DfE paid £490k to rebroker three failing Steiner schools

Teachers face a pay freeze.

The government paid out almost half a million pounds in grant funding to rebroker three failing Steiner schools, new data shows.

Steiner free schools in Bristol, Exeter and Frome were moved to the Avanti Schools Trust last year after all three were placed into special measures by Ofsted.

The schools are now called Avanti Gardens School, Avanti Hall School and Avanti Park School.

Data published by the Department for Education today shows the trust received academy transfer grant funding of £490,000 to take on the schools, the largest single amount paid out in the 2019-20 financial year.

Academy transfer grants are paid out to entice academy trusts to take over failing schools, but only in certain circumstances. Of 241 academy transfers made in 2019-20, only 31, or 13 per cent, attracted the funding.

Overall, the DfE paid out £3.1 million in transfer grants for those 31 academies in 2019-20, down from £6.8 million for 84 schools the year before. It takes the total cost of grants since 2013 to £34.7 million.

Today’s data also reveals the government paid out £397,000 in 2019-20 to trusts that took on schools previously run by the failed Bright Tribe academy trust and its sister trust the Adventure Learning Academy Trust. This was on top of £290,000 on grants already paid out for three other former Bright Tribe schools in 2018-19.

Bright Tribe, founded by millionaire businessman Michael Dwan, announced plans to close and give up its 10 schools in 2018, following a long-running dispute over the condition and performance of a number of their schools. Adventure Learning followed suit.

The data release shows the Emmanuel Schools Foundation was given £150,000 to take on Christ’s College in Sunderland from Bright Tribe, while Asset Education was given grants totalling £66,000 for taking on Cliff Lane Primary School, Castle Hill Junior School and Castle Hill Infant School, all in Suffolk.

For the Adventure Learning schools, the DfE paid £111,200 to Truro & Penwith Academy Trust to take on Liskeard Hillfort Primary School, £45,700 to the Leading Edge Academies Partnership to take on Fowey River Academy and £24,900 to Launceston College to run Altarnun Primary School.

The data also reveals other large grant payments to some of England’s biggest trusts in 2019-20.

For example, Ormiston Academies Trust was paid £150,000 to take on the former Sandymoor Free School, which was ordered to close by the DfE in 2018, and United Learning was given £290,000 to take on Chingford Hall Primary School, previously run by the Silver Birch academy trust.

Of the 241 academies transferred to new sponsors in 2019-20, 64 were transferred because of DfE intervention, while 170 moved because of a transfer initiated by the original sponsor, and seven were due to sponsor or trust closure.

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  1. Mark Watson

    I think the use of the phrase “academy transfer grants are paid out to entice academy trusts to take over failing schools” is rather misleading. The level of a transfer grant has to be calculated and justified as a cost which the incoming Academy Trust cannot or should not pay. So for example, if a school with a low NOR has a year-on-year deficit and building defects which need £250,000 to make it legally compliant, it is highly unlikely that an academy trust could afford to take it on. In this scenario the transfer grant would be calculated against the cost of fixing the defects which the incoming academy trust would have to carry out. The references to the Bright Tribe schools are an example of this – from the reports the buildings were “dilapidated” and would have needed £100,000s spent on them which an academy trust wouldn’t have, or if it did would involve those schools within the trust having to give up all their reserves.

    The presumption on academy rebrokerages is against payment of transfer grants, as evidenced by the figures above showing 87% of transfers don’t have any.

    So transfer grants aren’t there to “entice” trusts to take on schools, they’re there to make it financially possible for trusts to take on schools.

    • Could a trust taking on a school/s decide not to carry out the building works, for example, and pocket the rest, or decide to do only some of the expected works and pocket the rest? Or is it a condition of taking DfE money that a trust do the works expected or face some kind of penalty?

      • Mark Watson

        When you say “pocket the rest” it does kind of sound like you think the individuals in a trust take profit from it. What I’m sure you mean is, can a trust take the money and decide to spend it not on the expected building works but on something like more teachers?

        In any event, I don’t know if there would be a watertight legal agreement between the DfE and the trust governing how the transfer grant was to be used, but it would be a rather foolhardy trust who took money from DfE on false pretences. Anything which required DfE, or probably RSC, consent in the future would be out the window. So no taking on more schools, no grants, no funding, and the sword of Damocles hanging over them waiting to fall as and when anything goes wrong …

      • Mark Watson

        Thanks Janet, that’s most helpful and clears up my thinking a bit!

        But looking at that DfE report, it states indicative grant funding levels for a full level sponsorship of a secondary school is £150k. So the expected grant for taking on three secondary schools under full sponsorship is £450k.

        Avanti took on three all-through schools. The report doesn’t state what the funding would be for full sponsorship of an all-through school, but you would expect it to be higher than £150k. Avanti’s per-school grant was just over £163k, which isn’t much more.

        So assuming the three schools were transferred under full sponsorship (which seems likely if they’d all been put into special measures), they’re doesn’t seem to be anything particularity unusual about the amount of money Avanti received. Presumably they were the only trust that took on three schools under full sponsorship.

        Appreciate that makes the story far less exciting – “Trust that takes on most full-sponsored schools unsurprisingly receives most funding”.