Moving an academy from one academy trust to another can costs taxpayers’ money. These can range from £0 to over £6m in one extreme case. My rough estimate was that the average academy transfer cost was £75k. This was based on figures for 23 academies released by the Department for Education (DfE) and Freedom of Information requests to multi-academy trusts (MATs) involved in transfers of 74 academies.
The £75k figure did not include the extreme £6m because it would have distorted the average. Nor did I include the costs of one ARK academy which ARK claimed was not a transfer but a new school established on the site of a closed academy. This was despite the DfE claiming it was indeed a transfer. And I was relying on what the MATs considered was rebrokerage (the process of moving an academy from one trust to another). Doubts arise over whether start-up grants, if any, or a legal fee payment of £25k were included in rebrokerage figures. My estimate, therefore, is not accurate and should be used with caution.
As the number of academies changing hands grows, and will continue to grow in the future, it is important taxpayers know how much these transfers cost. This is especially true as the Education White Paper moves through Parliament. This paves the way for the ultimate academy conversion of all schools in England despite the much-trumpeted U-turn. As the number of academies grow, so will the number of transfers.
It’s essential, then, that the DfE publishes the figures. It has said it intends to publish the data eventually. However, it says ‘there is no current agreed publication date’. In other words, the DfE has said it will publish the figures – but not quite yet.
This is unacceptable. At the end of December 2015, after a battle lasting nearly a year, a Tribunal forced the DfE to publish the transfer costs of 23 academies which changed hands between September 2013 and October 2014. The Tribunal said there was a public interest in disclosing academy transfer costs. But the DfE is prevaricating on publishing the costs of 100+ other transfers.
The new education secretary Justine Greening should authorise the publication of the data immediately. She should also put in place a system whereby academy transfer costs are published regularly – perhaps on a quarterly basis. Decisive action to speed up publication would go a long way to placate suspicions that the DfE is dragging its feet to avoid taxpayers knowing how much public money is sent to MATs taking over existing academies.