Stories + Views
Lincolnshire County Council says proposal for academy conversion has support of councillors but it doesn’t seem to have been debated
Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) has responded to my FoI request about lack of transparency surrounding proposals for Lincolnshire primary schools to become academies under the aegis of CfBT Educational Trust.
The Council confirms that it has a confidential paper from CfBT but has not made it public because it might “prejudice the commercial interests of CfBT”. CfBT is a Charity and is, therefore, governed by The Charities Act 1993. It is a fundamental requirement of any charity that it is independent of government or commercial interest. I do not think, therefore, that this document can be withheld because of commercial sensitivity and I have requested an internal review.
The response confirms that there are no committee meeting minutes concerning this subject.
The Council disclosed its reply to Education Guardian (EG). EG asked if the Council had discussed the matter formally and requested clarification about the Council’s position. LCC answered the latter question but not the former. LCC says that approval for the proposal has the support of the Council’s Leader and Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services and has been through the Departmental Management Team (DMT) within Children’s Services.
The Council repeats that it is up to Governing Bodies to decide whether to become academies and that CfBT is only one of many trusts with whom schools could work. However, the letterhead for Lincolnshire School Improvement Service contains the Lincolnshire logo and that of CfBT. This apparent LCC seal of approval is confirmed in the reply to EG: “This proposal has senior member endorsement”. CfBT, however, deny any conflict of interest because the decision to become an academy rests with a school’s governing body.
There are some misgivings within the Council – an extract from the DMT Minutes of 17 February 2011 recorded “DMT recognise there is an inherent conflict of interest around this type of Trust.”
One advantage claimed by CfBT in its letter to head teachers was that the proposal “seeks to provide a means by which schools can achieve higher levels of funding.” The DfE says that no school should be financially advantaged by becoming an academy. Yet CfBT claims that schools will receive more money if they become an academy within the Trust (although it is unclear whether this additional funding would be more than the DfE says is on offer to schools). The juicy carrot on offer may turn out to be a withered root especially since CfBT’s management fees increase for schools that are not judged good or outstanding. If this is so, then schools judged satisfactory would pay more to CfBT and may find they have to follow CfBT’s advice even if the head and governing body feel another course of action would be more appropriate. Schools could find they won’t just be paying the piper, they will be dancing to his tune.
The response seems to confirm that the proposal has not been discussed by Councillors either in committee or in full Council Meetings despite CfBT’s assertion that the proposal is supported by “senior Councillors at Lincolnshire County Council.” Is this what is truly meant by localism?