Redbridge Council denies 'conspiring' to move Atam Academy away from trust

Aerial view of Atam Academy

Atam Academy, Chadwell Heath - Credit: Google Maps

The trust running an academy school has accused Redbridge Council of “conspiring” with former staff in an attempt to dismantle it.

Khalsa Academies Trust (KAT) runs Atam Academy in Chadwell Heath, plus schools in Wolverhampton and Buckinghamshire, and says the council wants the school to become independent of the wider trust.

In February last year, council leader Cllr Jas Athwal joined parents protesting the suspension of the chair of governors, while an email from a council employee told a former school staff member they had “the local authority’s support” in their clash with trust leaders.

KAT claims this leaked email, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, shows the council is “using their taxpayer-funded working hours to sow discord and disharmony”.

Redbridge Council, however, said: “We have investigated the claims made by Khalsa Academies Trust and found them to be baseless. 

“The council will always challenge educational providers where it has concerns as to their performance. It is our duty to local families to ensure the safety of children is protected at all times in educational settings. 

“In the case of Khalsa Academies Trust, it is clear that there are serious issues that must be addressed. 

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“We continue to believe that the energies of Khalsa Academies Trust are best directed to securing rapid improvement and demonstrating that they are an organisation that is fit to deliver the best educational outcomes for children and young people.”

Atam Academy has Ofsted’s highest Outstanding rating but, following a visit in November, inspector Mark Smith wrote to the school that its safeguarding is “not effective”, adding: “Trust leaders do not have a good enough grasp of safeguarding in the school… (and) rely too heavily on an external report. 

“External reviews of safeguarding practice have been partially completed and an existing action plan is being updated. However… it is too soon to evaluate any impact of recent actions taken.”

He also expressed concerns that the trust leaders were “reportedly reluctant to engage” with council officers.

He added: “The local authority reported that officers were prevented from carrying out their duties and were asked to leave. 

“Trust leaders dispute the local authority’s views. Nevertheless, this is a serious concern.”

The trust insists it has taken swift action to address all issues raised by Ofsted, including appointing a new safeguarding lead eager to work with the council.

However, a recent statement on March 2, suggests this tentative goodwill has already fractured, with the trust stating it is “outraged” by the content of the email.

The spokesperson said: “What is most saddening is that very highly paid public servants… are using their taxpayer funded working hours to sow discord and disharmony and to plot.

“We have appointed a highly experienced executive headteacher, David Martin, and have taken swift action to address the issues raised in the Ofsted report.”

Much of the conflict at Atam Academy appears to have begun after the school’s board of governors expressed concerns about the trust’s management, as reported in the Ilford Recorder.

The former chairman of governors, Mankamal Singh, was later suspended from his role, he alleges as a punishment for raising his concerns, which the trust denies.

KAT’s chair of trustees Shaminder Kaur Rayatt told the Ilford Recorder the restructuring of the governing body was in line with the rules and regulations of running a multi-academy trust.