The academy schools movement is increasingly dominated by chains. These self-styled ‘charities’ are in reality ‘edu-businesses’ paying fat cat salaries to their CEOs, developing corporate branding and seeking aggressive expansion in the education ‘market’. This briefing looks at the Harris Federation.
The Harris Federation is a key player amongst academy chains and has played a leading role in developing academy policies since they were introduced by New Labour. Harris Federation have several well established schools.
The Federation is named after Lord Phillip Harris of Peckham, one of the richest men in Britain who has a personal fortune of £275 million and runs the Carpetright chain of carpet stores. Harris is a member of the Tory Party and has many large donations including to several leading figures (see below).
The Harris Federation currently runs 13 academies, 1 of which is a primary school and has 2 more in development. 2 primary schools, which Michael Gove has declared are ‘underperforming’, are to be forced to become academies with Harris identified as a sponsor. Harris also has 2 ‘free’ schools in development, one in Tottenham, North London.
Parents, staff, governors and the head opposed Downhills Primary being forced to become an academy. Gove sacked the governors and has made Harris the preferred sponsor.
Harris boast that the “Harris Federation has a performance record in terms of improvement in examination results combined with numbers of outstanding Academies which is unmatched by any Academy group in the country.”
We are happy to acknowledge the success of Harris where it is due but it is important to look more closely behind the spin. The use of GCSE equivalents and the high rate of exclusions may have helped Harris. It is also important to recognise that most of the Harris academies for which results have been published were set up under the New Labour programme. This was a very different programme that carried with it massive capital and generous transitional funding. In effect, brand new schools were set up.
Harris has spun its figures by using GCSE Equivalents
Under New Labour a set of GCSE ‘equivalents’ were introduced where other qualifications were counted as equivalent to 2, 3 or 4 GCSEs. This was used by many schools, but particularly academies, to improve their GCSE rankings.
The government recently removed 3,000 GCSE equivalents. While many school results were affected by this, academies were most affected, and academy chains did very badly.
When the equivalents are removed the average drop for all maintained schools nationally is 6 percentage points for 5 A*-C with English and Maths from 59.1% to 53.2%.
Harris Federation has 8 schools which entered pupils for GCSE in 2011. When you remove equivalents Harris GCSE results fell by 14% – far more than the national average.
|Claimed GCSE A*-C withEnglish and Maths||Result adjustedto remove equivalents||drop inresults|
|Harris Academy at Peckham||
|Harris Academy Bermondsey||
|Harris Academy Falconwood||
|Harris Academy Merton||
|Harris Academy Purley||
|Harris Academy South Norwood||
|Harris City Academy Crystal Palace||
|Harris Girls’ Academy East Dulwich||
The national average for 5 GCSE results at A*-C with English and Maths with equivalents removed is 53.2%. This means that half of the Harris Academies are below the national average.
Many people (eg the recent children commissioner report http://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/content/publications/content_561) are concerned that one way for academies to improve their results is to exclude a disproportionate number of the pupils.
The average permanent exclusion rate for local authority schools is 0.15% for 2009/10.
Harris Academy South Norwood permanently excluded 0.92% of its pupils, that’s 6 times the national average.
Harris Academy Falconwood excluded 0.53%,
Harris City Academy Crystal Palace excluded 0.41%,
Harris Academy at Peckham excluded 0.36%.
These figures illustrate a significantly higher rate of exclusion than the national average
Is Harris Federation a charity or a business?
The annual report for 2010 shows that the Harris Federation has a turnover of £130 million. It employs 1,157 people.
Whilst for legal, and perhaps moral reasons it presents as a charity (it was made an exempt charity in August 2011 so it no longer has to publish accounts with the charity Commission) its operations make it appear much more like a business.
It runs two separate but connected business arms
- Harris Academies Project Management Limited “The company is used for construction work on a number of Harris Federation academy buildings.” Made £337,000 profit.
- HCTC Enterprises limited “The company is used to carry on business as a general commercial company”. It operates the Lewis Sports and Leisure Centre and made £23,000 profit.
CEO gets ‘fat cat’ pay and business culture pervades the federation
In 2009 29 people earned more that £60,000 per year, totalling £2,460,000.
By 2010 this had risen to 46 people earning £3,850,000 – an increase of 56%
For comparison an MP earned £65,738 in 2010.
In 2011 the government allowed academy chains to be defined as an ‘exempt charity’. This prevents us looking at their more recent annual reports. However the Guardian reported in November “A director of the Harris Federation earned £243,027 – a rise of £26,411 on the year before.” This compares to a paltry £142,500 for the Prime Minister.
It is clear that Lord Harris sees his business interests and his schools in a similar way. Author Francis Beckett reported in 2008 that “[He] phones his stores to see what the sales figures are, he calls his schools to find out the attendance figures.”
In an interview in the Financial Times in 2009 Michael Skapinker reported a discussion with Lord Harris “Can hospitals really be run like carpet shops? Aren’t they public services rather than businesses? Well, everything’s about serving a customer, he says.”
In 2010 Harris attempted to take over Kelsey Park school in Bromley, backed by Michael Gove. Both the Headteacher and Bromley Council were against the school becoming a Harris academy. The TES reported:
‘Kelsey Park head Brian Lloyd said he felt his school was the subject of a “hostile takeover bid” being improperly backed by the Government.’
While Harris were pushing Kelsey Park to become an academy they were also involved in initiating a ‘free’ school in the area, which would have competed for Kelsey Park pupils, further pressuring Kelsey Park.
Eventually the Kelsey Park governors voted to join the Harris Federation.
At the same time Cator Park girls school was invited to join the Harris Federation. The proposed ‘free’ school would also have impacted on Cator Park.
Cator Park also voted to join Harris.
After Harris had brought both schools into its Federation the ‘free’ school proposal was then withdrawn.
The Anti Academies Alliance is very concerned that the growth of academies means more and more of our schools are being taken over and run by chains like the Harris Federation. These chains look more like businesses than schools, and many are proud of this similarity. Is this how we want to see our schools run in the 21st Century?
The Harris Federation and the Tory Party
“For a long time Lord Harris has been a great supporter and a great friend to me.” David Cameron
Chair Lord Phillip Harris of Peckham is a Conservative Peer and has donated a little over £2 million to the Tory party through his personal and business interests. This includes £50,000 to Boris Johnson, £120,000 to George Osborne, £145,000 to David Cameron to assist his Tory leadership election campaign.
Lord Harris gave David Cameron silver goblets for Xmas as well as a £3,500 hamper. Lord Harris is understood to be Cameron’s most influential backer and to have persuaded him to stand for leader of the Tory Party. At one point Harris was considered a possible treasurer of the Tory Party.
Chief Executive Officer Daniel Moynihan spoke at the Tory conference in 2010 and was asked to sit on a ministerial advisory group on the role of local authorities in education.
Sir Cyril Taylor is a non-executive director. Sir Cyril served on the Greater London Council from 1977 until 1986 and was elected deputy leader of the Conservative group from 1983. In 1994, the Conservative government, at the urging of Sir Cyril Taylor, designated 35 schools as Technology Colleges, the fore-runners to academies. He then reputedly persuaded Tony Blair to set up the academies programme on a train journey to York!