How 'open' was the open competition for education advisers appointed to help Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) in their work? I asked that question yesterday when I wrote about shadowy inspectors entering schools after governors at Oasis Academy Wintringham said a visit from one of these had been a terrible experience. Six of the seven strong governing 'council' later resigned and the head, Dr Chris Rolph, also left the academy.
Barry Wise, who regularly posts comments on this site, provided an answer. He found an advert for up to twenty Education Advisers for Academies and Free Schools. The deadline was 3 February 2014 and the contract was to last 13 months. It's likely the advisor who visited Oasis Academy Wintringham was employed on this contract.
Barry’s lead led me to the 'Contracts Finder Archive'. I searched for Education Adviser and found several contracts advertised but they were for checking vocational qualifications. However, I found an advert for Education Specialists. These are 'contractors to support the Academies and Free Schools Programme and help deliver the Department’s aim to ensure high educational standards in academies and free schools and to secure sponsorship arrangements for maintained schools moving to academy status'. The advert was dated 2 August 2015, deadline 21 September 2015, start date 02 November 2015 and end date 31 October 2017. The value of the contract was £12 million.
The Information to Tender letter (downloadable at the foot of the advert) gives the purpose of the expected work. It includes visiting and/or speaking to academies and their trusts where RSCs have concerns about performance, assess the academy’s capacity to improve and make recommendations to RSCs. This appears to sidetrack both Ofsted and local authority school improvement services which are still held ultimately responsible for area results even when a large number of schools are academies.
These specialists are also required to secure ‘suitable sponsor solutions for relevant maintained schools’. This sounds very like the work done by academy brokers. Academy brokers gained a reputation for bullying and coercion. They were described in a March 2013 House of Commons debate into enforced academy conversion as using tactics from the 'Vito Corleone textbook'.
A Parliamentary Written Answer dated 19 November 2015 said the Department for Education no longer had 'dedicated academy brokers' but it appears the responsibility for brokerage has been shifted to these education specialists. But if these specialists use the same tactics employed by some brokers or leave governors and school leaders feeling they've been through a terrible experience, then questions will need answering about their authority, responsibilities and remit. I'd like to thank Barry for his help.
NOTE: This post was originally an update to yesterday's article. The update has now been removed as it warranted a separate post.