The NUAST Fact File

As a result of our Freedom of Information requests to the Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology and our further research, we are able to publish the following ‘fact file’. Information given in this document is taken from the FoI responses and from our research into publicly-available documents and on-line sources. There is a degree of interpretation and comment as well but we think it is clear where we are stating ‘facts’ and where we are conjecturing or commenting. If anyone wishes to challenge anything included here they are welcome to comment via the ‘Contribute’ button on the home page of this website. We will publish unedited any such comment.

“The NUAST Fact File

The following is based on: responses to Freedom of Information requests and research using publicly-available on-line documents and websites.

Setting up NUAST

The Nottingham Academy of Science and Technology was set up during 2013 and 2014, and opened in borrowed premises in September 2015, moving into the brand new facilities in Dunkirk in December 2015. According to its own figures, the academy opened with barely 100 students (102 to be precise). During the setting up period, the original principal, Ailsa Gough ‘left’ to be replaced by Harikreet Sohel.

Costs

It is generally accepted that the new building cost around £10 million. It has cost a further, unknown, amount of money to equip the building. In addition, NUAST will have had to pay for teaching and non-teaching staff and the usual running costs of any significant building and institution. A further unknown but substantial amount has been spent on publicity which has included glossy leaflets delivered door-to-door in parts of the ‘catchment’ area, hoardings on buses in the area and, recently, at least one tram on the new Line 2 which passes close to the academy, painted in NUAST ‘livery’. As far as we are aware, all of these costs have been borne by the public purse. Obviously, with its ’Funding Agreement’ with the DfE, NUAST will have received more than the ‘per capita’ allowance a local community school would be granted. It can therefore be argued with certainty that NUAST is not currently ‘good value for money’ and it is unclear when in the future it could be considered so.

Student Numbers

According to NUAST’s responses to our FOI requests, the numbers on roll and who subsequently left are as follows (NB In response to our FoI requests two separate disclosures have been made and the numbers given do differ slightly.)

Year 10 – there were 67 students registered at the start of the year (41 male, 26 female) and 14 of those left during the year (9 male, 5 female)

According to NUAST 10 students overall (not broken down by Key Stage or gender) joined the academy during the year.

NUAST told us that the final number on roll in Year 10 was 65 (however, taking into account the two separate responses, we believe the number could not have been higher than 63).

Year 12 – there were 35 students registered at the start of the year (28 male, 7 female) and 10 left during the year (6 male, 4 female)

NUAST told us that the final number on roll in Year 12 was 23 (although, of course, this does not quite tally with what NUAST also told us in the ‘break down’ of student numbers, above).

We do not believe that NUAST has deliberately misled us over these numbers but there is a clear discrepancy. However, the following can be stated:

There was considerable flux during the year, with more than a fifth of the Year 10 student body leaving during the year and up to one third of the Sixth Form leaving. Whilst movement of students in and out is likely to occur in any school, these sorts of proportions are very high. The figures on student numbers, where the school started with 102 students in two year groups and ended with fewer than 90; linked with the flux in staff and the sudden disappearance of the principal two weeks before the end of the school year, paint a picture of a volatile learning environment which cannot be in the best interests of students.

It is also noted that, broadly speaking, males outnumbered females 2 : 1, with, it would appear, only three girls left in the Sixth Form by the end of the year!

The appointment of a number of new teachers for September, indicates what the Chair of the Board of Directors, calls a “sharp rise” in the number of students.

Staffing

According to NUAST’s FOI response, it lost 6 staff during the year. We are not sure whether or not this includes the principal, Mr Sohel. Currently, 21 teaching staff are listed on the NUAST website but we believe approximately 12 or 13 were being shown on the website during the 2014-15 academic year. If that is correct, very nearly half the teaching staff will have left during the year. We assume the addition of 8 or so staff for the start of the new academic year anticipates a greater influx of students. We are concerned that six staff having been replaced during the year and an additional 8 or so having been added to start in September, indicates an instability in teaching staff which cannot be to the benefit of students.

There are currently no teachers of languages and no teachers of humanities subjects listed on the NUAST website. (Mr Sohel was the sole teacher of History and he appears not to have been replaced – what, therefore, of those students in Year 10 who started a GCSE History course last year, when they move into Year 11 this year?) This means that no NUAST students can achieve the government benchmark ‘EBacc’ qualification which requires, in addition to good passes in English, Maths and Science, good passes in a language and a humanities subject.

Principals

Despite its short life, NUAST is now on its third principal. The first principal, Ailsa Gough, left without explanation, in May/June 2014 to be replaced by Harikreet Sohel. This was around the time that the Torch Academy Gateway Trust was engaged to ‘provide’ the teaching. We can only conclude that those managing NUAST in its setting-up phase were worried about Mrs Gough’s lack of experience in mainstream secondary education.

Bizarre though it is for a principal of a new institution to leave even before it has opened, Mr Sohel’s departure was, if anything, even more so. The sequence of events was:

  • 10 July – in a regular letter to parents, signed by Mr Sohel, he ‘looked forward’ to seeing parents at the Parents Evening on 13 July;
  • 13 July – Mr Sohel did not appear at the Parents Evening;
  • 14 July – students were told that Mr Sohel had left (source: anonymous message to HOOS from a Year 10 parent);
  • 15 July – letter to parents announcing Mr Sohel’s departure and the appointment of a new principal – it gave a fairly lame explanation for Mr Sohel’s sudden departure and introduced the new principal, Robert White.

NUAST’s attempts to ‘explain’ the sudden departure of Mr Sohel do not adequately explain the sequence of events; on the appointment of Mr White, there are some further questions for governors to answer concerning the speed and thoroughness of the process.

If Mr Sohel’s departure had been planned, he would probably have had to give notice at the end of May. Adverts for the post would have been drawn up and placed and candidates given time to visit the school and then complete their applications. It is unlikely that interviews of candidates currently ‘in post’ could have taken place in sufficient time to allow them to give the required notice to their existing employer. Members of HOOS who have experience of this know that, in all probability, an interim principal would have had to be appointed – but maybe that’s what Mr White is. Research into his publicly-available professional profile indicates that he is well-qualified in the Product Design and Engineering field, as an examiner, writer of text books and study materials, and as a consultant particularly to University Technical Colleges. However, it appears Mr White has never worked at a high level within a school or college; nor does his on-line profile indicate that he has taught at secondary level or even that he is actually a qualified teacher. However, in a letter dated 23 July, on the NUAST website, the Chair of the Board of Directors, John Saunders, says Mr White has “taught engineering at three local schools”. We would be interested to know what his experience of teaching in a secondary school consists of.

Governance

NUAST is governed by a board of 12 directors; the response to our recent Freedom of Information request (June, 2015) reveals that there are no staff representatives on the board. Our research has revealed that the Board is made up largely of business representatives, the Chief Executive of Torch Academy Gateway Learning Trust, two members of the Nottingham University Council (including an academic, Professor Hall). Five members of the Board are closely associated with the Djanogly Learning Trust and there are two parents. (For a more detailed analysis of the members of the Board, visit the post at our website at http://nottsantiacademies.org/2015/07/23/who-is-running-nuast/)

Five directors resigned between June 2014 and September 2014, including the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University, Prof. O’Hara, another representative of the University, Dr. O’Neill, the former Principal, Mrs Gough, Mr Anderson, a former City Banker employed by RBS and Mr Butler Chief Executive of Djanogly Learning Trust.

We note that the Djanogly Learning Trust is currently barred ny the Deparment for Education from opening any further secondary academies following the poor OFSTED rating of the Djanogly Academy (a ‘rule’ that doesn’t appear to apply to NUAST!). One ‘director’ was a former employee of Toshiba. So, whilst the University and Djanogly Trust are well-represented as, to a certain extent, is local business, the broader business partnerships so trumpeted by NUAST are barely represented, it is unclear how the wider ‘community’ is represented and the staff, not at all. It is also unclear to what extent these directors are appointed to represent their institutions or ‘constituencies’ or are simply ‘volunteers’.

Curriculum

We understand that NUAST was set up to offer specialist courses but we are concerned that, if students wish to leave part-way through a two-year course, they will have difficulty finding another school or college offering the same course. Our other concern is that NUAST’s original ‘offer’ suggested that students would be able to take a language and a humanity in order to achieve the EBacc. Currently, there are no language or humanities teachers on the staff, so students will be unable to pursue this. We believe all students should, to 16, have a broad and balanced curriculum. Even more worrying is that during 2014-15, Year 10 students started a GCSE History course which, with the sudden departure of the only History teacher, Mr Sohel, it appears they will be unable to complete.

More generally, there must be a question about the quality of teaching and learning hanging over NUAST. We do not wish to disparage the qualifications or competence of anyone. After all, like prospective students and their parents, we have no way of judging this. The academy will have received its first set of results in recent weeks (AS and Cambridge Nationals) and when these are available on the website they will be the first indication of the academy’s standards. Other than that, NUAST intriguingly says on its website that “the educational provision will be delivered by the Torch Academy Gateway Trust”. We have to confess we don’t entirely understand what that means: does Torch write the curriculum, oversee appointments, provide the teachers, monitor the quality of the provision? Further, the website claims that “As education partners, the [Torch] Trust will deliver exceptional educational support…” Interesting word ‘exceptional’ and, we note, it’s ‘educational support’ that Torch provides. Overall, we think the wording is intended to imply that the education at NUAST is ‘excellent’ without actually saying so, since, clearly, that cannot be backed up by any evidence.

Conclusion

We have provided as much information as we can, with a certain degree of interpretation, and, to our minds, what emerges is a volatile teaching and learning environment in which students leave, staff leave, directors leave, principals leave and the directors try to paper over the cracks.

Large sums of money have been spent on this institution (including sums on advertising which would not have been available to local community schools) – public money which the public has no way of monitoring.

Neither does the public generally – nor the local community in particular – have any way of holding the principal and directors to account for the quality of provision.

Signs from the school indicate that, despite the apparent shortcomings, NUAST is set to increase its numbers in September. We confess ourselves to be baffled by this and will continue to campaign and spread information about NUAST as our modest attempt to hold its managers and governors to account.”

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