If the DfE can’t even keep an accurate list of approved sponsors, how can they monitor sponsors competently?

Janet Downs's picture
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Any school looking for a sponsor, or having a sponsor thrust upon them, would probably look at the Department of Education’s approved sponsor list (last updated 11 September).

But they might be misled.

Some groups are missing: North West Academies (St Martin’s) Limited, which has just opened a free school, St Martin’s Academy in Cheshire, doesn’t appear on the updated list. Neither does the Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust which runs two free schools in Beccles and Saxmundham. Its bid to run Stoke-By-Nayland free school fell through but it hopes to open Ixworth Free School next September.

One academy group often praised by Education Secretary, Michael Gove, the Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT), also doesn’t appear on the approved list.

Another group is known to have applied to set up free schools when it wasn’t listed: GEMS Learning Trust bid for free schools in Wokingham and Reading. GEMS Learning Trust is the not-for profit arm of GEMS Education Solutions. GEMS Learning Trust still isn’t listed. Instead, GEMS Education Trust has appeared but no company with the name of GEMS Education Trust exists*.

One of the listed groups, Wey Education Schools Trust (WEST), is a vehicle for a company which has said WEST should provide a return for shareholders via the charitable trust. Its inclusion is admission from the DfE that they will consider for-profit education providers. According to Wey, the DfE has promised it a school.

Another listed group: Bau Foundation Mentora, doesn’t exist. The name comprises two trusts which share the same trading address. Neither trust has existed for more than 7 weeks but the DfE says it operates in two areas of the country. The reason for this rapid inclusion is unclear.

Sponsors are supposed to be charitable trusts. But a for-profit company, Avec Partnership, which provides administrative services to schools, is listed. Two of Avec Partnership’s directors are also directors of an approved charity sponsor: North East Schools Trust (NEST). NEST doesn’t appear to have a website.

There are 432 names on the sponsored list – and that’s without the missing ones. 432 sponsors - all supposed to be monitored from the centre. 432 sponsors – and there doesn’t seem to any inspection mechanism in place. 432 sponsors – that’s nearly treble the number of local authorities.

How can the DfE scrutinize these 432 properly when it can’t even keep an accurate list?

CORRECTION 5 October 2013   This post has been changed to correct an error.  The original post said Gentoo Group appeared to have nothing to do with schools.  That was wrong: Gentoo Group sponsors Academy 360 in Sunderland.  The incorrect paragraph has, therefore, been removed.  Thanks to Barry Wise for pointing out the error.

UPDATE 13 October 2013   Zail Enterprises Ltd, a subsidiary of Wey Education PLC, has asked us to say that Wey Education Schools Trust (WEST) is a not-for-profit organisation that is being supported and funded by Wey Education PLC.  Zail Enterprises Ltd says it has not been “promised” a school as stated in the article above.

The Half Yearly Report (2 October 2013) of Wey Education PLC says:

“Zail Enterprises Limited ("Zail"), remains an approved sponsor for academies and the Department for Education has confirmed that it will introduce Zail to a failing school looking for a sponsor when the appropriate opportunity arises.”
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