University Schools Trust pulls out of John Roan academy plan

John Roan School
John Roan School has been hit by industrial strife over the academy plans

The controversial trust behind plans to concert John Roan School into an academy has pulled out of the scheme, saying it does not have the resources to turn the troubled school around.

University Schools Trust (UST), which already runs the Greenwich Trust School in Charlton, was called into the school by Greenwich Council to provide management support in June 2017. A year later, the Department for Education decided the 300-year-old school should become an academy after Ofsted judged it to be “inadequate”, with Poplar-based UST as its preferred sponsor.

Since then, the Blackheath school has been beset by strikes by teaching and support staff, and a campaign group, John Roan Resists, has repeatedly highlighted what it sees as the failings of senior management of UST, particularly its chief executive Grahame Price, who was the former head of Wilmington Enterprise College near Dartford, which was placed in special measures before becoming an academy.

As well as the Greenwich Trust School, UST runs two St Paul’s Way Trust School and St Paul’s Way Foundation, both in Mile End. The National Education Union, which accused UST of wanting to take over John Roan to shore up its own financial position, also pointed to high staff turnover at St Paul’s Way Trust School as another worry.

Earlier this year Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said UST was probably “not the council’s first choice” of provider, and last month the council’s cabinet held back from rubber-stamping the move to become an academy to carry out further due diligence.

Now parents have tonight been sent letters confirming that UST has pulled out. A letter from Price says the school “has a very wide-range of deeply embedded educational, financial and operational challenges that will require a truly exceptional level of investment and a sponsor with extensive resources to call upon”.

“We have invested heavily in the school throughout our involvement, but it has become clear that the challenges at the school are of such a serious nature that we could not overcome these without damaging the rest of our small trust,” Price said.

Board of governors replaced

John Roan protesters
Protesters marched from the school to Blackheath Royal Standard last month

A new sponsor will be named in February, a further letter from executive headteacher Cath Smith says, confirming that the board of governors has been replaced by an interim executive board – a normal step on the road to becoming an academy, although not a step that confirms it will actually happen. The five-person board will include Florence Kroll, Greenwich Council’s head of children’s services.

The outgoing chair of governors, David Skinner – who is joining the interim board, said in a further letter: “We believe the IEB is a positive development and it will help the school move swiftly onto a more stable footing.”

Greenwich Council deputy leader and education cabinet member David Gardner said tonight: “I have a huge amount of sympathy with the pupils, parents and of course the staff who are caught in the middle of an incredibly difficult situation.

“We do not want schools to be academised, but we will work with all schools in the Greenwich family as our responsibilities to get the best outcomes for our children irrespective of the type of school they attend.”

Historic identity

Keeping the school’s historic identity will be an issue for many. John Roan School can date its history back to 1677, when the Mr Roan’s Charity school was set up after a bequest from an aide to King Charles I. The aide was jailed in the English Civil War and was refused when he asked his brother for help. In response, John Roan cut his brother out of his will and left money to set up a school for the “town-born children of Greenwich”.

“My will and mind is that the said poor children shall wear on their upper garment the cognisance or crest of me, John Roan,” he said. A girls’ school followed in the early 19th century.

The boys’ and girls’ schools were merged into the current John Roan School in 1980.

The John Roan Foundation Trust still exists and provides the school with extra resources. It owns the freehold to the school’s Maze Hill site and its playing field at Kidbrooke Park Road, while Greenwich Council owns the freehold to its Westcombe Park Road site.

Letters: Cath Smith, executive headteacher; Dominic Herrington, Regional Schools Commissioner; Grahame Price, UST; David Skinner, chair of governors.

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