Academy trusts wanting cash to grow ‘rejected’ by DfE

Academy trusts wanting cash to grow 'rejected' by DfE

Cash handouts to help academy trusts expand are not reaching all the chains that want them, says a senior government official.

Applications for the latest round of sponsor capacity funding – government cash available for trusts that want to take over new schools – closed in July.

But a senior government official told the MAT Summit in London last week the government had “cheesed-off” scores of academy leaders after rejecting most applications in the east of England and north east London.

“In our region recently, we had seven times as many people apply for the limited budget we had in terms of sponsor capacity funding, so we cheesed-off six out of seven people,” he said.

The disclosure comes at a time when the government is trying to encourage existing schools and trusts to take on more academies.

The official added: “We are hoping that shortly ministers will agree further growth for some priority areas in terms of sponsor capacity funding, but we’ll have to see when that comes out.”

Trusts can bid for between £50,000 and £100,000 each year from a government pot to encourage chains to take on struggling schools.

Successful bidders can use the funding to set up or expand organisational structures, pay legal costs, fund IT infrastructure, develop leadership teams, employ staff and bring in education experts.

We cheesed-off six out of seven people

In 2013-14, trusts received £7.2 million.

At the Westminster Education Forum on Wednesday, schools commissioner David Carter said the latest round of funding applications were now waiting for a decision from education secretary Justine Greening.

“But we know unless we use those grants as we have in the past, we won’t be able to provide the support leaders need. It’s a major commitment to make sure it’s there.”

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said members were worried about funding for expansion, and called on the Treasury to make more available.

Trobe told Schools Week: “There is a significant demand for people to sponsor schools and to do that, trusts need to grow and develop their infrastructure.

“It’s a bit of a nonsense when they’re asking for more and more sponsors to take on academies and there isn’t the funding there to pick up the costs.

“If it is government policy for more academy trusts to develop, then money should be provided by the Treasury, and not top-sliced from the general education budget.”

Schools Week revealed in November last year that at least 17 of the 144 organisations handed capacity funding in 2013-14 had yet to take over a school.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it aimed to recoup any unspent funds. But in March only seven of those trusts had actually handed back any of the grant.

A DfE spokesperson said more than 500 sponsor capacity applications have been approved since they were introduced.

“The sponsor capacity fund is delivering the department’s commitment to support the growth and development of new and existing sponsors and academy trusts.”