DfE refuses to reveal grants to academy trusts to stabilise finances

Janet Downs's picture
 8

Publication would prejudice how public affairs are run

Academies struggling with their finances can in exceptional circumstances receive a grant to ‘stabilise’ their finances. 

I submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) on 26 June asking for the ‘total amount of “exceptional” grants given to academy trusts to stabilise their finances in financial year 2017/18. 

The Department for Education (DfE) replied saying it had the information and there was ‘a public interest in the accountability of public finances and ensuring they represent value for money.’  

Nevertheless, the DfE would not reveal the total amount given out in grants nor a breakdown of academy trusts receiving such grants.

Letting the public know how much the DfE has granted to academy trusts to stabilise finances would, the DfE says, ‘prejudice’ the work of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) when engaging with trusts ‘on complex financial issues’.  This refusal is allowed under the FoI Act because releasing the information ‘would likely prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs’.

Releasing data after negotiations are over wouldn’t prejudice ongoing discussions

It’s difficult to understand how releasing the information after any grant has been decided would prejudice ESFA’s work during any negotiation.  I have requested an Internal Review arguing that the exemption clause doesn’t apply.  

DfE delay in releasing info re advances was due to misallocation

Awarding a grant implies it is not expected to be repaid.  This differs from an advance which does have to be repaid.

On 25 May I submitted a separate request  asking for:  

  • Names of trusts receiving advances to enable them to achieve financial stability in financial years 2016/17 and 2017/18
  • The total amount of advances awarded in financial year 2017/18
  • The names of academy trusts receiving loans under the Condition Improvement Fund and the amount each one received.

A belated reply on 5 July said the DfE ‘sincerely apologised for the delay’ which was caused by an allocation error.

Refusals, delays and omitted info hide full cost of academy programme

The refusal to release details of grants to academies to stabilise finances and the delay in revealing advances to academies for the same reason add to the growing list of information re academy funding which is hidden from taxpayers.  As I wrote two days ago,, recently-published academy transfer costs omit data about such things as deficit write-down.  But this can be considerable.  In February, TES found a total of £1.8m had been given to academy trusts taking on a transferred academy for deficit reduction.  £1.4m of this didn’t have to be repaid.

 

UPDATE 4 August 2018:  The DfE has now replied to my request for information about grants to academy trusts to stabilise their finances in 2016/17.  The data was released in full.  Check out the homepage for series of articles based on the information.

Share on Twitter

Comments

Celia Blair's picture
Sat, 21/07/2018 - 18:45

Our local newly built primary academy (Floreat Wandsworth) is now part of a chain of two schools!
Parents are raising money as if it was a private school - to keep it afloat of course. Can anyone blame them?
The Floreat "MAT" tried to amagamate with another, larger chain but that was rejected eventually. No clear reasons were given by the man responsible for schools in the South East Dominic Herrington: South-East England and South London although he must have been consulted.
The Floreat founder is now a "Lord" and has left others to manage his "chain" but complains that it is difficult. Anyone with experience in education could have told James O'Shaughnessy that there would be a lot of hard work to do.
David Cameron gave him a seat in the House of Lords!


Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 23/07/2018 - 11:13

Celia - thanks for the comment.   The merger fell through because both Trusts said it wasn't in the best interest of their schools (see official announcement here).   

Floreat Education Academies Trust (FEAT) is sponsored by Floreat Education a charity which receives donations.  Its accounts for year ending 31 August 2017 (available from the Charities Commission website) said it received income of £379,934 in the year ending 31 August 2017.  It spent £83,139 of this.

FEAT is set to close one of its primary schools, Floreat Brentford, citing problems with the temporary buildings and 'critically low funding'.    But it still has two free schools in the pipeline: Floreat Silver Meadows currently under construction and due to open in September, and Floreat Spencers Wood, not yet at the design/planning state, due to open in 2020/21.

FEAT's accounts for year ending 31 August 2017 (available from Companies House) said it was 'important that the trust maintains its further sources of funding including private donations, project grants and school pre-opening grants'.  It's an indictment of the level of school funding from the Department for Education that a state-funded school says it has to rely on private donations.  That said, if enough schools go down the 'donations' route, the DfE and others can say parents should be expected to pay a contribution to their children's education.  But many parents can't afford to do so.  And education is a benefit to whole society not just the individuals who receive it.

James O'Shaughnessy is in favour of for-profit education providers running schools (see article here).    


Celia Blair's picture
Mon, 23/07/2018 - 15:23

Sadly, although the FEAT Wandsworth claims it was OFSTED inspected as a pre-opening procedure, there is no open public access record of any report - although there is one on the OFSTED website for their other school that opened simultaneously - Floreat Montague Park.
"Floreat Wandsworth is a sponsor-led academy (not a free school) .....I am unable to locate a copy of the pre-inspection report online, you will need to contact the school if you wish to have access to this document." writes Wandsworth's Assistant Director of Education, Performance and Planning.
Similarly strangely Floreat Wandsworth has now been formally OFSTED inspected (as "Good") but Montague Park has not been inspected.
Such accountability procedures seem not to happen to any observable pattern. Small wonder then that "DfE would not reveal the total amount given out in grants nor a breakdown of academy trusts receiving such grants."


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/07/2018 - 09:15

Hi Celia - I managed to locate Ofsted pre-opening inspections for free schools opening in 2015 (see here).  Floreat Brentford (now closed) is listed but Floreat Wandsworth is not.  Presumably that's because it's officially designated as an 'academy sponsor led' not a free school.   This seems an odd loophole.  

Floreat Montague Park hasn't yet been inspected because it opened in September 2016 not 2015.  It will be inspected in the next academic year.  There's no pre-opening inspection for Floreat Montague either (it's also 'academy sponsor led'.    Floreat Brentford wasn't inspected before closure - it would have been seen as a waste of time once closure was announced.  However, it would have been useful if Ofsted had inspected it.


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/07/2018 - 11:51

The actual status of FEAT's schools confuses even schools minister Nick Gibb.  When he made a speech in July 2015, he said FEAT had TWO free schools.  But one of them, FEAT Wandsworth is not.    


Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 24/07/2018 - 12:59

Thanks to Celia's comment, I started to look at Floreat and its schools.  The result is here.  


Simon Foulkes's picture
Wed, 25/07/2018 - 15:20

Please see http://www.kentadvice.co.uk/peters-blog/news-a-comments/item/989-lilac-sky.html for an example of 1.6m being spent to patch up government oversight failure.


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 27/07/2018 - 14:05

Yes!  And £537.000 of that had to be written off ' In order for the academies to transfer to their new trusts without a deficit'.  It was designated non-recoverable.   See DfE Annual Report  2016/17 page 92.


Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.