Academy sponsor banned from expansion takes over school chain
Education Secretary welcomes move by troubled Christian charity
The country's biggest academy sponsor, which had been banned from expanding because of concerns over its performance, is to take over another chain of schools in the first deal of its kind.
The United Learning Trust will assume control of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation group of four schools after the move was sanctioned by the Government.
Just a year ago ULT, a Christian charity which runs 17 academies, was barred from sponsoring more schools after a string of problems. Two of its academies in Sheffield were described as inadequate by Ofsted, prompting then education secretary Ed Balls to describe the situation as "unacceptable".
Since then, Sheffield Springs Academy has improved to a satisfactory rating, but another ULT school, Stockport Academy, has been handed a "notice to improve" by inspectors. However, Education Secretary Michael Gove has welcomed ULT taking over another chain of state schools. "By joining the United Learning Trust I know that (the) academies could not be in better hands," he said.
"The team at ULT are best placed to continue the excellent work of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation in improving the lives of many of the most disadvantaged young people in our country."
The handover of the Emmanuel group, which like ULT has a strong Christian ethos, has been prompted by the decision of its founder, Sir Peter Vardy, to step away from his involvement with education. His three academies - in Middlesbrough, Doncaster and Blyth - and city technology college (CTC) in Gateshead have attracted controversy in the past, with accusations that they pushed the teaching of creationism in science, something which the group vehemently denied.
Emmanuel College in Gateshead - one of the first CTCs - has been rated outstanding by Ofsted four times in a row since opening in 1990.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said that the recent performance of ULT showed that it had made improvements.
Based on this year's exam results, all of its academies are now above the National Challenge target of at least 30 per cent of pupils achieving five A*-C GCSEs including English and maths.
Sir Peter said that in ULT, his group had found "the ideal guardian" for its schools.
But Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: "Passing one academy chain to another is not the solution, particularly as ULT has academies in special measures. We need to end this haphazard approach to state education."
'Stronger' vetting pledged
Michael Gove is planning a new scheme to vet organisations that want to sponsor academies.
The Labour government established an accreditation scheme requiring sponsors to win official approval, but the group in charge of the process has not met since the Coalition took power. Mr Gove said he would introduce a "stronger" scheme soon.