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Boss resigns ahead of controversial Whitehaven Academy meeting

Teaching staff protesting at the Academy. Credit: ITV Border

The boss of the Trust that runs a trouble-hit Cumbrian school has quit, ahead of a meeting to discuss its future.

Teachers at Whitehaven Academy have carried out a series of strikes, to protest against the way the school has been run by Bright Tribe.

Concerns include the state of the school buildings, changes to teachers' pensions, their workload, and their conditions of employment, including pay and pay progression.

Staff have also said the futures of children at the school are being "ruined".

Bright Tribe Trust says it is working with staff to resolve the problems, and a public meeting organised by the town's mayor is taking place at Whitehaven Golf Club this evening.

We have called the meeting to reflect parents concerns. It has been raised several times by the public at meetings.

A range of concerns have been raised about poor performance and general dissatisfaction. It's a shame for parents and children that the school has very disappointing exam results this year.

– Brian O'Kane, Whitehaven Mayor

Representatives from the academy's action group, Cumbria County Council, Copeland Council, the Department of Education, Bright Tribe and MP Trudy Harrison have been invited to the meeting.

The Chief Operating Officer of Bright Tribe Trust has now resigned.

Mary McKeeman left her position as COO of Bright Tribe Trust on 28th November 2017.

Heidi Hoskin - former Director of Primary Education for the Bright Tribe and ALAT Trusts, who sat on the Executive Leadership Team and directly supported Regional Executive Principals and Academies to drive forward school improvement – has been appointed Interim COO.

– Bright Tribe Trust Statement

Staff at Whitehaven Academy have written an open letter outlining their concerns:

Exactly 12 months ago, we wrote an open letter to the MP, the RSC and the Prime Minister pleading for help to remove the Bright Tribe trust which is destroying our school.

We were told to be quiet by Lord Nash in a letter the following month. Neither the RSC or her team has visited the academy in that whole time period and the HMI visit in May, 2017 although being very supportive, failed to hold the Trust to account.

We warned a year ago that we could not improve the schools' outcomes for pupils without significant education and financial support. No one listened to us.

Consequently, in summer 2017, three quarters of pupils aged 16 failed to get 5 good GCSE passes. Most of them are now on courses they don't want to be on, wasting time doing resits or NEETS. This is not our fault, it is the fault of a system which allows private business to run a school down and destroy the life chances of pupils unchecked. Results will be similar next year, and every other year until the Trust are removed.

We have only had 2 days of educational support by Bright Tribe since May 2017 - the schools' visitors book will bear witness to this. It was in the form of a mock Ofsted inspection and told us what we knew anyway so therefore had no impact. We are over 4 teaching assistants under the statutory minimum required by law, so that pupils who receive the funding don't get it. Also, as pupil premium money is taken at source, our most needy pupils from deprived backgrounds aren't getting the help they need to improve.

We have had 6 Heads in less than four years, two CEOs (possibly now moving into a third), three different Directors with various titles, two Executive Principals - neither of which have visited the school in 7 months.

Two thirds of the site are now so dilapidated they have been closed down, the third that we are squashed into is unfit for habitation and unsafe This academic year, the building has declined to the extent that the slightest rainfall means that large areas of the small building we are in are out of action. This week, water has been pouring through windows into electrical sockets, even onto students food as they line up for dinner. Windows are too unsafe to open.

We said a year ago we can't go on like this. Our results show how we can't improve the results. Our MP was marched from the premises because she was asking challenging questions about the state of facilities. Yesterday, our pupils, in desperation wrote a petition as they do not have the resources they need to learn and can no longer work in a building which is beyond broken.

Our Headteacher works around the clock, cares passionately and is doing all he can, but even he can't help us. One person can't work miracles. If we attend the public meeting next week in Whitehaven, we will be sacked. Ofsted is imminent and the pressure the situation which Bright Tribe is putting us under is beyond human endurance.

This week, Bright Tribe pulled out of one of its North East schools because it wasn't financially viable. The only reason it remains here is to continue to strip the school until we are in the same position.

We simply can't take it anymore, we are broken. Broken in spirit and broken in our faith in a once noble profession which, on this site anyway, had been destroyed. Apart from the MP, no one out there is listening to us. How can it be in 2017, that this is allowed to happen. We stand with the MP, with the community and with our children, whose futures continue to be ruined. We urge action to be taken and taken now or our school will be closed in the very near future. We have complained to our unions who are doing all they can.

– Whitehaven Academy Staff