The under-fire Bright Tribe Academy Trust is planning to ditch its name and merge with its sister chain as it prepares to abandon all but one of its northern schools.
Stockport-based Bright Tribe plans to merge with the Adventure Learning Academies Trust (ALAT), which runs one secondary school and four primary schools across Cornwall.
According to the Education Uncovered website, the proposal was announced in a consultation letter sent to parents, and would see the Bright Tribe trust “cease to exist”.
If the move goes ahead, ALAT, which was set up by property mogul and Bright Tribe founder Michael Dwan and is run by many of the same directors, will preside over the ailing chain’s six remaining schools in Suffolk, Essex and Oldham.
Bright Tribe is in the process of walking away from Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, Grindon Hall School in Sunderland, and Haydon Bridge High School and Haltwhistle upper and lower schools in Northumberland.
There have been clashes with parents and local authorities, while Bright Tribe failed to establish a “northern hub” in the region, despite receiving almost £1 million to do just that. Whitehaven Academy has also been plagued with maintenance problems.
Rachel Gooch, a governor in Suffolk, where Bright Tribe runs four schools, said it was understandable that Bright Tribe wants to “ditch the tarnished name and have a fresh go at things”.
But she warned that merging with a trust based so far from its existing schools “seems a bad idea”, given that one of Bright Tribe’s past errors was “too great a geographical spread”.
Having the same directors involved who “failed in the past” could also be problematic, unless the trusts have “accurately diagnosed what went wrong before and are putting in the right structures and safeguards in the new trust”.
The merger will enable the trusts and their schools to “work together and pool resources and skills to ensure the best possible provision and education for pupils and students”, a Bright Tribe spokesperson insisted.
Records on Companies House show that Bright Tribe and ALAT have seven trustees in common, including education support services company Adventure Learning Schools and Dwan’s charity.
Helping Hands Trust Limited, which are both also listed as “persons with significant control” of both trusts.
Dwan, a former chair of Bright Tribe, is listed as one of the directors of Adventure Learning Schools, as is the consultancy firm North Consulting Limited, which is run by Dwan, his brother Andrew and his daughter Jessica.
Accounts filed for ALAT on February 15 state that the trust is already “connected” to Bright Tribe, and that both trusts “ensure value for money is achieved by working collaboratively together across all areas of operations”.
The accounts say ALAT had “benefitted, again, from the financial resource support provided by Dr Michael Dwan” but that this would be the final year it would do so. In 2017, ALAT spent £7,000 on services offered by Adventure Learning Schools, down from £341,000 the year before.
Bright Tribe’s accounts, published on February 15, show that in 2017 the trust spent £681,000 at Dwan’s various companies – North Consulting, Blue Support Services, The Knowledge Network and North & Partners Technical – down from £3,948,000 the year before.
The proposed merger is under review by the Department for Education, which is still trying to find sponsors for two of Bright Tribe’s northern schools – Haltwistle lower and upper schools.
The Cumbria Education Trust has been identified as the preferred sponsor for Whitehaven Academy, and the North East Learning Trust has been picked to take on Grindon Hall.