David Carter: There’s no such thing as an ‘untouchable’ school


The national schools commissioner has dismissed claims of “untouchable” schools too toxic for new sponsors to take over – insisting support is being delivered quicker than ever before.

In an exclusive interview with Schools Week, Sir David Carter (pictured) said that struggling schools were not left in limbo because of entrenched difficulties – such as crumbling buildings or large debts – putting off new sponsors.

As reported in Schools Week over the past months, several trusts have walked away over viability concerns.

But Carter said many of these were because of capacity issues within a trust, rather than a school’s problems.

“There is no such thing as an untouchable school. There are some schools where it takes longer to get a good sponsor supporting it, but you [commissioners] get there in the end.”

In a report published last month, MPs urged commissioners to give greater support to schools “deemed unattractive to sponsors”.

Carter said takeovers were normally held up by the state of buildings, budget deficits or costly private finance initiative contracts.

The DfE would be mindful of ensuring that any decision taken meets expectations of value for money – something I’m always conscious of

But he said commissioners were now moving quicker to facilitate immediate school-to-school support, which then gave time to deal with the underlying concern. That included parachuting in national leaders of education, or allowing a potential sponsor to support the school on a short-term deal.

That appears to be the case at Hanson School in Bradford after the Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) pulled out of sponsoring the school. It’s the second trust to walk away since the school sought a sponsor after being put in special measures in 2011.

Hanson will now be given support through an 18-month contract with the Gorse Academies Trust, which could then take it over in August next year.

Carter said priority for this year’s regional academy growth fund would go to trusts committed to taking on tricky schools so support could be inserted “quicker than before”.

But new support isn’t always delivered. University Academy Keighley (UAK), a second school abandoned by WCAT, will now remain with its original sponsor, the University of Bradford, after waiting for a new sponsor since December 2015.

UAK’s proposed rebrokering was driven by an ambition to join a multi-academy trust, rather than government intervention. But the school was put in special measures while it was waiting for WCAT to take it over.

The university has now said it has “reassessed” its relationship with the school, claiming the DfE was “very happy” with the partnership.

When asked if closure could be the solution for more schools with a “perfect storm” of problems, Carter said: “We will look at that case by case. The DfE would be mindful of ensuring that any decision taken meets expectations of value for money – something I’m always conscious of.”

Carter said there were now 1,110 multi-academy trusts, many of whom had a “really strong appetite” to grow.

He also said the financial climate meant that some small trusts would have to grow “whether they want to or not”.

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  1. Tim Warneford

    What incentives are the RSC’s armed with when incentivising MAT’s to absorb schools which retain risks and liabilities? Can the RSC make a case to the EFA to fund essential built environmental works if the LA cannot afford to?

    • There’s at least one precedent for building work to be included in rebrokering academies. Attwood Academies was awarded £6,450,000 when it took over Bexhill High Academy. FoI revealed this comprised £450k for building survey and IT upgrade plus £6m for rectifying building defects. Attwood told me it inherited £80k liabilities.
      It had been reported that Ambitions Academies Trust received £1m for upgrade when it took over St Adhelm’s Academy, Poole. But Ambitions told me £2m for refitting the academy had been identified pre-transfer. Rebrokerage fees from the EFA totalled £140k not the reported £1m.
      I had to use individual FoIs to academy trusts involved in takeovers because the DfE wouldn’t publish the figures. The DfE told me it would publish the data in the future – this is an excuse allowed under the FoI Act. But that was more than a year ago and the figures still haven’t been published.