Wealthy academy sponsors safeguard school trips amid funding squeeze


Donations from wealthy sponsors are helping academy trusts to safeguard school trips, breakfast clubs and sports competitions as other schools are forced to axe provision as the funding squeeze bites.

Ark Schools tops the table with its hedge fund sponsors handing over £6.2 million last year, an average of more than £150,000 for each of Ark trust’s 35 schools.

The David Ross Education Trust also listed donations of nearly £1 million from its sponsor David Ross, the co-founder of Carphone Warehouse. A fundraising bash raised £121,000 alone.

Parental donations are also rising. The West London Free School Academy Trust, which runs four schools, received £156,320 last year from a charity connected to the school, compared to £41,538 in 2015.

Although it is not clear how much of this was donated specifically from parents, as wealthy individuals and companies also donated to the charity, called West London Free School Foundation Trust.

But school leaders say the donations are creating an uneven playing field, with some schools axing their services to meet an estimated 8 per cent real-terms cut in school funding by 2020.


Donations are “driving inequality”

Jon Chaloner, a trust chief executive and founding member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable, told Schools Week: “In terms of equality of access to excellent provision, the growth of such funding is driving greater inequality between those who have the ‘right’ contacts and can raise funds in this way in comparison to those who simply do not.”

Ark Schools used the £6.2 million from its sponsors to fund the trust’s growth, as well as to pay for its “English mastery” curriculum, bursary schemes, and music opportunities.

Ark is a charity set up to distribute the philanthropic donations of its hedge fund financiers, which include the former Conservative party treasurer Lord Stanley Fink, and Paul Marshall, former non-executive director at the Department for Education.

The David Ross trust uses office space belonging to its sponsor, the David Ross Foundation, without charge. Accounts say this equates to a £110,000 donation.

The foundation made another donation of £680,000, with Ross’s donation of £121,000. The funds are used for enrichment activities that include sending pupils to a “space camp” in the US and taking part in the annual Shakespeare Schools Festival in the UK.

Some sponsors scale back donations

Schools Week’s “philanthro-philes” investigation last year revealed how tens of millions of pounds are poured into schools from the pockets of multi-millionaires.

But some sponsor donations are falling. Ark Schools received £9.3 million in 2015 – nearly £3 million more than last year.

The trust said it wants to be “entirely financially self-sustainable in the future”.

Accounts also show the Inspiration Trust received £37,500 from Publish Interest Foundation, a grant-making charity connected to its founder, Sir Theodore Agnew. In 2015 it donated £100,000.

Agnew also donated £40,000 from personal funds in 2015, but no such transactions took place last year.

A trust spokesperson said the donations vary from year-to-year, and usually support specific initiatives. “We’re very grateful for Sir Theodore’s support, not only in terms of finance but also in time, advice, and expertise.”

The Harris Federation – set up by millionaire CarpetRight founder Lord Harris – received £400,000 in donations in 2015, but didn’t list any for 2016. The trust did not respond to a request for comment.

Schools turn to parents

Other trusts use donations from parents to help to fund their enrichment provision.

The West London Free School Academy Trust allows parent across all its schools to set up standing orders. The “level of donations to schools” is also listed as one of the trust’s key performance indicators.

Accounts show donations transferred to the trust from the West London Free School Foundation Trust for 2016 surpassed £150,000, nearly quadruple the £41,538 in 2015. Activities funded by the donations include summer productions, additional textbooks and museum trips.

Donations made directly to the foundation last year also rose to £91,149, up from £79,702 in 2015.

Toby Young, trustee of the West London Free School Academy Trust, said the trust makes it “clear that if they [parents] don’t make a contribution their children will still have full access to the extra-curricular programmes”.

The Holland Park School, in Kensington, west London, was given £125,000 from the Holland Park Schools Trust, an independent charity set up by donors, to fund breakfast clubs and sports clubs that the academy would “otherwise been unable to run”.

It’s the state’s duty to fund schools

Chaloner said that while many schools “crave” such funding boosts, the knock-on effect is that schools and trusts “solely operating on public money do not have the ability to match salaries offered elsewhere”.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added it was “great people want to donate to schools”.

But he warned: “The difficulty is that it’s creating an uneven playing field. It always reverts to the bottom line – it’s the state’s duty to provide sufficient funding for schools to deliver a quality education.”

The Department for Education has said the core schools budget has been protected in “real terms since 2010, with school funding at its highest level on record at more than £40 billion in 2016-17”.


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  1. Mark Watson

    OK, so previously SchoolsWeek and our friend Janet above have moaned about how wealthy academy sponsors have not been putting their money where their mouths are and contributing to their academy trusts.
    Now, let me get this straight, you’re complaining that they’re putting TOO MUCH money into their academy trusts?
    Is it any wonder that some business people look at the education sector and think that they’d like to get involved and give something back, but figure that they’d rather not have to deal with the inevitable criticism and eye-watering negativity that would surely follow …

    • Mark – My discovery that some sponsors (eg Harris) hadn’t paid what they’d promised was not supporting sponsorship as a policy. It was pointing out that promises, often made with nationwide publicity, hadn’t been kept. This fact can be stated irrespective of how one feels about academy sponsorship. Asking businesses to sponsor schools was always going to cause an uneven playing field.

      There are many ways in which businesses can become involved in education without giving money to just one school. Work-related education needs input from employers – it won’t work without it. As a former co-ordinator for careers education and guidance, I was forever grateful to the many employers who helped with work experience, mock interviews, Industry Days, information sessions and the like. This gratitude for help which benefited hundreds of children is not ‘eye-watering negativity’.

      But this essential help doesn’t generate as much publicity as bunging one school some sponsorship money especially if the generosity is rewarded with a gong (remember the cash for honours scandal?).

      • Mark Watson

        You may prefer that someone provide help with “work experience, mock interviews, Industry Days, information sessions and the like” but maybe as a ludicrously-rich individual I just want to give some money to a school or a multi-academy trust. Are you saying I shouldn’t be able to do this?
        And what if I am in a position to provide amazing work-related support? What if I can give amazing work experience opportunities that give students a fantastic advantage? You know what, I can’t give these opportunities to every pupil in the country so I’ll have to limit the opportunities and in practice I’ll probably limit it to one or two schools. Guess what, we’re back in the situation that pupils going to school A (which has access to the work experience) have an advantage over pupils going to school B (which doesn’t).
        And by the way, ending your comment with a snide implication that anyone giving schools sponsorship money is only interested in buying themselves a gong is precisely the type of eye-watering negativity I was referring to.

        • Mark – apologies for my final comment – my inner cynic overrode the wisdom of not making generalised remarks (although describing it as ‘eye-watering’ is a little OTT).
          That said, donating money may not be as altruistic as appears. Charitable giving plays a perfectly legitimate role in tax planning. There’s also the possibility that companies connected to donors may benefit through related party transactions or even, as admitted by Wey Education PLC, that its charitable ‘vehicle’ operating academies would help establish a business ‘capable of making a return to shareholders’.
          There’s nothing wrong with voluntary donations to fund non-essential extras. These have been going on for decades. But formal arrangements encouraged by the government or by some academy trusts and school heads via regular parental contributions risk shifting the responsibility for funding education from the state to philanthropy. It is the responsibility of government to ensure state schools are funded adequately and fairly. But we’re now facing a school funding crisis and it’s wrong to expect charitable giving to plug the gaps.

          • Mark Watson

            Yup, completely agree my description was OTT but I was just trying to make a point.
            And yes, donating money may not be altruistic, but then again it might be. Just the same as your relentless attacks on the academies programme may come from a genuine belief that it is the wrong approach or they may come from a shady special interest position that is designed to further your own specific agenda. I don’t know and it would be wrong for me to ascribe reasons for your behaviour without knowing the facts. I also believe it is wrong for you to ascribe reasons for other people’s behaviour without knowing the background.
            I’m not disputing there are some bad apples involved in the academies programme. Indeed it would be remarkable if there were not given there are bad apples in every single other walk of life, be it local authority, teaching, politicians and journalists. So I don’t have a problem in these people being identified and weeded out – I have on these pages railed against the Durand Academy Trust as an example.
            I just find it constantly worthy of note that when a bad apple is unearthed in the academies sector it is immediately leapt upon as proof positive that the academies programme is fatally flawed, and yet when incompetence, failure and fraud happens in the local government arena no-one suggests that we should get rid of all councils …

  2. sarah

    Expecting schools to rely on the benevolence of rich sponsors (or contributions from well heeled parents) just widens and entrenches the divide between the privileged and underprivileged. Why should children in poorer areas where their schools don’t have these connections be deprived of school trips, sports competitions or other enrichment activities? It’s the same thing which has led to private schools being able to offer superior facilities. All children should have access to excellent facilities and these sorts of enrichment activities without it being a matter of an accident of birth (as Michael Gove used to put it)