DfE warned its trust CEO scheme risks breaching competition law

Training providers warn plans to launch a MAT leadership development programme could wipe them out and risk breaching competition rules

Training providers warn plans to launch a MAT leadership development programme could wipe them out and risk breaching competition rules

25 Nov 2022, 12:01

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The government has been warned plans to launch a trust leadership development programme could “seriously undermine” existing providers and risk breaching competition rules.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) white paper in March promised extra training and support to ensure trusts have enough “highly effective leaders” as more schools academise and trusts grow in size. Ministers want all schools to be in or planning to join strong trusts by 2030.

Contract documents show it has begun searching for operators to “build a sector-leading multi-academy trust (MAT) CEO training programme”, ready for a first cohort next September. 

Alumni should build “capacity to grow their groups of schools into a large MAT, and then lead that MAT effectively”.

But the move has sparked alarm among organisations already offering leadership development support to trust leaders.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of school leaders’ union ASCL, Alice Gregson, executive director of Forum Strategy and Ann Palmer, director of Fig Tree International, raised “major concerns” in a letter to education secretary Gillian Keegan.

“We have invested significant time and resources over many years to bring our offers to the sector, and all our offers are highly valued. The proposed programme could potentially seriously undermine that choice and put at risk our respective offers.”

They warn that government could use its dominant position as a regulator and founder of trusts to “ensure its CEO framework and leadership development programme achieve a monopoly” or undermine other providers – even if “unintended”.

They say the government could further undermine existing provision by using “significant” public funding to subsidise its programme. 

A third criticism involves an advisory group appointed to shape the government’s programme, with meetings and decision-making “not public”. 

They write: “Those on the group, and any organisations they are associated with, would be at a significant and unfair advantage should they decide in the near future to apply to deliver the … programme.”

They want to “engage in a constructive conversation before considering next steps, including raising our concerns with both the Competition and Markets Authority and the Cabinet Office.”

Palmer, whose Fig Tree International programmes include training for diverse leaders, said she understood the need for “consistency in terms of the skills CEOs are expected to have”.

But she said the government should look at how existing successful programmes could “complement any national framework”, and called for it to include indicators for increasing diversity.

The plans could see the Department for Education embroiled in yet another procurement row, after the British Educational Suppliers Association threatened action over its curriculum plans via Oak National Academy earlier this yeaar.

A DfE spokesperson said its programme would help existing leaders “step up” to run larger trusts, and external advisory group members could not “directly partake in any bid”.

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