BY KENT BARKER

Hastings parents have said they are ‘unsurprised’ at the financial difficulties facing the Ark Academies group. The multi-academy trust (MAT) which runs five Hastings schools, posted a £4 million operating deficit for the financial year to 2017.  That was five times greater than the deficit for the previous year.

Last autumn, Castledown Primary became the latest in the list of Hastings schools to be taken out of local authority control and turned into an academy by ARK.  It followed a long campaign from parents to prevent the move, with regular demonstrations held outside the school gates in Priory Road.

One of the leaders of the ‘Hands off Castledown’ campaign, Ali Lane, told HIP they were not surprised at the financial difficulties apparently facing ARK and other MATs. “We predicted this,” she said “we knew they were carrying a considerable debt burden and that some loss-making academies were being cross-subsidised by others.”

Responding to the financial report, Ark said its quest to turn around difficult schools had resulted in a ‘planned, short-term deficit’  but that its overall finances were strong , with £16 million in reserves.

Its figures, however, are in line with warnings from many other MATs. An investigation by the Observer Sunday newspaper showed that eight of the top thirteen largest academy groups had issued financial warnings. The newspaper reported that one had said its funding was failing to keep pace with costs and inflation, creating risks of ‘unsustainable deficits’ and staff cuts.

Hastings campaigners are particularly angry that they now have so little choice of where to send their children to school. Ali Lane said that there was now only one mainstream school in the town that was NOT an ARK academy.  And she was critical of the record of the ARK schools. “There’s no provision for special needs education – just as we predicted.” she said. “Schools run by local education authorities just do better.”

The Hastings academies in the ARK group are William Parker, Helenswood, Castledown Primary, Little Ridge Primary, and Blacklands Primary.

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