DfE fails to clawback cash from academy chains with zero schools

DfE fails to clawback cash from academy chains with zero schools

Only a handful of the academy trusts paid at least £850,000 to take over new schools paid back any of the cash, despite not opening a single school, Schools Week has found

The Department for Education (DfE) hands out one-off payments of up to £100,000 under the Sponsor Capacity Funds grants to help organisations establish academy trusts to take over struggling schools.

Schools Week found in November that 17 organisations had received the grant in 2013/14 but were yet to take over any schools.

The DfE said any spending of the grant is approved by officials and it aims to recoup any unspent funds.

But a Freedom of Information (FOI) request shows only seven organisations handed back any of the grant in the last three years. The money recouped totalled £457,536.

The disclosure supports our story last year that found many organisations awarded the cash spent their money and time trying to takeover struggling schools, but were hit by various hurdles.

For instance, the National Youth Agency – which was given £79,225 – had three bids to take over pupil referral units turned down. It was not listed in the trusts that handed back cash.

Five organisations handed back part or all of their grant in the 2015/16 financial year. One of those, the North East Schools Trust (Nest), featured in our story in November. The organisation was given £84,425 to takeover a school, but government figures show £72,681 was paid back.

One of Nest’s founders was Sarah Monk, a director of school improvement provider at Avec Partnership. She did not respond to a request for comment over the new figures.

But she previously told Schools Week the organisation withdrew from being a sponsor because it conflicted with the work of Avec, which supports other schools becoming sponsors.

Janet Downs, a campaigner for locally maintained schools, said the process was “careless if the DfE awarded the money before it had decided whether the trusts were suitable sponsors”.

The DfE said grant recipients were assessed as having potential to be great sponsors, but the main factor was finding a sponsor right for a specific school.

A spokesperson added: “Sponsored capacity funds support sponsors to build their capacity to take on and turn around failing schools so that they are ready to do so when the need arises. The vast majority of sponsors who have received the fund now sponsor schools.”