Until recently the Ridings Federation operated two local senior schools, one in Winterbourne and the other in Yate. Due to a series of missteps both are now being re-brokered. This means they will be taken over by another academy chain in a process controlled by the Department of Education.
There is no clear explanation of what happened – that’s part of what our campaign trying to do – but the following is a brief recap of events.
8 years ago, the start of the Ridings Federation
At the start of 2009 The Ridings Federation of Academies was formed from Ridings High School in Winterbourne and King Edmunds School in Yate. The head of Winterbourne, Dr Robert Gibson, became Chief Executive Principle – the man in charge of both schools.
The hope was that the success achieved by the Ridings High School could be shared with King Edmunds allowing both schools to grow and improve. They were renamed to Winterbourne International Academy and Yate International Academy.
Two years later Woodlands Primary School in Yate joined the Federation.
From 2013 to 2015 new buildings were constructed on both sites.
2 years ago, changes at the top
In October 2014 Dr Gibson announced his retirement after 20 years at Winterbourne.
The hoped for improvements at the Yate site had not materialised and it was felt that the school needed new leadership. By February 2015 Dr Gibson had been replaced by Beverly Martin, a “National Leader of Excellence”, as both Chief Executive Principal and headmaster at Winterbourne.
Beverly Martin quickly made a number of changes, including appointing a new headmaster at each of Yate and Winterbourne schools.
In April 2015 Winterbourne received a negative judgement from Ofsted. This prompted further changes including hiring some new managers and changing teaching practices. These changes introduced more constraints and closer tracking of student and teacher performance.
Last year, industrial action
In September this year, at the start of the school year, teaching staff took industrial action in response to the changes made by Beverly Martin. They objected not only to changes to teaching practice but to the relationship between teaching staff and management and their workload.
The teaching staff were largely supported by students and parents. By the end of the year Beverly Martin had resigned from The Ridings Federation.
This year, good results
In February this year a new Chief Executive Principle, Adam Williams, was appointed. There was optimism at this time as he came with an excellent reputation for his work in a school in central Bristol.
In August, despite so many difficulties the exam results at Winterbourne put it at the top of the league for South Gloucestershire.
Back in April consultant Claire Emery had been hired to perform an “external review of governance”, a process intended to check that the school was being properly run.
By August most of the board of trustee at The Ridings Federation had resigned leading to Claire Emery becoming chairman of the trust. We don’t know why there were so many resignations.
Shortly afterward there were two major announcements: principle Adam Williams, who had been off sick, would not be returning and The Ridings Federation was operating at a loss and heading towards a £1m deficit.
Claire Emery announced two possible plans. The first, bringing in new leaders and cutting costs, was eventually dropped. The second, for the school to be taken over (“re-brokered”), is now in progress.
Where we are
The process of going from an apparently successful school to one being taken over was not well publicised. There has been little transparency and we still don’t fully understand what’s going on.
There is some more information about the people and organisations mentioned here in A guide to who all the people are.