Academy chains received £7 million to take over ‘schools no one wants’

Academy trusts have been given over £7 million this year for taking over schools abandoned or handed over by their previous sponsors — compared to £4.2 million last year.

The figures, released for the first time today by the Department for Education, show the increasing school transfer market, with over 165 schools passed from one academy trust to another last year.

The list includes the 11 schools from collapsed academy chain Lilac Sky Academy Trust which wound up in 2016, as well as schools with financial or performance difficulties, labelled in a recent report as ‘schools no one wants’.

The 165 number marks a significant jump from 2013-14 when only 15 academies moved to a different trust, and is an 81 per cent increase from last year when 91 schools changed hands.

Five schools in the past two years came with a cash sweetener of over half a million pounds for their new sponsors – with Ely College in Cambridgeshire, handed from CfBT Schools Trust to Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust, paid the highest amount of £686,000.

Over £6.2 million of funding was given to the 165 academies which moved to a different trust in the past academic year. The remaining £900,000 paid out over the past financial year went to academy trusts granted legacy funds for schools taken over in previous years.

The proportion of sponsors granted funds this year was around the same as previously: a third of sponsors completing a takeover took an average funding of £106,700 per school. This was lower than the prior average amount of £140,200 in 2015-16.

The DfE has insisted this year’s figures are “not comparable with earlier years”, due to “differences in what it has been possible to include in the total costs compiled”.

A DfE spokesperson said: “It is encouraging that this data shows that as the number of trusts able to take over academies has grown, so has the ability to improve value for money.”

The transferred academies worth more than £500,000

Five academies scooped over half a million pounds of grant funding each: Ely College, The City Academy Bristol, Sawtry Community College, Ipswich Academy, and The West Somerset Community College.

Ely College previously hit Schools Week headlines in July 2015, when the school cancelled a week’s work experience and made year 10 pupils take additional GCSEs half-way through their courses to make sure they were “Progress 8 compliant”.

Principal Evelyn Forde later apologised for her actions, saying that “no student will be compelled to take on any additional study”.

Ely College was left without a sponsor in February 2016, when the CfBT Schools Trust gave it up as it struggled to make “rapid enough” improvements. The school was taken over by Cambridge Meridian Academies Trust in September of that year.

How the Department planned to massage the figures

In May, a Schools Week investigation revealed plans to massage the figures for the costs of passing failing schools between academy trusts.

Schools Week was previously refused access to hard figures relating to the past year after an initial request in March.

However, we were sent a series of emails which accidentally revealed that the academies minster Lord Nash had “agreed” to publish the figures in April last year, but asked civil servants to bury the information in a larger report, in case it “highlights high brokerage costs”.

Officials were urged to explore “the option of publishing as part of the annual accounts or another large data set” – a suggestion branded “unacceptable” by transparency campaigners.


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  1. It’s important to remember that the figures are only for the declared support. DfE has excluded the extra money dolled out as deficit repayments, diseconomies of scale, capital costs and redundancies. The sums involved with the unreported aid will likely dwarf other costs.

    There are cases where MATs have insisted on millions being spent refurbishing sites before they would take over. DfE capitulate, cough up, but go to great lengths yo keep the sums secret.

  2. Ben Gibbs

    If the DfE had to pay-out £686k to enable CMAT to take over Ely College, then that means the CfBT Schools Trust added around £400k to the school’s debt in its last 12 months. When CfBT sacked the Principal and two Vice Principals and disbanded the board (on which I was a local governor) after a disastrous Ofsted in 2015, the school’s deficit was about £250k. Given the school’s demise was largely due to the trust’s neglect, and that significant damage was done by their panicked actions in the year after the Ofsted, perhaps CfBT should have footed the bill themselves. As an important aside though, the £686k has actually been very well spent. CMAT has had an incredibly positive impact at the school in a very short space of time, and the community of Ely is very grateful that an engaged and competent trust is now running its secondary school.