The Information Commissioner’s Office has supported the Department for Education’s decision not to disclose how much it cost for 23 academies to change hands
. The ICO agreed there was a ‘real and significant risk that disclosure would be detrimental to the effective management of the academies system and the DfE’s ability to re-broker failing academies’.
The DfE argued disclosure would undermine its ability to recruit sponsors because the academies in question would ‘often be in the most challenging of circumstances’.
The case for disclosure was strong, said the ICO, but the DfE needed to be able to ‘negotiate effectively’ when brokering academy sponsorship. This was particularly true when previous sponsors had not been successful in driving improvements. Disclosure would ‘have a damaging effect on improvements in underperforming academies and the quality of education provided to pupils’, the ICO said.
But were the 23 academies in ‘very challenging circumstances’? The answer is No. Only nine were judged Inadequate before moving sponsors, ten Required Improvement, three were Good and one was Outstanding. The Outstanding academy, Sidney Stringer Academy, set up its own trust after its sponsor, City College Coventry, was judged Inadequate. The academy now sponsors itself and two other schools previously sponsored by City College.
Eight of the academies were previously run by E-Act which was paused
from taking on more academies after Ofsted found the ‘overwhelming proportion of pupils’ weren’t receiving a good education. But two E-Act academies which changed hands were not among this group – Aldborough E-Act Free School and Leeds West Academy had been judged Good. Persuading a sponsor to take over these two couldn’t have been particularly difficult, surely?
Two of the academies weren’t sponsored academies but were converters in multi-academy trusts (MATs). One, Charles Read Academy, needed to find a new MAT when West Grantham Academies Trust planned to close it. The other, Stamford Queen Eleanor, joined CMAT after CfBT decided to ‘allow’ it to transfer to another MAT claiming the academy was ‘geographically isolated
’. But two nearby Lincolnshire secondary schools, The Deepings School and Sir John Gleed in Spalding, are still under the CfBT umbrella.
It’s not altogether clear that all 23 transfers needed delicate negotiations.
have now changed sponsors. This number is set to increase as academy trusts go into liquidation like Prospects has done, academy trusts are paused or sent warning letters and converter academies in MATs are transferred to other MATs. And there’s the looming threat that stand-alone academies judged to be ‘failing’, ‘underperforming’ or ‘coasting’ will be forced to join MATs and lose their alleged autonomy.
The DfE told the ICO there were ‘no set costs or payments’ made when ‘rebrokering’ takes place. These were decided on a ‘case by case basis’ and only provided when there was evidence that such funding was needed ‘according to the context of the school’. This included considering whether funding could be found from an academy’s existing budget. But if an academy spends part of its budget funding transfers, then this is money which could have been spent on educating children.
Whether the money comes from the DfE or from an academy’s budget, it is still taxpayers’ money. And taxpayers have a right to know how much transfers cost. The previous Government pushed academy conversion. The present Government continues to do so against mounting evidence that it isn’t always the best way of improving schools. But it is the most expensive.
The ICO will publish its determination on its website shortly. I shall provide a link when it eventually appears.
21 June 07.40. The original article said '6% of sponsored academies have, therefore, already changed hands'. This was misleading as the 6% could have included converter academies transferring between MATs and free schools. Nick Gibb said, 'We have in fact changed the sponsors for 69 academies'. This implies he was talking about sponsored academies. It would be unreliable, however, to take his statement at face value so the sentence containing the 6% figure has been removed. I shall send a Freedom of Information request to the DfE to disclose the names of the 46 academies which changed hands after the 23 listed in my first FoI response
The sentence giving the number of sponsored academies (1112) in August 2014 has also been removed.
21 June 07.59. My FoI request
is on its way.