Leadership training providers have demanded an investigation after the government handed a contract for its academy trust chief executive training to the flagship National Institute of Teaching (NIoT).
The Department for Education ditched a competitive tender to give the contract directly to the School-Led Development Trust (SLDT), which runs NIoT and was founded by four leading multi-academy trusts.
Ministers promised to launch a programme to ensure trusts have enough “highly effective leaders” as part of its 2022 schools white paper.
While NIoT’s contract value has not yet been confirmed, the original tender was expected to be about £2.8 million.
The first cohort of 25 participants will start in February next year – later than initially planned – with a second 50-strong cohort “following later”. Recruitment will begin in autumn.
But three leadership training providers have written to the Competitions and Markets Authority warning their work “is now at serious risk”.
Contract awarded ‘without competitive tender’
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the school leaders’ union ASCL, Alice Gregson, the executive director of Forum Strategy and Ann Palmer, the chief executive of Fig Tree International, said the case “merits a review”.
This was in “the interests of competition law” and “culture of transparency in the awarding of public contracts”, a letter sent to the watchdog and seen by Schools Week states.
They point out the contract was awarded “without competitive tender and will, we believe, result in the body being provided with significant government funding that will make it extremely challenging for other existing providers to compete on cost and therefore also quality”.
They claim the situation will “over time significantly hamper the ability of academy trust leaders to make a genuine choice that takes into account both cost and quality” of various leadership schemes.
“If there is preferential treatment of one provider over others by government, it will be highly detrimental to the sector in the long run and to a culture of healthy choice and competition between providers that keeps academy trust leaders in the driving seat in terms of what they wish to access.”
The DfE ran a market engagement exercise for potential suppliers last year. But it will instead use the existing framework agreement for NIoT and contract the SLDT – founded by Star Academies, the Harris Federation, Outwood Grange Academies Trust and Oasis.
DfE ‘confident’ it met legal requirements
The DfE said this was part of NIoT’s “overall scope of requirements to deliver the golden thread of teacher and leadership development in the education sector”. Existing frameworks should also be used “wherever possible” to help with costs.
The department said it was “confident” the decision was right and met “all legal requirements”.
But Barton said school leaders “will suspect that there is a hidden agenda – to establish a group of government-approved system leaders” through a “top-down approach”.
NIoT said training includds one-to-one coaching with a “successful” CEO, alongside “immersive learning” such as shadowing. Its founding CEOs have an “impressive track record of nurturing future” bosses, it added.
An email from DfE, seen by Schools Week, also states there will “likely be sub-contracting opportunities”.
Initial contract documents said roll-out would begin this September. But this was pushed back as market feedback advised more time would be required to design content, the DfE said.
Melanie Renowden, the chief executive of NIoT, said it needed “to develop the next generation of courageous, pioneering people who will respond to the new wave of challenges and opportunities that are coming the way of all our schools”.
The government is also facing a high court challenge over its funding of curriculum quango Oak National Academy. Bodies representing publishers and ed tech firms say Oak “poses an existential risk to the future viability of the sector”.