The Department for Education (DfE) appears to have made a U-turn on its involvement in a plan by the country’s largest academy chain to outsource non-teaching roles.
Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) announced earlier this year it wanted to outsource non-teaching roles in a contract worth up to £400m.
In February, Dominic Herrington, the former director of the DfE’s academies group and now South East England and South London Regional Schools Commissioner, told MPs at the education select committee that AET’s decisions about the process was a matter for the board of trustees, not the DfE.
He said: “We have not had long discussions with the trust about it, because it is a matter for them, essentially.”
This was confirmed by Andrew McCully, the DfE’s director general for infrastructure and funding, who also said the decision was up to the trust board.
However, the schools minister Lord Nash has now stated that any final decisions about the outsourcing would be for new Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, to decide.
In a letter sent to Labour MP Alex Cunningham and seen by Schools Week, Lord Nash said: “The decision on the right approach is fundamentally for the academy trust as long as they are operating within the terms of their funding agreement.”
He added: “I would like to reassure you that AET’s proposal can only be implemented after approval by the Secretary of State.”
AET, a charitable trust that runs almost 80 schools in England, came under fire from Ofsted this month when the inspectorate said too many of its pupils were not receiving a good enough education.
Mr Cunningham, a member of the education select committee, talking exclusively to Schools Week said: “I am a little more reassured than I was. I was extremely concerned about what AET is up to.
“What they are trying to do is effectively take away the powers of individual principals to make many staffing and other decisions.
“I am pleased Lord Nash has now said there needs to be accountability built into this and a form of safeguarding may well be put in place. I think there needs to be a thorough examination of the specific proposals.”
AET has now stated to staff that Price Waterhouse Coopers is its preferred bidder.
Jon Richards, Unison’s head of education, has also raised concerns about outsourcing and its impact on education.
He said: “We have put questions to the DfE about some of the procurement issues and are chasing those to find out if this is in the interest of the public purse.
“AET needs to be concentrating on delivering in schools and this is a diversion of a huge amount of our time, the time of their board and their staff.”
An AET spokesman said it had set up a steering group in March and added: “Such a proposal is new for academy trusts and we are currently awaiting feedback from the Education Funding Agency.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “It is for the board of AET’s trust to decide how they provide effective services for their schools, providing it is in line with their funding agreement.
“It is right any proposal of this scale is then subjected to further scrutiny to ensure it provides the best value for the taxpayer and it can only be implemented after approval by the Secretary of State.”