EXCLUSIVE from Schools Week: at least 17 academy trusts given ‘slice of £7.2 million’ to take over schools haven’t done so more than a year later
An investigation by Schools Week found the Department for Education (DfE) has awarded ‘one-off payments of up to £100,000’ to academy trusts during 2013/14. But at least 17 of these had yet to take over other schools. A DfE spokesperson told Schools Week that money from the Sponsor Capacity Fund helped sponsors ‘build their capacity to take on and turn around failing schools’. We know from recent announcements from the DfE that the definition of ‘failing’ schools is elastic. It can include those judged only to Require Improvement or ones that ‘may’ (or may not) be below floor standards. As I told Schools Week, 'It seems a reckless use of taxpayers’ money if the Department for Education (DfE) gives academy trusts cash to expand and it is then not used for the purpose intended'. 'It is particularly careless if the DfE awarded the money before it decided whether the trusts were suitable sponsors' It is also reckless to splash out taxpayers’ money on academy sponsorship when we know it is not a magic bullet. It may actually impede improvement. And there are plenty of examples of schools improving while still under the stewardship of local authorities. But many of these were academized after Ofsted monitoring noticed the first green shoots of recovery. Such schools were ripe for academy conversion - sponsors could claim any subsequent improvement was down to their involvement. The DfE spokesperson said the department would ‘seek to recoup unspent funds’ but didn’t respond to Schools Week’s request to provide examples of where money had been refunded to the DfE.