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Carlisle academy schools opened too early and in wrong place

Carlisle's failing academy schools opened too soon and the Central Academy was built in the wrong place.

Brian Scowcroft photo
Brian Scowcroft

Related: Scowcroft: United Learning will turn round failing Morton academy

That is the view of Brian Scowcroft, one of the original private-sector sponsors who helped launch the Richard Rose Central and Morton academies in 2008.

The Central Academy fell into special measures for the second time last year and has since been joined by Morton Academy, which failed an Ofsted inspection before Christmas.

Mr Scowcroft’s role as sponsor is about to end.

United Learning, a chain of academies, is taking over the two schools in the hope it can turn them around.

The schools’ problems have dismayed Mr Scowcroft, a businessman and property developer, who was hugely successful in reinventing the former Carlisle RAF 14MU as Kingmoor Park, an industrial estate employing 1,700 people.

He admitted that overseeing the academies had proved rather more difficult.

While creating “fantastic” buildings and facilities, he says the schools have so far failed academically – something he’s believes United Learning will turn around.

Mr Scowcroft believes the academies got off on the wrong foot because the Department for Education and Skills brought forward their launch by a year.

He said: “The Department accelerated us without any consultation.

“I was notified in November 2007 that we would take over in August the following year when we thought we would have another 12 months.

“We didn’t have enough time. We appointed Peter Noble, the chief executive, to start at Easter and he then had to appoint the rest of the senior team. There was no time to plan.”

Morton Academy replaced the failing Morton School while the Central Academy replaced the relatively successful St Aidan’s School in the city centre and North Cumbria Technology College at Harraby.

The second big mistake, Mr Scowcroft says, was Cumbria County Council’s decision to choose the St Aidan’s site in Lismore Place for the Central Academy’s new buildings. These were not ready until January 2011.

In the meantime, buses took children from all over the city to Harraby where lessons were held in temporary classrooms provoking widespread unrest and demonstrations by pupils.

Had the larger Harraby site been chosen for the new buildings, pupils could have stayed in their classrooms at the former St Aidan’s and North Cumbria Technology College while construction was completed.

Mr Scowcroft said: “As we couldn’t build the new academy buildings with students there – the St Aidan’s site was too small for that – they were moved off for two years and a term [to Harraby]. That was disastrous.”

He added: “I was inexperienced. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have said to the department, ‘you’re not accelerating us’ and I should have said to the council ‘don’t choose the St Aidan’s site’.”

Many of Mr Scowcroft’s objections were raised at the time by Cumbria County Council’s Carlisle local committee, which is made up of all the county councillors for Carlisle.

In March 2007, the committee passed a vote of no confidence in the plan for reorganising secondary education in the city.

Councillors of all parties argued that the St Aidan’s site was the wrong the choice for new buildings and urged the council’s ruling cabinet to consider Harraby or the former Belah Primary School site as alternatives. The cabinet ignored them.

Labour’s Stewart Young, now council leader, proposed that motion of no confidence.

He said today: “It gives me no pleasure to remember what we said then and the fact that we were ignored.

“Clearly, we are living with the consequences of those decisions and a generation of young people are living with the consequences.

“It is very distressing. Unfortunately, the cabinet of the day, a Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration, wouldn’t listen to us.

“It’s a mess and I’m not entirely clear how it’s going to be resolved.”

Have your say

Unfortunately Lou, it didn't cost just £2 million to build the Academies - various figures have been mentioned - starting at £30 million up to £80 million! And then there's the six figure salaries the leadership were being paid - and had to be paid even when they'd been removed from their job.
Public money completely wasted, the educational opportunities of hundreds of children, the frustration of their families, the careers of dozens of staff torpedoed and the mental health of numerous staff seriously impaired. What a travesty. It could all have been so different but the chief executive and principals of the two academies and the 6th form were willing to sacrifice all on the altar of 'we know best' when in fact they knew nothing - and have left not only the academies but in most cases, the county.
The other schools are now left to try to accommodate the pupils.

Posted by Anon teacher affected by this mess on 19 January 2014 at 20:05

Little too late for me. I took performing arts at my options which I loved only to be told at parents evening with my mam and dad that the course work had not been completed in year 10 because the performing arts teacher was on long term sickness and lessons were covered by various other teachers, therefore our class were unable to be put forward to sit our performing arts GCSE this year as it was a 2 year course.Performing arts is still on our time table for this year and my parents where told that these lessons would be used to revise for other subjects, but these subjects are being covered by various teachers.My mam and dad have serious reservations in sending my younger sister to this school in 3 years time unless major improvements take place!!!

Posted by Emily on 19 January 2014 at 14:02

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