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Historic school looks to join an academy trust

Sandbach School is considering joining or forming a new education trust, its annual report has said – although the school’s head told the Chronicle it was still “very early days”.

The school’s financial report for the year ended 31st August said the school trustees were considering the possibility of the school joining an existing multi-academy trust or forming a new multi-academy trust with other local schools.

The school was established in 1677 by local philanthropists, Richard Lea, who donated the land for the school, and Francis Welles, who helped to fund the schoolhouse, with both giving their names to school “houses”. It was based at Egerton Lodge, Middlewich Road, before moving into a new set of buildings designed by George Gilbert Scott in 1851. It became an independent school in 1945, and a state-funded independent grammar school in 1955. It became a state-funded independent school accepting boys of all abilities in 1979. In 2011, it became one of the country’s first free schools.

Now the school annual report said the school was undertaking “due diligence procedures” over merging or forming a new trust.

And while the report said that if the process was completed within the next 12 months the school would transfer to the new entity as a going concern, head Dr Sarah Burns told the Chronicle, “discussions at this stage are still very early days.”

She said the school had been advised to include the wording in the annual report as “a generic statement regarding the possibilities of joining or forming a multi-academy trust”.

The government has said it wants to see all schools in multi-academy trusts, with the department for education setting a target of 2030.

There have been rumours that long-term the Government wants to return to the old local education authorities – the Government is now considering allowing councils to run their own academy trusts.

During a meeting involving a cross-party group of MPs recently, education department permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood, said the Government would be looking at other options, such as groups of schools who “might want to be taking up this opportunity but also holding on to some of the relationships they’ve already got.”

Education ministers have said they want to see fewer standalone academies, with more focus on developing multi-academy trusts, and an emphasis on creating strong “families of schools”.

Dr Burns added: “If (this) progresses further we will be required to consult with parents, but we are away off this at present.”

Rated good

In the classroom, the report said that in July 2018 the school maintained its good Ofsted rating. In summer 2019, the school celebrated “a strong set” of GCSE examination results: 64% of students achieved the new grade five benchmark in English and 61% in maths.

History (68%), geography (61%) and science (60%) continued to be a strength of the school, as were drama (77%), art (97%) and (music 87%). Departments performing strongly at the highest level of GCSE, 9-7 included physics (48%), computer science (40%) and music (63%).

The sixth form also demonstrated a “strong performance” across the board with 11% of students achieving the very top grade of an A*, with 27% achieving a grade A or an A*. Overall, the sixth form celebrated a pass rate of 99%.

As a result of the covid-19 pandemic, the summer exam seasons in 2020 and 2021 were cancelled and replaced by teacher assessed grades, which are not comparable with previous examination results.

Teacher assessed grades indicated that relative academic performance had been maintained or improved.

During the year to 31st August, the total expenditure excluding actuarial pension adjustments and depreciation was £7.7m, largely met by recurrent grant funding from the Government and the local authority as well as self-generated incoming resources. The surplus for the year on revenue funds was £86,761, after the academy incurred exceptional costs related to the covid-19 pandemic in excess of £30,000.

The school estimated that it had lost revenue during the year in excess of £100,000 as a result of the pandemic.

The academy was eligible to claim additional funding in year from Government support schemes: £63,848 was received in relation to exceptional costs incurred (including exceptional costs included in the prior year). The academy also furloughed some of its leisure staff, for which it received £22,316 for 11 staff.

The school also received additional catch-up funding as a result of the ongoing pandemic, mainly used for additional teaching staff and learning support assistants, to ensure that “less resilient learners” did not fall further behind.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency grants totalled £7.6m, with capital funding of £937,235. The academy also received £371,859 funding from Cheshire East Council.

The academy generated £74,789 from the provision of services for sport and room hire to the local and surrounding communities. Income generation was again hit by the pandemic.

The school runs several events throughout the year, such as concerts, drama productions and sports presentation evenings. Some of these events are free to attend, at other events the public is invited to buy tickets to attend. At these and other events the school sells refreshments and snacks, raffle tickets and other merchandise in order to raise funds for the school.

Staff costs during the year were mainly wages and salaries of £4.9m, which, with social security and pension costs, rose to £6.7m. Agency staff costs were £56,132.

The trust employs 115 teachers, 45 administration and support staff and eight management.

The report also revealed that one trustee of Sandbach School is a director of Roberts Bakery, and the bakery supplied the school with bread worth £840, supplied at or below cost.

Sandbach School is an 11-16 comprehensive school for boys with a co-educational sixth form. The school serves Sandbach, Haslington, Elworth and surrounding parishes in south Cheshire. In October 2020, there were 1,412 students on roll, 1,168 in the main school and 244 in the sixth form.

The school is also lead partner and fund holder of the Love Music Trust, the lead partner of the Cheshire East Music Hub funded by the Arts Council and by parental fees and subscriptions.

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