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. 


NUAST – the story so far

As those following local developments will know, the Nottingham Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) has actually opened, this September, though not on its brand new site, in the shadow of the Dunkirk flyover. They are claiming to have just over 100 students in Year 10 and Year 12 (‘lower Sixth’).

One of our members attended a recent ‘open evening’, intended to publicise and recruit for next year – again, not in their own building but on the University campus. However, the building will soon be available for these sessions and, presumably, for teaching. Once they are able to ‘show off’ their state-of-the-art facilities, they no doubt think they will find ‘selling themselves’ that much easier.

We remain mystified as to why anyone would sign up their child on a promise, even if the facilities are good (they ought to be, considering they cost £10 million of taxpayers’ money!) The school has had a turbulent few months leading up to a rather low-key opening, with students being taught anonymously (i.e. not wearing uniforms) in another Nottingham college. Famously, the first principal left under something of a cloud partway through the year. We certainly think she was pushed as the University started worrying about what they were getting into. She had fallen out with the Uni authorities over whether or not teacher unions would be recognised – jobs were advertised on basis they would NOT be, the Uni said they would be when made aware, but she insisted, at first, that this would not be the case. Part of the Uni’s panic was also probably down to getting their fingers burned at Samworth (the other ‘Nottingham University Academy’), judged ‘Inadequate’ by OFSTED last Autumn; one of their partners at NUAST, the Djanogly Learning Trust also had its Academy judged ‘Inadequate’ in the same sweep. So they called in The Torch Academy Gateway Trust, rapidly becoming ‘flavour of the month’ in this area.

It must be remembered that ‘Torch’ is effectively one school, Toot Hill Comprehensive, in Bingham, which has achieved an ‘Outstanding’ OFSTED rating and which, to its credit, also helped The Meden School out of ‘Special Measures’. How many Headteachers would find achieving and maintaining an ‘Outstanding’ rating, and helping another school in difficulty, more than enough to fill up their time? Most, we would think, but not the Head of Toot Hill who is now CEO of ‘Torch’ on well over £200K a year.

Last Autumn, ‘Torch’ was called in at Samworth and Djanogly to help out, whilst concurrently spending time and energy (not to mention buckets’ full of taxpayers’ money) on getting the Nottingham Free School up and running (79 students started this Autumn in parts of a converted factory in Sherwood!). ‘Torch’ was also ‘called in’ to ‘provide the education’ at NUAST. It’s not entirely clear what this means but, presumably, they effectively run the place since the Uni isn’t equipped to and the Djanogly Trust shouldn’t, because it was barred from opening any new schools (except NUAST, funnily enough!)

Questions remain to be asked of NUAST:

  • Where is all the money coming from? It obviously hasn’t currently got enough students to make it financially viable without subsidy, even though it is clear they will offer all sorts of courses but reserve the right not to run them if they turn out to be non-viable.
  • In which case, how many years before the taxpayer could be said to be getting ‘value for money’?
  • Unlike many ‘free schools’, of which this is one type, it will have an examination record pretty soon: students in both Key Stage 4 and Sixth Form will get full GCSE and A Level results in August 2016 – so, will they be any good? By what criteria should we judge them?
  • Why have four governors resigned recently?
  • What connection is there between the erstwhile Chair of Governors and the company which ‘managed’ the recruitment process to appoint the new Principal?
  • What effect will recruitment to NUAST have on local schools? As education insiders know, schools seek so-called ‘option choices’ from Year 9 students in January and, on that basis, ‘option groups’, a staffing plan and timetable are constructed for the next academic year. The loss of even just a handful of students could make some groups non-viable with a knock-on effect to staffing and budgets.
  • Will NUAST, based on the ‘university technical college’ (UTC) model, be any more successful than other UTCs such as Hackney UTC, which has closed?
  • More fundamentally, is encouraging children as young as thirteen to ‘specialise’ the right thing for them? A career in engineering or science, the prospect of working with a world-class university and employers with household names might sound alluring, but will the reality be different? These children will not be entering the workforce for at least 6 years (if they are currently in Year 9) or longer. Who knows what specific skills employers might be looking for in a  decade’s time? Better, maybe, to keep their options open and make sure they have a firm grounding in ‘the basics’.

NUAST is wrong because it has spent, and will go on spending, money we are told is in short supply, which could have been used to improve science and engineering facilities in schools that would NOT require the children to specialise. It is wrong because it offers children and parents an illusion of choice when it cannot guarantee any level of quality. It is wrong because it holds out a promise it cannot necessarily fulfil.

“Proposed Free School looks like a massive gamble”

Letter to Nottingham Post:

I’VE been pondering why parents would sign up for the proposed new free school at Trent Bridge.

The normal process of choosing a secondary school involves visiting prospective schools’ open evenings, seeing the facilities, talking to teachers and students and possibly visiting the school during the working day to get a feel for the ethos of the place. Continue reading