For-profit free school’s £307k bailout

For-profit free school's £307k bailout

The education business behind England’s first for-profit free school has gone into the black for the first time, but only because of £307,000 pumped in by the Swedish company that controls it.

IES International English Schools UK Limited has a ten-year contract to run IES Breckland school in Brandon, Suffolk. It is the only free school judged “inadequate” by Ofsted that has not closed or moved to a different academy trust.

The company declared a £36,000 profit in its accounts for the financial year ending in June, 2014, published last week at Companies House. It made a loss in the previous year of £67,574.

An Ofsted monitoring report in November – its second since the school became subject to special measures in January 2014 – said the school was making “reasonable progress”.

IES UK is a subsidiary of IES UK Schools LLP – a private company controlled by IES Sweden. The ultimate parent company of IES Sweden is TA Associates, a private equity firm registered in the United States.

IES International English Schools UK Limited has a ten-year contract to run IES Breckland school in Brandon, Suffolk. It is the only free school judged “inadequate” by Ofsted that has not closed or moved to a different academy trust.

“It would have been trading at quite a large loss if we hadn’t sent the money over. We are committed to turning that school around. A lot of staff time in IES Sweden has been involved. When the Ofsted inspection took place we put in our interim management.”

Since being put into special measures, IES UK has spent more than £83,000 on improving teaching and learning, including buying services from the local education authority, and taking on an independent teaching coach, a maths intervention specialist and a recruitment advertiser.

The spokesman added that IES UK had also shared the cost of an interim principal’s salary with IES Sweden. The current principal, Alison Tilbrook, was appointed in January 2014.

Ofsted noted these measures in its most recent monitoring visit, stating that school leaders had “made good use of external advisers, including those from Suffolk Local Authority, to evaluate their progress and provide support and guidance”.

The report added: “IES is co-ordinating a coaching initiative with the school, primarily through the appointment of a teaching and learning coach, supported by visiting high-quality English teachers from IES Sweden.”

However Ofsted also said it was too early to see the impact of the interventions and that the school has also worked with “a variety of independent consultants and advisers to make use of their expertise”.

Sabres Educational Trust, the parent-led charitable company with ultimate responsibility for the secondary school, holds a ten-year contract with the for-profit group IES.

The accounts show that while Sabres has 27 trustees who meet formally four times a year, only 13 trustees are listed as having attended meetings.

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Concerns were also raised by Martin Campbell (pictured), a spokesperson for the Suffolk Coalition Opposing Free Schools. He said it was hard to reconcile the Sabres and IES UK accounts because their accounting year-ends do not match, meaning it was “difficult to answer the simple question of how much does Sabres pay IES and what it gets for the money”.

He continued: “IES Breckland is only just making adequate progress within the special measures regime. IES might be capable in Sweden, but with no presence in the UK and weak leadership in Breckland it has failed to run the school. If a similar report had been published on a maintained school it would have been handed over to a new sponsor quicker than you can say ‘academy broker’.”

Sabres has said that they are happy working with IES and “have full confidence that IES is the right partner to help ensure teaching and learning continue to improve”.