary (at the time of conversion only just, and arguably unsustainably, having come out of special measures) schools into the region’s first all-through academy.
“With no more than a term to set the new academy up, it is probably fair to say that we did not get everything right in the time we had.
“However, taking on The Mirus Academy was a courageous thing to do. We picked up a legacy of under-investment and neglect and are determined to spread our outstanding DNA. We have now put considerable resources and expertise into the task and it is beginning to show.
“On February 4, 2014, the first post-inspection Ofsted monitoring inspection took place at The Mirus Academy. Following the visit, the inspector agreed that the Statement of Action implemented by the interim principal, (partially) new senior leadership team and the sponsors/governors, was fit for purpose.
“The inspector also commented on a number of actions which already show improvements whilst giving us constructive ideas for improvement which are currently being made.
“We owe it to these children that significant and sustainable improvements are made and with pace. Everything we are putting in place now is contributing to the overall goal of improving standards right across the academy and we have the support of Ofsted, the local authority and many other partnership organisations.
“From the outset, our aim has been to raise student achievement and aspirations and we remain steadfast in this commitment. Our own journey to Ofsted outstanding took more than nine years and we encountered many obstacles along the way. We are fully aware of the scale of the challenge we have taken on and if anyone can transform The Mirus Academy for the long-term benefit of students, we can.”