A Schools Week investigation reveals the hidden costs behind transforming failing schools
The government has granted nearly £8 million to academies so they can dismiss staff – as many schools buckle under a recruitment crisis.
Figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show the Department for Education (DfE) has given out £7.9 million during the past three years to allow 176 academies to make their staff redundant.
The cash is only available in an academy’s first two years and the final decision is made by the secretary of state on a “case-by-case” basis.
But this isn’t stopping schools paying to move teachers on. Our investigation found that the largest 12 academy trusts spent
£8.3 million in 2014/15 and £9.1 million in 2013/14 on severance deals for outgoing staff, with the cash largely coming out of individual academy budgets.
The trusts say the deals are needed when taking over and driving rapid improvements in failing schools.
But the disclosure comes as many schools say they are facing the worst recruitment crisis in decades.
Some headteachers say the cash would be better spent training teachers, rather than just paying them off.
John Tomsett, head at Huntington School, in York, said: “Considering our annual school budget is a shrinking £7.4 million, it is a little galling to see more is being spent in one year on academy chain restructuring.
“[There should be] a relentless focus on improving the quality of teaching and learning that improves students’ outcomes, not structures. Just 10 per cent of what is being spent on restructuring a year would solve our funding woes.”
The David Ross Educational Trust (DRET) received nearly £150,000 from the government in April last year to cover “anticipated redundancy costs” when taking over Charnwood College, in Loughborough.
DRET was looking to take over the school while it was going through restructuring after two predecessor schools merged.
A trust spokesperson said: “The restructuring didn’t hold up students accessing the educational benefits the trust can provide, the Education Funding Agency agreed to meet the redundancy costs post-conversion.”
The school is in education secretary Nicky Morgan’s Loughborough constituency.
Government figures show that £2.2 million was handed out to 50 academies to help with redundancy costs this financial year.
A total of £1.9 million was paid out to 51 academies in 2014/15 and another £3.8 million to 75 academies in 2013/14.
Brian Lightman, former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders and now an independent school improvement specialist, said: “Rather than wasting large sums of money and experience, and adding to the recruitment and retention crisis, it would make far more sense to invest in professional learning and development. Teachers and school leaders are our most valuable resource and they are currently in short supply.”
Last week the government announced as part of its national fair funding formula proposals that cash would be set aside to help hard-hit schools make redundancies.
School business director Micon Metcalfe, who also trains other education leaders, said the pay-outs could reflect difficulties schools were having to balance their budgets.
But she added: “I wonder what happens to the ‘discarded’ staff? I imagine unless there has been a clear capability case – which should be disclosed to the new school – people secure other jobs in time, either in schools or not.
“I am sure that the school system loses some very effective people this way each year.”
Schools Week also analysed the annual accounts of the 12 largest academy chains to establish how much they have spent on staff restructuring.
Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) – the country’s largest chain with 67 schools – has spent more than £5 million on restructuring schools in the past two years.
United Learning, which paid out £1.5 million, was next on the list. Restructuring costs at Oasis academy chain rose from £249,000 in 2014 to £994,000 last year.