For anyone who doesn't read Guardian Education, I am linking to my piece
today which looks at how academy chains work. I have spent several weeks visiting chains, talking to people who work for them, reading their accounts on the Charity Commission website
and it has proved illuminating.
- Firstly because it confirmed my suspicions that, far from being autonomous, academies in 'chains' may actually be more tightly controlled than maintained schools within a local authority 'family'.
- Secondly because I hadn't quite twigged that academy chains have blanket funding agreements with the Secretary of State so they receive all the money and then effectively delegate to the schools via governing bodies that they appoint. They then claw back a proportion in exactly the same way as local authorities have been condemned for doing, but without any clear accountability about how the money is spent. Remember once upon a time sponsors gave money to their academies, well now they take it away from them!
- Finally there are big bucks involved here - just look at the figures. One well known academy chain has seen its income rise from £3million to £117 million in five years. Five percent of £100 million plus is a healthy income for any organisation, charitable or not, and there seems to be little or no control over how much they pay their own senior staff. E-ACT 'Director General' Sir Bruce Liddington a former Labour Schools Commissioner, left the DFES for a job with one of the chains to which his Department had been commissioning schools. He now earns almost £300,000 including pensions and bonuses, for running 11 schools. That is more than most local authority chief execs are frequently condemned for earning although they manage multi billion pound budgets. It is also more than Michael Gove earns. As Helen Flynn pointed out recently here on this site, Sir Bruce is already talking about the ability for schools to make a profit.
The outgoing Chief Inspector of Schools, Christine Gilbert, has said that chains of schools should be inspected in the same way that local authorities are. We believe they should also publish their own budgets in more detail, and the budgets of their schools , which still aren't included in the tables released recently by the DFE.
Many of the early academy sponsors may have come into the academy business with well meaning , philanthropic motives, but the way is clearly open to others who may not have the same moral purpose, which may be why so many smaller trusts are being set up, eager to get their hands on free schools which they can use to build a brand and expand.
We would be interested in hearing from parents and teachers in academy chains about what life is like in these schools and whether they are really any different to working in schools that are part of a local authority.