Government ignores Trojan Horse report as recommendations disappear down a rabbit hole

Janet Downs's picture

The appointment of Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorism Branch, to lead an inquiry into the Trojan Horse allegations in Birmingham was controversial. Critics said it was an attempt by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to draw attention away from Government policies which may have contributed to the problem. Instead, it would have diverted the focus towards terrorism. But Clarke’s report did not flinch from criticising the Department of Education and making several recommendations*. One of these was that the DfE should review the ways in which schools are able to convert to academies and in which single academies could become Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). This assessment should include making appropriate checks on MAT individuals and ensuring the MAT’s capability and capacity. There are now nearly 800 MATs. This number will continue to increase. The Education and Adoption Bill currently going through Parliament will make it easier for the DfE to force schools to become academies. At the same time, stand-alone academies are at risk. There are hints that such academies are isolated and inefficient. If stand-alone academies are judged Inadequate they are given little time to improve but are handed to a MAT. Around 40 academies listed in my Freedom of Information response as having moved trusts were stand-alone. It is likely stand-alone academies will rush to scoop up schools and become MATs to avoid being swallowed by an existing academy chain. It is difficult to see how this rapid expansion would allow the Government to check on how competent MATs are. We have already seen with AET and TKAT how speedy growth, egged on by Michael Gove, has led to problems. But academies are being urged to become MATs and MATs are being persuaded to expand. Money is available to do so. Schools Week reveals the DfE paid one-off payments of £100,000 to 144 organisations in 2013/14 to take-over struggling schools. Legislation to be announced next spring will propose that all schools are academies by 2020. This doesn’t sit well with reviewing how ‘schools are able to convert’ and assessing whether MATs are competent. It rather suggests a charge of Light Brigade proportions. Another of Clarke’s recommendation was particularly burning: as a matter of urgency, the DfE should consider how best to collect local concerns during conversion. The imperative to gather local opinion about proposals to convert a school will be crushed. The Education and Adoption Bill removes the right of parents and others to be consulted about academy conversion. There will be no collection of ‘local concerns’. The Government has, however, taken on one of Clarke’s recommendations. Clarke said the ‘brokerage system’ whereby schools are matched with sponsors should be reviewed, again as a matter of urgency. This would ensure more transparency, Clarke claimed. Brokers have been replaced by ‘a pool of educational experts’ chosen via ‘open competition’, a Parliamentary written answer reveals. ‘Notionally’, these experts would be available to be called upon as required by Regional Schools Commissioners to help them with their work. Whether these ‘experts’ will be any different to brokers or the system less opaque is unclear. The use of the word ‘notionally’ doesn’t inspire confidence. Its dictionary definitions include: ‘not real or actual; ideal or imaginary’ and ‘given to or full of foolish or fanciful ideas or moods.’ This aptly describes the Alice in Wonderland world we are increasingly inhabiting. *See faq above Trojan Horse – what action did Peter Clarke recommend for the Department for Education (DfE?) EXTRA: Nearly £14m has been spent on brokers from 2010/11, the Parliamentary Written Answer reveals. UPDATE 5 December 2015. The Government has also ignored Clarke's recommendation that an academy governor should sit on no more than two academy governing bodies. Instead, it says the Governors' Handbook was amended in 2014 to 'now advise that prospective governors should have sufficient capacity to serve as a governor'. It claims this has satisfied Clarke's recommendations in full. It's unclear how not setting a limit on the number of governing bodies academy governors can sit on complies with Clarke's recommendations.

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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 02/12/2015 - 10:27

Thanks, Barry. Nothing new there. RSCs have always had to assess schools wishing to convert and they've always had to be 'formally approved' although there have been cases where this hasn't been particularly robust in the past.

This 'robust processes' relies on 8 Regional School Commissioners and their team of heads. The latter will bring 'local intelligence' to bear. This presumably satisfies Clarke's recommendation that the DfE takes steps to find local concern - this will rely on the opinion of one of the heads. There will be no procedure for local stakeholders to express any concern - they will be silenced.

Regional Schools Commissioners operate over a wide area. The number of heads in each team is about six. RSCs have only a few staff (about 6-7). Their remit is increasing. For example, RSCs will represent schools in post-16 government reviews, and make decisions on tackling underperformance in maintained schools through sponsored academy arrangements.

I'm sceptical that such a small group can fulfil their entire remit effectively. And the 'risk-based' approach could lead to unsuitable individuals slipping through the net.

agov's picture
Thu, 03/12/2015 - 11:18

RSCs will be judged on Key Performance Indicators which include the number of schools which convert

Supposedly under review -

but as they were recruited on that basis, and from what I've seen, are fully paid up members of the academy fan club, it seems unlikely it would make much difference.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/12/2015 - 12:28

Thanks, agov - I'd forgotten the KPIs are under review. The original advert for RSCs (could work part-time, apparently) were:

1 Monitoring the performance of academies.

2 Intervening to secure improvement in underperforming academies.

3 Approving applications to convert to academy status.

4 Monitoring the performance of academy sponsors, and

5 Authorising new sponsors.

So DfE's claim to have acted on Clarke's recommendations about assessing academy sponsors etc contained nothing new except the implication that an RSC's team of heads would supply local intelligence (ie ignore local people who might want to have a say).

The advert also said RSCs must be able to “drive forward the academies and free schools programme with energy, passion and skill”. As I wrote at the time, this means RSCs don't just have to monitor academies but must not rest until all LA schools on their patch have converted, by force if necessary..

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/12/2015 - 08:34

Correction to above - RSCs have not always had to assess schools wishing to convert and sponsors. The DfE used to do this before RSCs were appointed.

The Government proposes to increase RSCs' responsibilities further to include intervening in non-academies deemed 'coasting'. And RSCs will be judged on Key Performance Indicators which include the number of schools which convert. There's a conflict, therefore, between assessing applications and individuals robustly and this KPI which could result in the former not being assessed as rigorously as Clarke recommended. Quantity could trump quality.

The Government's response to this recommendation by Clarke comprised nothing more than what was already happening and claiming 'local concerns' will be identified solely by intelligence gathered by heads in RSC teams.

mistemina's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 10:27

Janet, very apt description 'the Alice in Wonderland world we are increasingly inhabiting'
This is a dangerous combination of ignorance, refusal to acknowledge problems and dogma.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 14:20

Nicky Morgan to Parliament in January:

The government accepted every one of Peter Clarke’s recommendations, and I am today placing a document in the libraries of both Houses outlining the progress that has been made on each one. I am pleased to report that since I last updated the House in July, all of the recommendations have either been implemented or are on track

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 14:27

Barry - thank's for the link. I'd missed that. Perhaps when Morgan speaks of placing Clarke's report in the Commons Library she means she hopes it will gather dust.

Can't see how preventing parents and others from giving views about conversion is implementing Clarke's recommendations in full. Or how encouraging an even faster growth in MATs complies with Clarke's plea for care.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 01/12/2015 - 14:30


29 January 2015

There are robust processes in place to assess applications for academy status and for potential sponsors. Since 2014 RSCs now take decisions on academy convertor applications and with the help of their Head Teacher Boards they can bring to bear local intelligence on capacity and suitability. Organisations wishing to sponsor another school have to be formally approved. This involves an assessment of their capacity to bring about educational improvement and to run an organisation successfully; it also involves due diligence checks on the background of key individuals leading the proposed sponsor organisation. Checks are carried out on individuals who wish to be members or directors of a school converting to become an academy on a risk-based approach.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 05/12/2015 - 11:18

UPDATE: The Government also ignored Clarke's recommendation that there should be a 'presumption' that an academy governor would sit on no more than two academy governing bodies. Instead, it says 'prospective governors should have sufficient capacity to serve as a governor'.

agov's picture
Sat, 05/12/2015 - 13:25

As I understand it the difference between maintained schools and academies in this context is that maintained schools have to have regard to statutory guidance but do not have to follow it whereas academies do not have to have regard to it. The guidance says -

"17. We recognise that there are people who have the skill and the time to serve effectively on a number of governing bodies, and we do not want to restrict their ability to do so. However, where a prospective governor is already a governor of another school, the chair of governors should speak to the chair of the other governing body to discuss both the skills of the individual and, where appropriate, their capacity to serve effectively on an additional governing body. It is likely that only in exceptional circumstances will it be practical and beneficial for an individual to serve on more than two governing bodies – but this is rightly a matter for the appointing body to decide."

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