We’re here – and so is NUAST

You don’t need to know why we’ve been dormant for six months or so – six months in which so much has happened on the national and international stage – suffice it to say we are back and there’s no shortage of things to talk about!

First off has to be NUAST. You all know that the Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology is something we have always opposed: built with £10,000,000 of OUR money on a site next to a very busy roundabout with the major A52 ‘flying over’. It was built with a capacity of 800 as a 14-19 specialist ‘free school’ in Science, Maths, Technology and Engineering. For more details see our many previous blog posts.

One of our main criticisms was that we didn’t see how the academy could hope to recruit enough students, especially at the end of Key Stage 3 when parents and students do NOT traditionally think about changing schools. For them to do so could harm the continuity of their education and of course disrupt the forward-planning of the schools they might choose to leave.

Turns out we were right! By the November of its second year (2015), the Year 11 cohort at NUAST, after quite a few ‘comings and goings’, was set at around 60/61; the Year 13 (Upper Sixth) group was even fewer, down below 20 (we think around 19) after a sizeable proportion had left during the first year. The next ‘wave’ consisted of fewer than 50 in the then Year 10, with, it has to be said, a reasonable number of students into the Sixth Form (Year 12, November 2015). NB These figures reflect information supplied by the academy following Freedom of Information requests.

So, as we expected – and predicted – the sums have not added up. To reach even half capacity NUAST would need to be recruiting 120 or so into Year 10 (rolling through without loss to Year 11), and perhaps 60 into the Sixth Form (Year 12 – again, rolling through without loss to Year 13) consistently. It clearly cannot see that happening and would therefore be in breach of its targets with a risk of the school being lost and turned over to someone else (probably a Multi-Academy Trust – MAT).

NUAST governors (or ‘Board of Directors’ as they are tellingly called) are  therefore proposing a radical change, namely turning the specialist ‘free’ school into an 11-19 mainstream secondary school. These proposals are currently out for consultation – we intend to make a submission (which we have already drafted) and urge anyone else with an interest to do so too, by the deadline of 31 January. We will shortly publish our draft response here but in the meantime, here is a summary of the concerns we have:

  1. Sustainability – what evidence is there that the current parlous state of recruitment will be changed by the ‘conversion’?
  2. Health and Safety at the current site – lack of ‘playground’ facilities for younger children, insufficient ‘spillout’ area for large numbers of children coming and going en masse near a very busy roundabout and surrounding roads, dangerous levels of fumes caused by vehicles entering and leaving the roundabout and accelerating/slowing down to leave or join the A52.
  3. Gender imbalance – currently boys outnumber girls 70/30 – an ongoing problem in STEM subjects – what is NUAST’s plan to address this?
  4. Teaching and Learning – there is no evidence of even a satisfactory level of teaching and learning. As yet the academy has received no OFSTED visit – they have attempted to ‘spin’ last summer’s first GCSE and A level results but in fact the GCSE performance (from a cohort of around 60) was average at best and probably below students’ target expectations based on prior attainment. Any attempt to extrapolate from 2016 results, especially for the Sixth Form with a cohort of about 20, is highly dubious.
  5. Capacity to offer a full mainstream curriculum – the current site offers very poor facilities for teaching PE – it is not clear from the consultation document what NUAST will do to ensure it has the facilities and teaching expertise to offer arts, humanities and languages across five years – the evidence (such as it is) from last year’s results shows that only 3% of students achieved the EBacc.
  6. Ongoing collaborations – it is unclear from the plans how businesses and the University of Nottingham will have ongoing input. Whilst this was offered as a ‘unique feature’ of NUAST, our anecdotal evidence from some students,  is that this input so far has been no better than some other local secondary schools have regularly achieved through good liaison over years. Further, the involvement of the Torch Academy Gateway Trust was set to develop through a ‘merger’ which would also include the Djanogly group, which was initially closely involved in the setting up and running of NUAST. How will that affect the future of NUAST?
  7. Cost – one of our biggest criticisms was the initial cost of NUAST and, in the light of its failure to reach a viable level of recruitment, we presume, continued funding above the level justified by the number on roll. Whilst it could be argued that the proposed ‘conversion’ is aimed at reaching those viable numbers, we foresee a further injection of money will be needed for internal alterations (and perhaps purchase and conversion of outdoor space), staff recruitment and staff training. At a time of real-terms cuts to school funding across the board, how can pumping more money into this school be justified?
  8. Impact on other local schools – NUAST has a history of spendthrift advertising (glossy leaflets to thousands of homes, side of bus advertising, a tram in NUAST livery, newspaper advertising) and of aggressive marketing outside what is currently being seen as its ‘catchment’ area. At best, this marketing can be unsettling and a distraction to other local schools, at worst, if successful, it can affect their forward planning and funding.
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UPDATE to ‘NUAST Factfile’

Checking the NUAST website, we note that their staffing DOES now list a teacher of History (the new Head of Post-16) and a teacher of Modern Foreign Languages (the latter being the existing Vice-Principal who previously had no subject specialism against her name).

We note also the Principal’s claim that NUAST has doubled in size this September, which sounds impressive but, since this is their second year and students are following two-year courses, it means they have only recruited the same numbers as last year. If, therefore, for example, about seventy joined Year 10 this year and the existing 70 (round figures) rolled through into Year 11, and, similarly in Year 12/13, the total number on roll would be around 190. Since the Year 11s and the Year 13s will be leaving at the end of this academic year (2015-16), this would suggest NUAST cannot expect to go much beyond around 200 unless they manage to vastly increase their recruitment next year. No doubt they will be leaning on Year 11s to progress into the Sixth Form. NOTE These figures are ’round’ and estimates,  based on known figures in 2014-15 and the Principal’s remark.

So, round figures, estimates, but,  if we’re in the right ‘ball park’,  NUAST is, surely, non-viable and currently a very inefficient user of public funds.

Incidentally, we looked in vain on the website for results of external examinations which will have been received over the Summer and which would have been the first evidence of the quality of teaching and learning at NUAST. They’re not there.

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.”

Press Release regarding NUAST

We published the following Press Release today, 3 August, at 4 pm:

‘Education campaigners are warning of “volatility” at the newly opened Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) with up to a third of students in the Sixth Form having left during the year and staff “comings and goings” including the sudden disappearance of the principal two weeks before the end of term.

“We never thought NUAST was a viable or credible development,” said Secretary of the group ‘Hands Off Our Schools’, Colin Tucker. “We’ve been monitoring it carefully throughout the year. It seems that it has been beset with difficulties. It only recruited 106 students in its first year, in Year 10 and into the Sixth Form and, of course, those students couldn’t use the brand new building on the old Dunkirk fire station site until November. According to figures we have, 36 students began in the Sixth Form and NUAST admitted, in response to a Freedom of Information request from us, that it now has only 23. That means a third of them left during the year. Chair of HOOS, Kat Mycock, commented, “According to the figures NUAST gave us, there are almost double the number of boys attending the academy as girls, which further reinforces the dominance of men in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, something we thought the academy was actively working against.”

NUAST refused to tell HOOS how many staff have left during the year but according to a parent of a Year 10 boy who contacted the HOOS website, “staff turnover has been so high that he has had several different teachers for most of his subjects.”

Mr Tucker added, “There are no teachers of history or a modern foreign language listed on the NUAST website staff list, meaning students cannot qualify for the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), one of the government’s key performance indicators. The only history teacher was the principal, Mr Sohel, but, as reported in the Nottingham Post already, he disappeared about two weeks before the end of term. His replacement, Bob White, doesn’t seem to have had any experience of senior management at a school or college – in fact, it doesn’t appear, from his public profiles, that he has even had any experience of teaching.” NUAST’s first principal, Ailsa Gough, parted company with the academy during its ‘setting up’ year, several months before it opened and Mr Sohel was appointed.

‘Hands Off Our Schools’, which campaigns against enforced academisation and ‘free’ schools in the Nottingham area, says it has a number of other concerns about NUAST including the fact that nearly half of the Board of Directors are closely linked to the Djanogly Learning Trust, which runs the Djanogly City Academy, rated ‘inadequate’ by OFSTED. The Djanogly Learning Trust is currently barred from opening any more academies. There are also no staff representatives on the Board of Directors.

“We would advise any student thinking of joining NUAST in the autumn – and their parents – to think carefully about the upheavals that appear to have gone on there during its first year, and consider whether it really can deliver what they want,” concluded Mr Tucker.’

See recent posts on our website for the full story.

NUAST : meet the new boss…

Whilst we continue to ferret away to find out why the Principal of NUAST, Mr Sohel, suddenly upped and left (see previous posts for the details) we are curious, naturally, to find out who has stepped in, with very little notice, to take over (‘from 1st September’ according to the NUAST press statement but, in effect, from now, since Mr Sohel does appear to have ‘left the building’ – his name has even been deleted from the staff list – and ‘Robert White’ is signing letters).

So who was available at such short notice? The man in the hot seat is Bob White and, on paper at least, his qualifications do seem to be a good fit. He’s been a Chief Examiner, Principal Examiner and Principal Moderator in Product Design and, additionally, Engineering, Graphics, Systems and Control and Resistant Materials, with the OCR Examination Board for over 17 years. However, inevitably, given the need for him to be available straight away, he isn’t in a managerial post and, according to his Linkdin profile, he doesn’t appear ever to have had experience of running an institution. He operates in the world of ‘education consultancy’, describing himself as a ‘consultant’ to OCR for the past 7 years, and operating as Orston Consulting Lt since 2012 (this Nottingham-based company appears to consist solely of Mr White and somebody who, one assumes, is his wife, who is the Finance Director). Mr White has a BEd from Nottingham Trent and lists his skills as ‘Curriculum assessment and development for University Technical and Technical Academies (of which NUAST is one such) and in liaising with industry partners to develop successful business/educationpartnerships’.

So, in many ways, a good person for NUAST to work with and have on board, though not necessarily as the Principal. Mr White has developed loads of materials and provided in-service training. What is mentioned nowhere is any experience of teaching (it’s not clear that he even has Qualified Teacher Status) and, as highlighted earlier, he doesn’t appear ever to have had any experience of running or managing an institution as large as NUAST aspires to be.

Still, presumably he was available at what we assume was very short notice (no current post to resign from, no period of notice to serve),  he’s local and, as a consultant,  presumably can be hired on a contract rather than be appointed to a post. Incidentally, no question of the post of principal being advertised or equal opps being observed!

It remains to be seen now whether Mr White has what it takes but, in the meantime, we’d still like the real story of why Mr Sohel jumped ship so suddenly.