DfE keeps edtech demonstrator conflicts ‘action plan’ close to its chest

edtech demonstrator United Learning

The government has an “action plan” to address potential conflicts of interest in its edtech demonstrator contract with United Learning, but is refusing to publish it.

Schools Week revealed last month that England’s largest academy trust had been awarded the contract to run the scheme for its second year.

The programme in “demonstrator” schools helps others reduce workload, supports professional development and improves pupils’ results using technology.

It has been run for the past year by the London Grid for Learning, the Education Foundation and Sheffield Hallam University.

But a bid by LGfL and the Eduction Foundation to continue to run the scheme lost out to United Learning.

Critics have flagged potential conflicts of interests as some of the trust’s schools are already funded as demonstrators and will continue to be involved under its stewardship.

Academy trust will distribute £5.5m in funding

Contract documents confirm United Learning will be responsible for distributing £5.5 million in funding to the network of “up to 44” schools and colleges – including its own schools taking part.

There were 48 demonstrators in the first round and £6 million of funding, but Schools Week revealed last month that four demonstrators had backed out.

The government insisted last month it had a “robust governance process” in place. Contract documents seen by Schools Week refer to a “conflict of interest action plan”, which United Learning has to follow to manage a “declared conflict of interest”.

But the Department for Education refused to provide a copy, claiming it contained “commercially sensitive information”. United Learning did not respond to requests to see the document, or to comment.

edtech demonstrator United Learning
Bob Harrison

Professor Bob Harrison, a school and college governor and former education adviser to Toshiba, said it was “crucial”  there was transparency about how the “critical” programme was managed and governed.

Funding will be distributed quarterly in line with “grant agreements” signed with the demonstrators, and United Learning is responsible for ensuring “value for money”.

Trust to get up to £600k to run scheme

It will be paid up to £600,000, including VAT, to run the scheme. This is less than the £850,000 offered via the tender process.

In exchange, it will have a responsibility to “manage the coordination of the network, including day-to-day and financial management of 44 schools and colleges”.

The contract also includes an agreement to support DfE “spot checks” of “funding and payments” in demonstrator schools.

The trust and the DfE will meet monthly to “review performance”, with United Learning providing a report to each meeting that will include “assurances regarding adherence to ethical walls and avoidance of conflict of interest”.

It is not known whether the reports will be made public.

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