Inquiry into possible fast-tracking of academy trust should widen to look at how sponsors are approved

Janet Downs's picture
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The Sunday Times (behind paywall) reports today that Lord Michael Bichard and Dame Anna Hassan have both resigned from BAU Foundation and the Mentora Academies Trust.   The paper said ministers had ordered an investigation into the possibility of the Trust having been fast-tracked to approved sponsor status.

In September I asked how it was possible that a Trust set up in August could be listed as an approved sponsor by the Department for Education (DfE) in September.  I posed several questions:

1 What criteria does the DfE use when approving sponsors?

2 How can it explain such fast tracking?

3 Is the DfE exercising due diligence when it places organisations on its sponsor list?

4 As sponsorship of academies seems to be in the gift of the DfE, how can schools, parents, pupils and taxpayers trust the DfE’s recommendations?

More recently, Fiona Millar pointed out the connection between Mentora Academies Trust, the Bau Foundation and the Carlyle Group which describes itself as a “global alternative asset manager with more than $180 billion in assets.”

But Carlyle isn’t the only company with links to groups behind academy trusts. The Aspirations Academies Trust operates in association with Aspirations Unlimited International (AUI), a for-profit provider of assessment tools which has links with publishing giant Pearson.   TA Associates, a large private equity firm operating globally, has Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) in its portfolio.  IES runs IES Breckland, a free school in Sussex.  The Times yesterday reported on TA Associates’ links with Cath Kidston, a British firm selling vintage-inspired textiles.  The paper said the time would come when TA Associates would “want to cash in their chips”. 

It’s essential, therefore, that any inquiry goes beyond investigating the events behind the approval of just one academy sponsor.  It should look at the process of approval.  It should inquire into links between academy sponsors and for-profit firms which stand to gain from being able to sell services and resources to English state schools. 

Sam Freedman, ex-Gove advisor, said in 2008: when for-profit firms become involved in education it’s not altruism but an investment.

He was right.  
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