Under investigation? Been sent warnings? Non-existent? Don’t worry – you can still be an approved academy sponsor

Janet Downs's picture
The Department for Education (DfE) list of approved academy sponsors keeps on growing. There are now 560 of them*.

The list can be used, the DfE says with confidence, by schools looking for a sponsor, a sponsor looking to work with another sponsor or local authorities (LAs) looking for (aka forced to look for) a “sponsor solution for some of their schools”.

It’s a question we’ve asked before, but just how reliable are the recommendations? It contains sponsors which are:


Barnfield Education Partnership Trust (BEPT) is part of Barnfield Federation currently under investigation by three agencies: the Further Education Commissioner, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and the Skills Funding Agency over concerns about finances.

BAU Foundation/Mentora is allegedly under investigation amid concerns about fast-tracking the trust’s approved status. Attempts to takeover three schools in Oxfordshire broke down after the trust’s links with a private chain of Turkish schools and a global asset management firm were exposed. This triggered the resignation of three trustees including Dame Anna Hassan and Lord Bichard although Mentora still appears on Lord Bichard’s Register of Interests under “Remunerated Employment”.


Academy chains sent warning letters include:

AET: received 7 letters and provoked a question in Parliament about an Inadequate Ofsted judgement. The EFA found AET had made unusual payments to trustees of the Academy Trust. AET is now searching for a “Joint Venture” partner to supply all services to its academies.

TKAT: received 2 warning letters and recently revealed the DfE “guided” schools towards sponsorship by the chain. TKAT said it promptly sacked two-thirds of the heads.

Woodard Academies Trust, part of the Woodard Corporation, is a troubled academy chain.


Carillion Academies Trust doesn’t appear to be registered at Companies House as required. Nevertheless, the DfE has allowed it to sponsor two brand-new free schools.

Best Practice Network Academies Trust is not listed at Companies House. However, the contact named in the DfE list links to Best Practice Network Limited, a subsidiary of Best Practice Holdings Ltd. Best Practice Network has offered consultancy and training to schools for over ten years.

Charles Dunstone. No academy trust is registered under this name. However, Sir Charles Dunstone is lead sponsor at Fulwood Academy, Preston, judged Inadequate by Ofsted in October 2013. Inspectors had little to say about the sponsorship except external support hadn’t led to “urgent action needed to raise achievement.” The Fulwood Academy Trust is registered with Companies House but the approved sponsor named on the DfE list is not Fulwood but links to DunstoC at Carphone Warehouse plc.

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is the Principal Regulator for academy trusts. Yet his department doesn’t appear to bother whether its approved sponsors are under investigation, have given cause for concern or even whether they are properly constituted. And there are questions about the links between academy trusts and for-profit firms. These could benefit from links with academy trusts which could act as a "vehicle" or "conduit" to divert taxpayers' money into shareholders' pockets.


If the DfE has such a sloppy attitude towards its list, how can parents and taxpayers trust it to oversee academy trusts properly?

*The list of approved academy sponsors can be downloaded here. Note: the list is regularly updated. The information above was true at the time of writing (Feb 2014).

UPDATE 5 May 2014.

Any "paused" academy sponsors or chains remain listed as approved sponsors (letter from Lord Nash to author dated 10 March 2014). Sponsors under investigation remain on the approved list under the investigation is complete. The DfE will then consider whether to remove the sponsor from the approved list (letter as above).

The non-existent Best Practice Network Academies Trust did not appear on the April 2014 approved sponsor list. However, Barnfield Federation was still listed despite having been found to have claimed £1m for non-existent pupils. The non-existent Carillion Academies Trust was still listed. I have written to my MP to ask schools minister Lord Nash how a non-existent Trust can have demonstrated "evidence of achieving lasting educational improvement" required from sponsors.
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