Academy brokers are not bound by Civil Service Code, FoI response reveals

Janet Downs's picture
As the Department for Education (DfE) touts around for new academy sponsors, the Academy brokers involved in sponsored academy projects are not bound by the Civil Service Code, a Freedom of Information (FoI) reponse reveals.

MPs have received complaints about the heavy-handed approach of some academy brokers and one MP described tactics as being from the “Vito Corleone textbook”. So, what did the FoI response show?

1 The DfE has contracts with 37 brokers.

2 Brokers don’t receive performance-related pay. This is contradicted by a clause in the broker contracts*: “Post contract Award key performance indicators will be discussed and agreed with the Contract Manager”.

3 The DfE declined to reveal broker remuneration citing protection of “commercially sensitive information”.

4 Any broker engaged after 23 August 2012 who works for longer than 6 months must assure the DfE they are paying the correct taxes. Brokers engaged before this date will only have to make this assurance when existing contracts are renewed. Although it’s pleasing that the DfE insists on this assurance, existing brokers and those who work for less than 6 months can still be paid via personal service companies to reduce tax liability.

5 Brokers are not employed by the Crown therefore they are not bound by the Civil Service Code.

6 Brokers are contracted “to provide education advice services”.

So what are these “education advice services”? Brokers are required to:

1 Act on behalf of the DfE to broker sponsored academy projects.

2 “Support and challenge” Local Authorities, sponsors and schools from the time when schools decide to become academies (voluntarily, under pressure or by force) until the Academy Order is issued.

3 “Develop, recommend, monitor and evaluate potential sponsor strategies from a diverse group of organisations.” This is supposed to “help raise standards [ie test results] and transform educational provision.” “Diverse group of organisations” does not rule out for-profit providers.

4 Have “practical and detailed understanding of successful transformational strategies, thorough (sic) an excellent understanding of best practice”. BUT this “best practice” must be within the Academies programme so lessons learnt from, say, the London Challenge would be ruled out.

5 “Represent the views” of the DfE. In other words, act as agents of propaganda promoting academies as the only route to school improvement. If this doesn’t work the Education Secretary can compel schools to convert.

6 “Champion the Academies programme and its benefits (sic)" for pupils, staff and locals.

It appears, then, that academy brokers are freelance advisers, not bound by the Civil Service Code, who act as DfE agents to push the Academy programme. Their rate of pay has not been revealed but according to the FoI response it doesn’t include performance-related bonuses. However, the contracts say that “key performance indicators” would be considered. Brokers are supposed to be aware of “best practice” regarding school improvement but contracts show there’s only one option: academy conversion. But we know from the research of Henry and others than academy conversion is not a sure-fire answer.

UPDATE: 14.29

I've since discovered that schools minister Elizabeth Truss thinks academy brokers ARE subject to the Civil Service Code.  This is from Hansard: "The departmental brokers have contracts with the Department that state their terms and conditions. They are not paid on results, and they are subject to the civil service code of conduct."

Thanks to Warwick Mansell's tweet for pointing this out.


*Broker contracts can be downloaded here and here.

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