In thirteen months from 1 September 2013 to 31 October 2014, a total of 23 academies changed hands. But the latest data, obtained via Freedom of Information, shows 120 academies transferred from one academy trust to another in just eight months up to 31 December 2016.
The process of moving academies between trusts is known as ‘rebrokerage’. This procedure involves negotiating with another trust to bring about a successful transfer. And rebrokerage includes deciding what transfer fees, if any, the new trust will receive.
The Department for Education (DfE) was forced by a court ruling to reveal the total £3m in rebrokerage fees for the 23 academies above. But it’s refused to publish the cost of transfer fees since then on the grounds that it intends to publish. That means it can postpone publication indefinitely.
Rebrokerage fees aren’t the only concern, however. The ballooning in the number of academies changing hands raises other worries:
1 A multi-academy trust (MAT) can decide to drop academies. Reasons cited include geographical isolation (eg AET) which raises the question why the MAT took on, or was allowed to take on, the ‘isolated’ academies in the first place.
2 A MAT can decide an academy is unviable (eg WGAT).
4 A MAT may drop (or be forced to drop) academies judged Inadequate (eg CfBT: Ely College transferred to CMAT, Sir John Gleed, Spalding, twice Inadequate when with CfBT, transferred to SLAT).
5 Stand-alone academies, especially small ones, can decide (or be persuaded) to join MATs. This means they lose their separate legal identity.
6 MATs allowed to grow quickly (eg E-Act, CfBT, SPTA, AET) drop some of their academies.
In each case, the local Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) must find a MAT willing to take over academies. This is leading to the emergence of ‘toxic’ academies – RSCs can’t find a MAT willing to take over because doing so could damage their brand (eg Baverstock Academy). This also applies to non-academies seeking a sponsor. Hanson School has been in this position for six years – a whole cohort of pupils has been in limbo throughout their secondary education. And issues arising from the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) can also render schools toxic.
When schools become toxic, pupils suffer. The local authority can’t take over toxic academies. If no sponsor can be found, then the academy must close. The LA has to pick up the pieces by finding pupils places in other schools. This can be difficult, if not impossible, in the secondary phase. Most secondary schools are academies and LAs can’t direct academies to take on pupils.
Rebrokering costs the taxpayer, causes instability while academies are in limbo, risks the emergence of toxic academies and triggers problems for LAs who have no legal right to intervene or take over academies themselves.
And the number of academy transfers continues to balloon. No wonder the Government wants this kept quiet.