Dear Councillor Whitehouse
I am writing in response to your letter to me of 28 March, regarding Sandown Bay Academy.
As you will know, we have already responded to a number of immediate media requests prompted by your letter. We categorically refute the allegation that AET is removing funds from Sandown Bay to cross-subsidise activities elsewhere in the group. I wish to put that statement firmly on the record.
However, as we have indicated in our press response, Sandown Bay is working within a very difficult financial environment. The current funding crisis for education has been widely reported, and schools right across the country are experiencing severe difficulties as a result. On the Isle of Wight these problems are exacerbated by over-capacity, and many schools on the island are seeing a decline in student numbers. You may be aware of the recent letter from Chairs of the Governing Bodies of a number of Isle of Wight schools, alerting the Secretary of State to the specific funding challenges they are facing. In the case of Sandown Bay, these challenges are severe: student numbers have fallen by 10% per year over the past three years, and are predicted to continue declining.
Within this difficult context, Sandown Bay has needed to make some very tough decisions, and we have been working closely with the Head and Governors to agree restructuring plans. The figure you quote in your letter of £850,000 was the original level of savings recommended, in the light of current and projected pupil numbers, in order to get the school in good financial shape as rapidly as possible. Following discussions with the Head, who was concerned about the strains this approach would place on the school, it was agreed to adopt a two-year approach, which resulted in the figure of £430,000 you have quoted; while further discussions around the level of staffing needed give us the current target which is less than £250,000. The figure remains subject to continuing discussions and consultation as to how best the resourcing needs of the school can be met. However, these figures have absolutely nothing to do with taking money from the school. They are to do with the school identifying the best way of allocating its very limited funds so as to balance its books while meeting educational needs and delivering the improvement that is the school’s, and AET’s, first priority.
You may be aware that I became CEO of the AET Group only in January of this year. Since joining, my prime focus has been to undertake a rigorous programme of work with those schools, including Sandown Bay, that give cause for concern. We have accordingly been working closely with the Head to develop an action plan to bring about rapid and tangible improvements in terms of finance, governance and – most importantly – educational performance. These three issues are all interlinked.
In this programme we have also been working closely with the Department for Education and the National and Regional Schools Commissioner, to develop appropriate plans for Sandown Bay, and have been very grateful for their support. Indeed, we have invited a representative from the Department to join the Governing Body for the school. I am accordingly copying this letter to those MPs, Ministers and officials from the Department for Education who received your original letter.
I had not originally intended to send this response to the media. I do not feel it is helpful to Sandown Bay Academy, its pupils or their families, for the school to be the subject of local media gossip and hearsay. However, in the light of your continued misrepresentation of AET and the facts around Sandown Bay to the media, I believe it is necessary for us to place this statement on record. I would like any future discussions about the way forward for the school to be held in a serious way, with those who are ready to support its aims and its drive for improvement.
CEO, Academies Enterprise Trust