‘Vanity project’: debts pile up for English free schools scheme

Part of the government’s flagship free schools programme is facing mounting financial difficulties because of its unpopularity with parents and pupils, with schools forced to pay back millions of pounds to the Department for Education and cut staff after failing to attract and retain students.

University technical colleges (UTCs), a type of free school in England that was launched in 2010, ran up debts of £14m last year after many fell short of their forecasts for pupil numbers. Others had to borrow money from the DfE’s funding arm, throwing into question their long-term viability.

Research by the Price Bailey accountancy firm disclosed to the Guardian reveals that 31 out of 40 UTCs with published accounts owe money to the DfE’s education and skills funding agency (ESFA), including 25 schools owing a total of £8.6m after educating fewer pupils than they received funding for through their general annual grant.


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Tighten rules on parental consultation before academy conversion, DfE told

Ministers are under pressure to draw up stronger rules on how thoroughly schools must consult before becoming academies after a flurry of legal objections from parents.

Under the Academies Act 2010, the governors of a maintained school that wants to become an academy must consult formally with “such persons as they think appropriate”.

Government guidance suggests this should include staff and parents, as well as pupils and the wider community, but this is not included in the act.

There is no specification of how long the consultation should last, and it can be carried out before or after an academy order has been made.

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More than 300 English primary schools forced to become academies

More than 300 primary schools across England have been forced to become academies in the last three years against a backdrop of mounting opposition from parents, a Guardian investigation has revealed.

Analysis of government data has shown that 314 schools were forcibly removed from local authority control after being rated inadequate by Ofsted. The Department for Education (DfE) has paid out at least £18.4m to academy trusts for taking on the schools.


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Academy whistleblower retaliation ‘exceedingly common’

Retaliation against whistleblowers who raise concerns about wrongdoing in academies is “exceedingly common”, the House of Lords has been told.

The claim was made after academies minister Lord Agnew was asked about an academy principal who was banned from teaching and jailed after using school funds to create a “sex dungeon” alongside his office.


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Campaigning Essex parents win reprieve from academy takeover

Parents and teachers fighting to stop their primary school being taken out of local authority control and turned into an academy have won a temporary reprieve.

Waltham Holy Cross primary school in Waltham Abbey in Essex was due to be transferred to a multi-academy trust on Monday after failing an Ofsted inspection in March 2018.

Parents and teachers, who have been taking part in a series of strike days in protest against academisation, say they were given the news that the transfer had been postponed while on a picket line at the school on Thursday.


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