EXCLUSIVE: Fast-moving policy changes re academy pledges put Oasis in ‘impossible situation’, FoI reveals

Janet Downs's picture
 2

Fast-moving changes in government policies towards sponsored academy pledges put Oasis Community Learning in an ‘impossible situation’, Freedom of Information has revealed.

‘The rapid evolution of the program effectively left charitable organisations like Oasis in an impossible position to raise funds towards either endowment or capital obligations.’

Before 2010, academy sponsors pledged money towards capital spending.   This was replaced by requiring sponsors to create endowment funds.  The Coalition abandoned these requirements in 2010 and ministers stopped asking academy trusts to raise money for existing endowments in 2012.

In 2011, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was concerned about the ‘recoverability’ of pre-2010 pledges to the value of £26m.  A FoI request (October 2016) found £13m remained unpaid.  £4.4m was owed by Oasis Community Learning for three academies.   The Department for Education (DfE) was in discussion with Oasis about repayment at one of these.

The outstanding £13m omitted figures for four further academies: two sponsored by Oasis, one by E-Act and one by Future.  The DfE had told PAC it could not find details of these pledges.

This was odd because the amounts were in a 2008 Parliamentary Written Answer.  This revealed E-Act had paid immediately but endowment pledges from Oasis (£3m) and Future (£2m) were outstanding.   If unpaid, this raises the possible total amount owed by Oasis for capital and endowment pledges combined to £7.4m.

I submitted a FoI request to the DfE asking if these ‘lost’ pledges had been paid.   The belated reply referred only to endowments and not capital.  

 ‘We have been clear with the DfE/EFA what our position is,’ Oasis said.  The trust claimed the ‘focus’ had moved from providing capital or endowment to ‘sponsors having to demonstrate their capability to manage additional academies successfully.’  This change in focus, however, hasn’t stopped other academy trusts from paying money promised.  Neither has it stopped the DfE from setting up repayment plans for other trusts which still owe money in pre-2010 capital pledges.

Oasis claims it gives its academies ‘external support…in the form of educational input from within Oasis support in developing the community around each of our academies’.  It also says it secured the land on which Oasis MediaCityUK stands.

It would be expected the DfE would have some record of this.  But it doesn’t know how much academy land it actually owns.  As Schools Week reported (March 2016), the DfE would need to spend £20m to resolve academy land confusion.   And it's reluctant to do so.

This confusion appears to extend to the amount actually owed by Oasis.  It also raises the question whether the DfE accepts the trust’s claim that its external support is sufficient to cancel out pre-2010 pledges.  If so, then academy trusts who have paid their promised amounts might feel aggrieved if one trust is being allowed to avoid paying millions of pounds in pledges by claiming ongoing support.

The DfE needs to come clean on this.

CORRECTION The original article said '...pledges from Oasis (£3m) and Future (£2m) were outstanding.   If unpaid, this raises the total amount owed by Oasis for capital pledges to £7.4m.'   The pledges listed in the Parliamentary Written Answer re Oasis and Future were 'endowment' not capital.  The article has been updated to reflect that fact.  The DfE no longer checks if endowment pledges are being made.  It is, therefore, difficult, if not impossible, to find whether pre-2010 endowment pledges have been paid.  The true figure may be much larger than the apparent (but not confirmed) £3m from Oasis and £2m from Future.  The sentence, 'It appears, then, the DfE still claims it has no record of repayments by Oasis or Future or whether repayment plans are in the place' has been removed because it appears the DfE has no intention of setting up repayment plans for endowments because it's no longer checking.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

janee's picture
Sat, 28/01/2017 - 16:30

Isn't this similar to the £6 million Harris owes in unpaid pledges (reported by you in October)?  How many more trusts owe money?  Given the swingeing cuts being made to school budgets, it is time that the Government came clean on the real cost of its drive to put state funded education into the hands of private business.  However, it seems that less and less information is available or is much harder to access.


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 29/01/2017 - 08:19

janee - the info I've managed to find covers capital pledges promised by academy sponsors pre-2010.   The appendix to this PAC report gives the data re all money pledged, paid and owing by sponsors at the end of December 2010.  My FoI request in October found some of the money owed had been paid but not all.  The £13m total unpaid included £6m by Harris and £4.4m by Oasis.  These two sponsors accounted for the bulk of unpaid pledges.

However, the PAC data wasn't complete.  The DfE said it had been unable to find info of money pledged and paid in respect of four academies.  As I wrote above, this was puzzling because a 2008 Written Answer gave the data.  My FoI to the DfE asking if these four outstanding  pledges had been paid didn't reveal the data so I sent FoIs to Oasis and Future.  The reply from Oasis formed the basis of my article above.   Future hasn't replied yet.

The information re endowment funds is less clear.  As noted above, ministers told sponsors they needn't keep putting money into endowments and the DfE stopped checking whether income from these was being paid to academies.   These are supposed to be shown in academy accounts.  It would, however, be an impossible task to plough through academy trust accounts to discover how much was being paid or whether the amount paid was a reflection of the endowment interest.

CORRECTION: the original reply said the money pledged by Oasis for two academies and by Future for one were capital pledges.  They weren't.  They were endowment pledges.  See Correction in main article for explanation.


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