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Academies swap trusts in emerging transfer market



Academies are switching sponsors at an increasing rate – with at least 54 schools changing hands since 2012, Schools Week can reveal.

Figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request reveal that 26 individual academies changed sponsor last year, compared to just three in 2012. And in the first four months of this year, 21 schools transferred ownership, with 11 switching on April 1 – the last day possible before the general election.

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Some observers are concerned, however, about the disruption and uncertainty that so many changes could cause to pupils, staff and parents.

Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of policy for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers suggested these switches could negate government promises of putting ownership into the hands of parents and committees.

She added: “There is also a lack of transparency in the academy process that will be made worse by increasing changes of sponsorship – particularly if those changes are negotiated privately between sponsors and government.”

Academies have moved between sponsors for a variety of reasons, such as underperformance, geographical isolation and partnership consolidation. Moves have required some schools to change names, bring in new head teachers, new uniforms or a change in curriculum.

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Academy trust E-Act has released the highest number of schools, giving up 10 in the last year. The Department for Education had urged handovers in February last year amidst criticisms that several of E-Act’s schools were underperforming.

The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) – the largest academy chain in the country – also relinquished control of eight schools, as reported by Schools Week in April. The trust was barred from taking over any more schools, following suggestions it had been expanding too fast.

Of the schools handed off from AET, three were taken on by Leigh Academies Trust, where Frank Green, the government’s schools commissioner in charge of the entire academy project, is a director. He was also chief executive of the trust before resigning in February last year.

Two Coventry primary schools, Ernesford Grange Community Academy and Radford Primary Academy, also changed their sponsor just eight months after converting. Sidney Stringer Academy, an Ofsted-rated outstanding secondary school and sixth form in Coventry, took both schools on in January last year.

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The total cost of changing sponsors is also unknown. Previous attempts by a campaigner to discover this information, using freedom of information laws, were rebuffed due to “commercial sensitivity”.

At present, individual academies cannot simply leave a trust. Only the trust itself can choose to “release” a school. The disparity was raised by the education select committee’s report into academies, which recommended a rule change so that good and outstanding schools could leave by choice.

New government legislation means schools requiring improvement could be forced to find an academy sponsor.

Robert Hill, a former government education policy advisor and visiting senior research fellow at King’s College London, told Schools Week there was a risk of more change if large numbers of struggling schools were suddenly made into academies.

However he noted there are many more approved sponsors today – about 700 in total – who were available to work with the schools. “But Regional Schools Commissioners will still need to beware of, as it were, overloading strong academy trusts and giving them a school improvement workload they will struggle to meet,” he said.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Academy sponsors are key to making sure every child has a chance to go to a good or outstanding local school. We have been clear that we will act decisively where schools are underperforming.

“We work closely with schools throughout the conversion process to ensure that any disruption to pupils’ education is kept to an absolute minimum.”

 



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4 Comments

  1. Janet Downs

    As the campaigner whose FoI request for the DfE to reveal the cost of academies changing hands was refused, I asked the Information Commissioner’s Office to investigate on 3 February. I received a reply on 5 May saying the ICO had completed its investigation and was drafting a response. This, apparently, has to go through several stages. I shall publish the result on the Local Schools Network when I eventually receive a reply. In the meantime, the ICO thanked me for my patience and cooperation.

  2. Janet Downs

    Sir John Gleed has twice been judged Inadequate since becoming an academy (although the most recent said it was improving despite being Inadequate). Sir John Gleed became an academy in January 2013 – its predecessor school was an amalgamation of two secondary schools in Spalding who joined together in November 2011. One of the predecessor schools, Gleed Girls’ Technology College, was judged Good.
    The academy joined CfBT, Lincolnshire County Council’s preferred sponsor. LCC had advised all its schools to become academies in 2011. Three secondaries in the south west corner joined CfBT: Sir John Gleed, Deepings Schools and Stamford Queen Eleanor. Stamford Queen Eleanor, a previously satisfactory school, was judged to Require Improvement. CfBT has since relinquished control of Stamford Queen Eleanor citing ‘geographical isolation’. This is odd, since CfBT has retained its other two nearby Lincolnshire schools. Stamford Queen Eleanor is now with CMAT and is being rebranded as Stamford Welland Academy. The cost of transferring Stamford Queen Eleanor from CfBT to CMAT has not been revealed. It was one of the schools included in my FoI request (see above comment).
    Lincolnshire has cause to regret its haste in advising all its schools to become academies. West Grantham Academies Trust (WGAT) announced it was going to close one of its academies, Charles Read. The Council complained this kind of action make it impossible for them to plan school place supply. Charles Read was saved by transferring it to another sponsor, David Ross Education Trust. Again, the cost has not been revealed.