92 schools are waiting for a sponsor, and 4 other things we learned at education questions

MPs spent over an hour grilling the education secretary and his ministers in Parliament this afternoon.

Damian Hinds answered questions alongside the schools minister Nick Gibb, the children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi, and others.

Here’s what we learned.

1. 92 struggling schools are waiting for a sponsor…

Asked for an update on the government’s academisation plan, Gibb said there are now more than 2,000 open, sponsored academies.

A further 92 schools are currently subject to an academy order and are “in process of being matched with a sponsor”.

Last December, Ofsted’s annual report revealed that more than 60 schools branded ‘inadequate’ had still not been taken over.

2. …but academies are ‘working’

Heidi Alexander, the MP for Lewisham East, raised the particular problems in finding a sponsor faced by Sedgehill School in her constituency.

But Gibb denied there were problems with the academies system as a whole.

“We have 7,000 academies now, most of which are converter-academies, which themselves are becoming sponsors across the system,” he said. “The academies programme is working and is raising standards across the system.”

3. Hinds ‘should have been more precise’ on funding

The education secretary was pilloried for comments he made at the last education questions, when he claimed that schools were seeing a “real-terms” increase in funding.

Hinds was slapped on the wrist last week over the claim, which is incorrect. In fact, schools are only seeing their funding increase in cash terms, which does not take into account cost rises.

“Across the system per-pupil real terms funding is being maintained,” Hinds told MPs today, but admitted he “could and should have been more precise” when he spoke about the matter in January.

4. More details on RSE reforms will be published ‘shortly’

The government will publish responses to its recent “call for evidence” on relationships and sex education reforms “shortly”, Gibb said.

Teachers and others were asked for their views when the consultation was launched in December.

Parliament voted last year to make relationships education compulsory for all children from the age of four, and sex education compulsory for all children aged 11 and over.

5. SEND pupils without an EHCP will still be supported

Although the government is “aiming” to have all pupils with special educational needs and disabilities transferred to an education and health care plan by April, those who don’t by the deadline will still be supported.

Nadhim Zahawi, the children’s minister, insisted that most councils are on target, but those who don’t have a plan by the deadline “will have support maintained”.

Last month, the local government ombudsman warned that pupils are waiting up to 90 weeks to be transferred from the old statements system to the new EHCPs.

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  1. “Gibb said there are now more than 2,000 open, sponsored academies.”

    Can anyone explain to me what a “sponsored academy” is? It sounds like someone is putting money in and sponsoring a school but I believe all academies are funded by the taxpayer, and if anything the “sponsors” take money out by way of huge salaries, not to mention related party transactions.

    Does any “sponsor” actually put money INTO their academy? Can anyone name a sponsor that does this? Genuine question.

    Is the term “sponsor” intended to mislead?

    • Been trying to think of an analogy for this “sponsorship” idea.

      Let’s say I own my own house but it needs a lick of paint. Because of this requirement I am designated to be in need of a “sponsor”. The government finds a “sponsor” and gives my house to the “sponsor”. I no longer own the house. The “sponsor” can now kick me out of my house and gets money from the government to do the repainting work. The “sponsor” now gets a large management fee for being landlord and owner of the house. Is that how it works?

      • Mark Watson

        Let’s say the you do own your own house, but instead of needing a lick of paint it needs new foundations, new windows, new flooring and a new roof. The reason it needs all these things is that you’ve been a terrible property owner and have allowed the house to go to rack and ruin because you don’t know what you’re doing.
        As it turns out, the house needs to be used by a local children’s centre, but you’ve let the building get into such a state with its leaking roof and broken windows that it’s barely usable.
        Although it’s your house, you’ve been receiving public money all these years, and you should have been using it to keep the building repaired. But you haven’t.
        Sponsorship is when the DfE looks at your house and says it’s going to need £1 million to fix up so it can be used as a children’s centre. They then look at you and think there’s no way on earth they’ve giving that money to you because you’re the one that’s got the house into the mess it’s in now. So they bring in someone they think has a better chance of running the property properly, and give them the money to fix it up.
        And of course don’t forget you never paid anything for the house in the first place.

    • Assembly Tube – sponsored academies were Labour’s idea. They invited donors to pledge money to state-funded schools ‘independent’ of local authorities. The NAO found in 2010 there was a potential conflict of interest between sponsors and their academies with many academies reporting they were under pressure to buy services from their sponsors. The NAO also found many donors hadn’t honoured their pledges. At the same time, academy sponsorship was linked with the ‘cash for honours’ scandal.
      When the Coalition came to power it removed the need for sponsors to pledge money while also allowing existing good or better schools to convert to academy status. Most of those which did so were attracted by the perception they would receive extra money. However, the ‘extra’ money was supposed to buy the services previously provided by LAs. The other carrot was the promise of ‘freedom’ but, as we’ve seen, academies in multi-academy trusts, whether sponsored or converter, can have less autonomy that non-academies.

    • Mark Watson

      Just another point, most ‘sponsors’ these days are other schools. No private sector body or individual involved in any way.
      Appreciate this doesn’t fit into your narrative of greedy fat-cats lining their pockets so please feel free to ignore.

      • Mark, you’re right that most ‘sponsors’ are other academies, but the large academy trusts aren’t. The figures are as follows:
        742 are academy converters. Many of these are very small (sometimes only having one academy).
        21 are from the business sector (Dixons is listed here)
        85 are from the charitable sector (this is where the largest trusts are likely to be found eg ARK, E-Act, AET, Harris, Ormiston, TKAT, United Learning)
        81 are diocese/Archdiocese
        27 are Education Businesses eg troubled Bright Tribe
        59 are from the FE sector
        9 are free schools
        3 are government organisations
        7 are independent schools
        1 local authority (not exactly an LA – the sponsor is ALLRoads, Derbyshire’s road contracting arm and the trust is not Derbyshire but Shirebrook academy)
        15 other
        31 Prospective academy converters
        1 PRU
        2 special schools
        15 universities

        The DfE list is not entirely accurate eg CHAT is missing and Perry Beeches is still listed despite being in the process of winding up after the dodgy dealings of its principal, Liam Nolan. A small number of sponsors (eg ALLRoads) are not trusts and not all listed sponsors have academies (eg Zail, which has changed its name twice since being listed and is now Wey Ecademy).

        Wey Ecademy’s parent company, Wey Education PLC, was involved in a court case with former Ofsted chair Zenna Atkins who joined Wey after a few weeks with GEM. Atkins explained to the judge how it was possible to make a profit from running academies while still remaining within DfE rules. You’ll have to search ‘How to profit from running an academy under DfE radar’ as I can’t provide a second link. Alternatively, go to LSN and search for Wey.

        • Mark Watson

          Thanks for the detailed breakdown, which does indeed show that the overwhelming majority of academy sponsors are not-for-profit (in the sense that money does not flow into individuals’ pockets).
          I would take issue with anyone who thinks the Wey/Atkins model is a way for money to be easily and secretly extracted from academies as profit for the private sector. The simple facts are that the Board of Trustees of the MAT (as company directors and charitable trustees) have a legal obligation to declare any conflict of interest in a potential transaction, and this is NOT limited to the single entity the MAT will be contracting with. If a Trustee has an interest in a company that supplies that entity, or at any level in the supply chain, they would be under a legal duty to declare that conflict and withdraw from any vote.

          • Janet Downs

            Mark – the majority of academy trusts are not out to siphon taxpayers’ money into the trustees’ pockets. But the ability to give contracts to organisations connected to trustees exists. Yes, they should go through proper procurement. Yes, they should be declared and Yes, they should be ‘at cost’. But the NAO said defining ‘cost’ could be difficult to evidence especially for services. And Margaret Hodge, former PAC chair who wanted related party transactions banned in academies, said the supplier could just increase the ‘cost’.
            The difficulty particularly arises when businesses run academy trusts. It’s highly likely this business will sell its services to their academies. It’s right what Sam Friedman, ex-Gove adviser, said 10 years ago – when businesses supplying education services get involved in running schools, it’s not altruism but an investment.

          • Mark Watson

            I’ve said before that I am absolutely against banning all related party transactions, as I think they can be excellent value for money.
            However, what I would agree with is introducing a rule that where an individual or a company ‘controls’ an academy trust, i.e. they appoint the majority of the Members/Trustees, then the academy trust should not be able to contract with that individual/company unless it is approved by an external independent body which, if it approved the arrangement, would have to publish the reasons why it represented better value than could be obtained from another unconnected party.

  2. ‘Thee academies programme is working and is raising standards across the system’. More waffle from Nick Gibb. There is no evidence that academization has raised standards overall. It’s not possible to compare primary test results over time because they’ve been changed. And measuring success by the number taking EBacc is misleading. If schools know they’re being judged on this measure then of course they’re going to enter more pupils. The downside is the decline in creative subjects. Hardly a measure of success.
    If rising standards is measured by Ofsted results then, yes, the proportion of good or better schools has risen. But the greatest improvement is in the primary sector where academies are in the minority.