The Department for Education (DfE) has halted the expansion of 14 academy chains because of concerns about their performance. Edward Timpson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, said it was because the DfE was being “tough”. He drew attention away from any accusation that the DfE was complicit in allowing chains to grow too quickly or giving schools to chains without due diligence by saying sponsored academies improved at a faster rate than “council-run schools” (you can almost hear the sneer).
But that isn’t true when sponsored academies are compared by similar non-academies as regular readers of Henry Stewart’s analyses will know. And councils don’t “run” schools.
So, which chains have been prevented from taking on more academies? Here are details of five of them. Information about the rest will appear in instalments.
Academies Enterprise Trust (AET)
In March 2013 AET was allegedly barred from taking on new schools. AET denied this saying it had always planned to stop when schools in its “pipeline” had joined the chain. In July 2013, the Observer reported £500,000 had been paid in “unusual” payments to AET trustees. Also in July, education secretary Michael Gove criticised AET in the Commons. In November 2013 schools minister Lord Nash sent seven pre-warning letters to AET expressing concern about performance; a further pre-warning letter was sent in January. In February, Alex Cunningham MP, described AET’s plans to outsource “an unprecedented range of service” as “the first huge step towards a huge privatisation across a whole range of school services”. The Department for Education (DfE) said they knew about the tender but it was a matter for AET.
Academy Transformation Trust (ATT)
In April 2012, the Chair of Governors at a Norfolk school claimed the school “jumped before it was pushed” into sponsorship with ATT. ATT was a young chain, incorporated in November 2011, but claimed to have built up “extensive experience of improving schools” when it was chosen as the preferred sponsor for the Norfolk school. ATT awarded an ICT contract to Gaia Technologies, a firm whose director, Anas Abdulmawla (aka Anas Mawla), is also an ATT director*. Mawla is also director* of Shelfield Community Academy which appears as a Case Study on the Gaia website. There is no implication that trustees have broken rules but the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee recently expressed concern about contracts being awarded to academy trustees.
Barnfield Academies Trust
Barnfield Federation, which includes Barnfield Academies Trust, claimed £1m for non-existent students. The outgoing CEO received a golden handshake under a “compromise agreement”. Sandy Upper School, which Barnfield has been running since September 2013 despite Sandy still being maintained by the local authority, has been left in limbo. Parents complained Barnfield made pupils drop GCSE options. Sandy Upper School is still expecting to become an academy and is working with the DfE who, according to the school, “examines the structure, governance, finance, track record and capacity of all potential sponsors”. Some readers might not agree as the DfE seems incapable of keeping an accurate approved sponsor list, some sponsors seem to have been fast-tracked while others are non-existent.
City of Wolverhampton Academy Trust
The DfE sent a pre-warning warning letter to Wolverhampton Academy Trust over one year ago in November 2012. Ofsted judged its academies, North East Wolverhampton, and South Wolverhampton and Bilston, as Requires Improvement in 2013. The Trust’s website is a holding page.
Djanogly Learning Trust
Ofsted judged Djanogly City Academy to be Inadequate in late 2013. The Academy is consulting to reduce its Pupil Admission Number to reflect the reduced number of applicants. However, the Trust’s primary academy was judged Good in January 2014. Lord Nash sent pre-warning letters to the trust about Djanogly City Academy in November 2013. A letter was also sent to Nottingham University Samworth in February 2014. Ofsted had judged NUS to be Inadequate in November 2013 and a monitoring visit in February judged the sponsor’s statement of action as not being fit for purpose.
Djanogly Learning Trust and Nottingham University are planning to open the Nottingham University Academy of Science and Technology (NUAST) in September 2014 for 14-19 year-olds. The new-build academy is being funded by the DfE so it appears the DfE is happy to finance an academy which is going to be run by two sponsors with a patchy record. Meanwhile, Warwick Mansell, writing in the Guardian, revealed Nottingham University was unaware NUAST’s board had said in recruitment advertisements that it would not recognise unions.
*Information from DueDil
Notes: Pre-warning letters to academy chains can be downloaded here. Ofsted reports are available on Ofsted's website here.