As academies continue to be in the DfE’s gift, how long will it be before schools are handed over to for-profit providers?

Janet Downs's picture
Over in Lincolnshire, the Council isn't happy.  The Department for Education (DfE) snubbed the local authority and decided which academy chain would take over a Lincolnshire school.

In January 2012, The Gartree Community School, Tattershall, was placed in Special Measures*. The DfE, not the Council, decided the school had to become a sponsored academy.

Usually in such cases the DfE discussed the choice of sponsor with the Council. But this didn’t happen:

“The DfE decided to take sole responsibility for choosing a sponsor and the county council was excluded from discussions.”

In September 2012, the DfE told the Council The Collaborative Academies Trust (CAT), the “not-for-profit wing of EdisonLearning (see here), would sponsor Gartree. The council wrote to Michael Gove expressing concern about “CAT’s capacity to support the school”. A meeting with Lord Hill, then the minister responsible, followed.

In the meantime, Ofsted’s monitoring visit (February 2013) found progress since being subject to special measures was good.

In March CAT advertised for a new head.

On 17 April, however, the DfE informed the council the new minister in charge of academies, Lord Nash, had decided not to approve the Academy Order. CAT withdrew their offer of sponsorship.

The council were justifiably angered by the DfE’s actions – they’d had a sponsor imposed on them and then after several months the Academy Order wasn’t signed.

Ofsted returned in June: Gartree now Requires Improvement**. Ofsted found the local authority had “provided effective support which has helped to improve teaching”.

Ofsted also noted the Governors had spent considerable time on the possible academy conversion. This would inevitably have diverted attention away from school improvement. However, now the school is improving with support from the LA then perhaps imposed academy conversion is no longer necessary.

It’s well known the DfE hands over schools to sponsors even when parents oppose conversion as shown by the Harris takeovers of schools. Harris’s latest possible acquisition is Camden Junior School – the local council and MP, Tom Brake (Lib Dem), oppose the imposition of Harris and 494 out of 545 consultation respondents said Camden’s sponsor should be Greenshaw High School.

But such concerns – whether from local councils, MPs or parents - cut no ice with the DfE. Communities must accept the centrally-imposed diktat.

This means firms such as Zail Enterprises, which hopes to become “a business capable of making a return to shareholders”, won’t have to wait long before the DfE honours its promise to “introduce Zail to a failing school looking for a sponsor when the appropriate opportunity arises.”

How many more promises has the DfE made to hand over schools when “the appropriate opportunity arises”? And how many more are businesses seeking “a return to shareholders”.

See Henry Stewart’s thread Vote Tory if you want schools run for profit for more information.


*Citing Ofsted judgements does not imply agreement

**If Gartree were a private school inspected by Ofsted, then it would be Satisfactory. If it were a private school inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate, then it would be Sound.  The inspection system in England is skewed so that more state schools than private ones are found to be "failing".

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