Fears that DfE is massaging academy transfer costs raised by mismatches in data: one is for £6m

Janet Downs's picture

In May last year, 82 academy trusts responded to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to reveal  amounts received in transfer fees (aka rebrokerage) when they took over another academy.

These ranged from £0 to £6,450,000 to Attwood Academies when it accepted Bexhill High Academy.

The FoI data received might not have been accurate. It wasn’t always clear whether amounts given were rebrokerage or not.  For example, Lydiate Learning Trust said it received £75k when Deyes High School became lead academy in Lydiate Learning Trust but nothing in rebrokerage when it took over Childwall Sports and Science Academy.  The Department for Education (DfE) says in its Academy Trust Transfer and Grant Funding spreadsheet (downloadable here) that Lydiate received £80k for taking over Childwall.  

Bright Futures Educational Trust told me it received £0 for taking over Wigan UTC but had received £600k for replication of the previous post operating grant.  The DfE says Bright Futures received £0.

Whether classed by the DfE as rebrokerage or not, money changed hands on transferAnd these amounts - what academy trusts said they received and what the DfE says it paid - don’t always match.

Take Bexhill High.  The DfE says it paid Attwood Academies £426k over three years.    That’s a £6m shortfall on what Attwood Academies said it received.  Attwood Academies told me the £6m was for rectifying building defects.  Capital costs are now excluded from transfer figures but Bexhill High shows how omitting these from published data can reduce the transfer cost considerably.

£2m was the amount Ambitions Academies Trust (AAT) told me it received for refitting St Aldhelm’s Academy.  This, it said, had been identified pre-rebrokerage.  £140k was paid to AAT for a start-up grant when St Aldhelm’s was transferred.  DfE data confirms the £140k and also records a further £150k paid to AAT in the next financial year.  But it’s still short of the full amount AAT says it received.

Several academy trusts said they received money on transfer but the DfE lists these as £0.  They include:

  • Charles Darwin Academy Trust: £75k for taking over Biggin Hill Primary School
  • Isle Education Trust: £40k for Epworth Primary School
  • Matrix Academy Trust: £57,900 for Etone College

Other mismatched amounts include:

  • The Athelstan Trust told me it received £75k for taking over The Dean Academy.  The DfE says £25k.
  • Creative Education Academies Trust said it received £24k for two rebrokered academies.  The DfE says it paid more than this: £62k.
  • Unity City Academy, transferred to AET in January 2012 after being without a sponsor since 2009, is missing from the data.  AET told me it received £0 but this can’t be confirmed.
  • Two other academies transferred in 2012 are also missing: Havant Academy which moved to TKAT and North Shore Academy taken over by Northern Education Trust.  These told me they had been paid £144k and £25k respectively.  Again, it can’t be checked.

The DfE has excluded deficit payments from transfer data.  These, like building costs, can be considerable.  For example, The Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) told me it received £802k to cover losses from The Bishop of Rochester Academy (now The Victory Academy).  £474k of this is repayable over three years starting 2017/18.   The Trust told me it also received £150k deficit funding as part of a three year plan to support restructuring at Chatham Grammar School for Boys (now Holcombe Grammar School).  TSAT told me it received a total £1,250,000 in rebrokerage fees but the DfE says TSAT only received £271,700 for Chatham and £26k for Rochester.  A rather large discrepancy, surely?

The DfE will be excluding costs for statutory redundancies in rebrokerage grant funding in the financial year 2016/17.  But redundancies, too, add to the cost of transferring academiesAbbey Multi Academy Trust, Leeds, (not to be confused with Abbey Academy Trust, Bourne) told me it received £75,704 for reimbursement for statutory redundancies in a total package of £190,704 (£115k of which was a recoverable loan) when it took over Lightcliffe Academy.  The DfE admitted it paid £101k to Abbey MAT over two financial years but this is still short of the amount which Abbey MAT said had been brokered.

The DfE told Schools Week:   

 “Some costs weren’t included in the data because they do not relate directly to the transfer of an academy. These costs would have applied even if the academy didn’t transfer so it would not have been appropriate to include them in the data.”

I am not convinced.  Would refitting of St Aldhelm’s and Bexhill High have happened if they’d not been transferred?  Would the pre-opening grant for Wigan UTC have been replicated if it had remained with its original sponsor?  Would the deficit at The Bishop of Rochester Academy have been reduced and the balance allowed to be repaid by instalments if it had remained where it was?

The DfE itself seems confused about what to include in transfer figures.  It says legal costs are paid.  Yet a large proportion of transferred academies received £0 according to the DfE’s own figures.  So did academy trusts receive legal fees or not?  Inspirational Futures Trust told me it had received nothing from the DfE and had had to pay half of the legal fees despite receiving no rebrokerage.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, told Schools Week:

It speaks to an embattled, defensive DfE, who know that spending is out of control on academy conversion costs and know that they don’t have the ability to gather the information accurately; either that or the figures are so excessive that they don’t want people to know.

Omissions, exceptions, discrepancies in data, revelations that there were attempts to hide transfer figures in a larger dataset – these don’t show transparency about the cost of academy transfers.  Rebrokerage fees will balloon as more academies swell the transfer market.  And it’s taxpayers who pick up the tab.  

This is a companion piece to my earlier article which found discrepancies between transfer data given to me by the DfE in January 2016 and the figures recently published.  

BELATED CORRECTION 8 December 2017.  The original article said, 'The DfE says Bright Futures received £108,500 when Bright Futures took over Wigan UTC.'  This was wrong.   It was Northern Schools Trust which received £108,500 when it took over Wigan UTC from Bright Futures in February 2017.  According to the DfE, Bright Futures received £0 when it took over Wigan UTC but, as I said in the original article, Bright Futures told me it received £600k for replication of the previous post operating grant.  Wigan UTC has now been rebrokered twice as Schools Week reports.

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 22/09/2017 - 19:52

This needs referring to the Information Commissioner. If you ask for information , what you get has to be correct and consistent with other information. In my experience the Office of the Information Commissioner does investigate - eventually.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 23/09/2017 - 08:03

I think it's more a case for the National Audit Office to investigate.  Failing that, the Public Accounts Committee could look into academy transfer fees.

Jane Eades's picture
Thu, 09/11/2017 - 11:51

And the DfE apparently don't know the amount of debts written off in the rebrokering process. It also doesn't tell us who loses out as a result of the debts being written off. https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2017-11-02.111075.h&s=education...

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 09/11/2017 - 13:35

Thanks Janee.  I note the DfE says it can't say in a timely fashion how much any prior overpayment to academies or free schools is written off when they close.  The DfE says it will publish the data 'as soon as it is available'.  That's putting it off, possibly indefinately. 

The DfE has already said that deficit writing-off isn't included in published rebrokering costs and will not be in the future.  These can be considerable and, if omitted, will reduce the actual cost of academy transfers.

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