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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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.”

Who is running NUAST?

The Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) is certainly going through a rough patch at the moment, with the sudden disappearance of its second principal in less than two years and his hasty replacement (see previous posts). A few weeks ago we set out to find out something about the people running the place, its Board of Directors (if you’re used to common-or-garden state schools you probably call them ‘governors’) by means of a Freedom of Information request (well, ‘use it or lose it’ is our motto!). At first the school was reluctant to tell us who the names listed on the website represented but when we pointed out we didn’t want their mobile numbers, only to know which institutions or groups they represented, and how they’d been chosen, they relented.

There are twelve people listed as directors, two of whom, we are told, were elected as parent governors and they were easy to identify as it says ‘parent director’ in brackets after their names. Even easier was identifying the ‘staff governor’ – because there isn’t one (as they admitted in the FOI response). So that’s the first oddity for those of us used to the old-fashioned ways of local authority run schools, where there was always a governor representing (elected by) the teachers, and another one for the support staff.

Of the other ten directors, we are told, “there are 2 volunteer community directors, a volunteer representative from the University of Nottingham, the Djanogly Learning Trust and the Torch Academy Gateway Trust. The rest of the directors have volunteered from local and national business partners”. From names we recognised and using simple internet search skills, we were able to ascertain the following from publicly-available documents such as the University of Nottingham website, LinkedIn and other on-line registers of companies:

The chair of the board is John Saunders. He joined the Nottingham University Council in 2008 and is also a member of the Audit & Risk Committee and the Remuneration Committee.  He is the former Chief Executive of Global Operations at Experian, a position he retired from in 2007 after 24 years with the company.  He is a past Chairman of Experience Nottinghamshire and is a director of Nottingham Forest in The Community (NFITC), a local charity which provides sporting and other opportunities to over 5,000 children each week. Mr Saunders may be a ‘volunteer’ but he appears still to be a member of the University Council so we can assume he reports back in an official capacity to that body. Also connected with the University is Professor Christine Hall. She is a member of the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy, University of Nottingham. Originally trained as a secondary school English teacher, Professor Hall has worked at the School of Education, Nottingham, since the early 1990s. She has worked in a variety of roles, including Director of the PGCE course from 1997-2003, Head of Initial Teacher Education from 2003-2007 and Head of the School of Education from 2008-2014. She has been a member of the University’s governing Council for the last five years. Although her academic work is focussed more on the arts and creative side, her secondary school background and involvement with the University’s School of Education must be a valuable asset to NUAST and together with Mr Saunders, gives the University of Nottingham a powerful presence on the Board.

Powerful, maybe, but not as numerous as The Djanogly Learning Trust. We counted no fewer than five directors with close connections to Djanogly. Nigel Akers was ‘Education Adviser, Nottingham UTC’ for 17 months, August 2012 – December 2013 but previous to that had been Vice Principal, Djanogly City Academy, Nottingham, for just over 23 years, until just before the City Academy was judged inadequate by OFSTED. David Holdsworth has been Director of Finance and Operations at the Djanogly Learning Trust since August 2011. Before that he has worked in many finance-linked roles in a variety of companies ranging from The Coal Board to Qualcast to footwear companies. He obviously provides the financial ‘brains’ of the NUAST set-up and seems less like a volunteer than a quasi-employee since he appears still to work for the Trust who are part sponsors of NUAST. Ron Kenyon is Chairman of the Djanogly Learning Trust and has been for nearly 23 years. He is also shown in the Djanogly Trust report (August 2013) to be a director of CTC Enterprises (Nottingham) Ltd which “does business” with the Djanogly Trust. (CTC Enterprises’  address is identical to The Djanogly City Academy/Djanogly Learning Trust and its business is “renting and operating own or leased real estate”). Deborah Robinson, a supply chain executive, and Suzanne Smith, a Senior Director of Customer Experience and Operations, both give their business address as The Djanogly Learning Trust on Sherwood Rise. The Djanogly Learning Trust, therefore, seems to have formed the nucleus of the Board of Directors at NUAST even though, in light of the poor OFSTED inspection at its one secondary academy, it was debarred from expanding further (written parliamentary answer from Education Secretary, March 2014). Yet, here they are, sponsoring – and taking a hefty share in the running of – NUAST. Perhaps in the mind of the person responding to our FOI request, some or all of these people are ‘volunteer representatives of the local community…and local and national business partners’. They all seem to ‘represent’ the Djanogly Trust.

One clear representative of a national business is Len Daniels who is now retired but for a year was Strategic Development Manager (Education) of TOSHIBA Information Systems (UK) Ltd. Part of his role was ‘the creation and maintenance of strategic relationships with key education IT partners within the UK and Internationally’. Well, box ticked Mr Daniels! He’s obviously been associated with NUAST since the word go,  because we found a picture of him in The Nottingham Post, in full hi-vis and helmet, spade in hand, as the building was just about to begin. He was posing next to, amongst others, Ailsa Gough. Remember her? Well, she was the first principal of NUAST (the one who went missing before they even opened!) So, great link to a prestigious international company (if we ignore the current unpleasantness over vastly inflating its profits) but, then again, Mr Daniels has retired so not sure how many favours he can pull in.

Noel Worley – is described on LinkedIn as ‘Consultant, Mining and Materials with 35 years experience in mine geology, exploration, and minerals estate management’. He has a BSc from Sheffield University and a Ph.D in ‘Stratigraphic Control of Mineralization in the Peak District, Derbyshire’ which he obtained at the University of Leicester.

Finally, John Tomasevic is the CEO of the Torch Academy Gateway Trust. As Headteacher of Toot Hill Comprehensive in Bingham he led the school from a ‘satisfactory’ OFSTED judgement in 2004 to an ‘outstanding’ one in 2011. The Torch Trust was formed a year later and has since grown to include Toot Hill, Meden School and The Nottingham Free School which opened in 2014 and is also leading an improvement programme at The University of Nottingham Samworth Academy. Torch also runs the Torch Teaching School Alliance. It has strong links with Nottingham University and it is unsurprising that when NUAST lost its first principal in early 2014, the University turned to Torch and Mr Tomasevic. According to the NUAST website “the education provision will be delivered by the Torch Academy Gateway Trust. As education partners, the Trust will deliver exceptional educational support that has helped Toot Hill School be rated as ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted and moved Meden School from ‘Special Measures’ to ‘Good’ in only three years.” We are not clear what arrangements NUAST has with Torch but it is no surprise that Mr Tomasevic is a member of the NUAST Board.

As a result of our FOI request and subsequent research, we now believe that a number of further questions need to be answered by the Board of Directors at NUAST:

1. Which two directors represent the community? Obviously ‘community’ is a vague term – maybe some of the business people included are seen also as representing the local community.

2. Why is there no representative of the teaching or support staff on the Board?

3. Do the two directors associated with Nottingham University ‘report back’ in a formal way to the Council of the University, of which they are both members?

4. Do any of the five directors associated with the Djanogly Learning Trust ‘report back’ formally to that Trust, given that the Chairman of that Trust is also a director of NUAST?

5. Why has the Djanogly Learning Trust, which has been deemed to have failed at its one (other) secondary academy by OFSTED, to the extent that it is currently barred from opening any further academies, got nearly half the membership of the NUAST board? Why, indeed, has Djanogly been allowed to be instrumental in the opening of NUAST if it is barred from further expansion?

6. More fundamentally, to whom are the Board at NUAST accountable? NUAST has a formal funding agreement with the Department for Education, so clearly it is answerable to Whitehall, but to whom else? The Council of the University of Nottingham? The Board of the Djanogly Learning Trust? How is it accountable to its local community, or the wider community? Where, if anywhere, can local people have any say in this institution?

NOTE – all the above information has been obtained from publicly available sources and is published in good faith. If anyone mentioned above believes we have been inaccurate or unfair in our representation of them, we would welcome comment form them via our ‘Contribute’ button and, if they wish, we will publish their comments unedited on this website. We will also correct and apologise publicly for anything which can be shown to be wrong or inaccurate. 

The tale of the vanishing principal…

The story we ‘broke’ here, has now appeared in an article in the Nottingham Post, which you can read below.

The reporter managed to get a statement from NUAST but, of course, it’s riddled with holes. Let’s remember, this isn’t an ordinary transition from one head to another. In state-run schools – in most businesses, in fact – a period of notice is required. If Mr Sohel is handing over at the end of August, where is he now? Why isn’t he at the school, tidying his desk and running the place? ‘Becoming an OFSTED inspector’ is not a job that requires one to drop everything and run. There aren’t any inspections at the moment so Mr Sohel is unlikely to get any work before mid-September. There is, probably, a half-truth here: guessing he’s actually been trained as an inspector in the past so will be able to do this to earn a living! In the meantime, Mr White is already sending out the letters from the Principal and Mr Sohel’s name has been deleted from the staffing list.

For Mr Sohel to have left his post barely a year after appointment is surprising enough; for him to have vanished two weeks before the end of term is bizarre and suggests there is far more to this than meets the eye. And, don’t forget, this is the second principal to ‘disappear’ since the school was first being planned (the previous one went months before it even opened). Looks like you have better tenure as a premiership football manager than as head of NUAST!

Wonder if it’s true that, as stated in the article, there are 250 student applications for next year. If so, that would be very worrying and it’s important that those young people hear the stories of disappointment and incompetence that are emerging from NUAST.

NB This online version of the story is different in a number of respects from the printed version. 

http://www.nottinghampost.com/Head-new-Nottingham-University-Academy-Science/story-26937503-detail/story.html