DfE touts around for new academy sponsors

Janet Downs's picture
The Department for Education (DfE) wants sponsors to come forward to take over “underperforming” schools. So schools minister Lord Nash has just announced the 2013-14 Sponsor Capacity Fund to act as encouragement.

There’s money on offer for sponsors. So-called “Fast-track projects”, will receive up to £40,000 for each “underperforming” primary school or up to £65,000 for secondary schools. This grant is in addition to the £25,000 towards the cost of academy conversion which is available to all converting schools.

The extra grant is supposed to be used on school improvement and sponsors will be expected to put forward an Action Plan. It’s unclear why an Action Plan devised by a body with no knowledge of a school would be better than one put together by a local authority (LA) that knows the school well.

“Full sponsorship” deals could receive more cash when a fully-sponsored academy is opened. But what exactly is a new fully-sponsored academy? Is it an existing school which converts with the help of a sponsor? The DfE talks about transferring leadership of the school from the LA to the sponsor – this could only happen if schools were already running. In which case, the extra money feels like an inducement which is contingent on an existing school becoming an academy. Cash-strapped schools may feel this is the only route to getting more finance. That was certainly the perception when schools began to convert and this was confirmed by a survey last year which showed the most popular reason for becoming an academy was the belief that conversion would bring extra money.

How do potential sponsors or existing sponsors who want to take over schools get involved? This is a summary of the process:

1 DfE touts around to attract sponsors.

2 DfE gets sponsors to talk to brokers.

3 They throw around some ideas without any particular school in mind.

4 Search round for schools “ripe for conversion” which will match sponsors’ preconceived ideas.

The most likely “suitable schools” will be schools in special measures but showing signs of improvement (eg Downhills) or schools that were previously Good but have been judged Inadequate because of a blip (eg Roke Primary). This is because such schools are more likely to improve results in the future. Such an improvement would “prove” the effectiveness of academy sponsorship.

If a sweep doesn’t reveal schools in these categories then the DfE could perhaps fall back on other methods. The BBC claimed last year that the DfE used intimidation to enforce academy conversion and some MPs have accused brokers of using heavy-handed methods.

The National Audit Office found that £1billion had been overspent on the academies programme. But there seems to be no stopping the flow of money paying for academy conversion.

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