It’s only to be expected – as the number of academies grows so will the number changing hands. But it should be remembered that these changes are likely to cost money as well as cause disruption for the academies concerned. A new academy trust in charge often imposes a corresponding new ‘brand’ complete with a new mission statement, new uniform, portentous motto. In short, all the panoply of marketing PR.
Why, then, are academies moving from one academy trust to another? One thing is clear – it’s not because they were all underperforming as schools minister Nick Gibb implied in June when he said 69 academies had changed sponsors (see here).
The number of academies moving trusts now stands at 104. John Winstanley of Watchsted has crunched the data given in the response to my Freedom of Information request. He found, for example, EAct lost ten after the Department for Education ruled it must lose some of its academies. Prospects Academies Trust lost six after Prospects folded. The White Horse Federation and Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) took on four academies each. WCAT has since taken over the Hanson School which has been in conversion limbo for four years.
Some patterns are emerging from my preliminary analysis of these academies. One in particular is the large number of stand-alone academies which have joined multi-academy trusts (MATs).
Some are academies which have been downgraded to Inadequate post-conversion. But this wasn’t true of others. Cromer Academy, for example, judged Good both pre- and post- conversion, joined Inspiration Trust in September 2013. Governors voted to join Inspiration in May 2013 saying it would struggle to attract resources if it remained independent. Mount Hawke Academy, judged Outstanding in June 2013, joined Aspire Academy Trust (formerly TCAT) the following September. A TCAT spokesperson said the MAT would be able to ‘develop its own services, such as finance, school meals, executive services and cleaning.’ Invenio Academy (now Outwood Academy Foxhills) joined Outwood Grange Trust in September 2014. The head complained of lack of support for stand-alone academies. Luddendenfoot Academy told parents the reason it wanted to join Brighter Futures was because ‘The small, single academy model is not cost efficient.’
These schools should have perhaps anticipated such problems before converting. Once keen to cast themselves adrift from their local authority, they then find they couldn’t achieve economies of scale or count on external support. At the same time, stand-alone academies are being encouraged to join MATs where they may find, as so many heads in chains are finding, they have less control than they had when they were under LA stewardship. The Academies Commission wrote, ‘Being part of an academy chain often involves a significant weakening of individual school autonomy.’ (Page 99 sidebar).
The Education and Adoption Bill will make it easier to change schools, by force if necessary, into academies. But as we’ve seen above, conversion comes with risks and playing musical chairs with academies costs money and has the potential to disrupt pupils’ education.