23 academies changed hands in 13 months but the DfE won’t say how much this cost the taxpayer.

Janet Downs's picture
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Twenty-three academies changed hands from 1 September 2013 to 31 October 2014, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

Seven of the twenty-three academies were set up by Labour. They include two struggling Richard Rose academies now taken over by United Learning. Eight were moved from E-Act, the Ofsted-criticised academy chain found to be operating in a culture of extravagance.

Two were converter academies in Lincolnshire where the County Council advised all its schools to become academies. However, the Council belatedly realised this policy had a downside when West Grantham Academies Trust said it was closing Charles Read Academy. Councillors complained such arbitrary decisions made it impossible to plan future school places. Charles Read was only prevented from closing by being taken over by David Ross Education Trust. Another Lincolnshire academy, Stamford Queen Eleanor, was a converter academy with CfBT - Lincolnshire’s preferred academy sponsor. However, CfBT relinquished control of Queen Eleanor to CMAT which had supported a failed proposal for Stamford Free School. It’s now being rebranded as Stamford Welland Academy.

Although most of the twenty-three academies kept their original names some like Stamford Queen Eleanor changed theirs. The Isle of Sheppey Academy added the name of its new sponsor, Oasis, when Dulwich College, its sponsor since 2009, admitted that as an independent school it didn’t have the necessary expertise to run a state school.

Four free schools changed sponsors and names. CET Westminster has been taken over by REAch2 Academy Trust and renamed The Minerva Academy. Despite having a new sponsor, the free school is still struggling to fill places according to a local paper. A second CET free school, CET Tower Hamlets, also changed hands. It’s sponsored by Paradigm Trust and is now Solebay Primary – a Paradigm Academy. The Executive Principal is Ms Amanda Phillips, one of Gove’s 'Magnificent Seven'.

Aldborough E-Act Free School is now Aldborough Primary School sponsored by Loxford School of Science and Technology. Hartsbrooke E-Act Free School, judged Inadequate, has closed. Brook House Primary School, sponsored by Lion Academy Trust, has opened in its place.

The Department for Education says it won’t reveal the cost of these changes because it’s ‘commercially sensitive information’. But the cost would be at least £500k even if each academy only received the £25,000 start-up grant offered when schools convert.

This expense is likely to increase as time goes by. Six academies are in limbo after Prospects Academies Trust* closed and Moor Green Primary School is looking for a new sponsor since the demise of HTI Education Trust. The largest academy chain, AET, has been twice criticised by Ofsted and the EFA has told it to sort out its finances. If the DfE treats AET as it did E-Act, then we can expect many AET academies to switch sponsors.

Expense is not the only concern, however. Instability threatens schools. When academies change hands the new trust often makes changes: a different name, a new principal, a revised curriculum, a pristine uniform, a portentous motto.

But too many changes are unsettling especially if they arrive after a similar visionary beginning born a couple of years before. It’s not surprising when parents become angry. And taxpayers should be fuming about the ever-increasing cost of a flawed policy which has fragmented the education system in England.

STOP PRESS 15.35 29 December 2014. The Times reports that £20,000 per head has been spent on pupils in 'a group of free schools and academies' last year. The extract doesn't name names. The full article is behind the paywall so I can give no further information about the identity of this group.

ADDENDUM

*The website of Bexhill High, a former Prospects Academy, says it is now part of Attwood Academies (AEF). The academy is not, however, on the DfE list accompanying the FoI response.

UPDATE 30 December 2014 11.30. I have asked for an internal review of my FoI request appealing against the 'commercial sensitivity' defence. There is a precedent for revealing the amount of grants paid to academy trusts (see here). It's difficult to see how the DfE can refuse to say what the sponsors of the twenty-three academies above received.
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Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 30/12/2014 - 11:36

UPDATE: I have appealed against the DfE's refusal to reveal how much was paid to the sponsors of the 23 academies. (For more details see UPDATE above).


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