Thursday 20 November 2014

Death Knell for the Autonomous Academy?

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We at the AAA have recently been sent copies of two letters regarding academy conversion. Both of the schools involved were Ofsted rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and had applied to convert to academy status. Both have been refused permission to convert unless they become part of a ‘chain’ or multi academy trust (MAT).

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This proves that the DfE is no longer allowing schools to convert to ‘stand-alone’ status: They must instead become part of a multi academy trust or ‘chain’. So, all the talk of increased school autonomy was just hot air; individual academies will have much less autonomy than under their previous ‘maintained’ status.

As we predicted, running England’s 4,000 academies from Whitehall has proved impossible. Whitehall offers no meaningful accountability to local communities or the necessary oversight. There are fewer officers at the DfE since Gove decimated staffing levels, therefore it’s no surprise that Frank Green (Schools Commissioner) himself says that MATs are the new cat’s whiskers. And by talking about collaboration between schools the proposal sounds community minded, but this is spin and not reality. Moving from stand-alone academies to MATs heralds the end game for those who have no regard for democracy and every regard for private business. The DfE is very vague about the management structure of MATs; the only absolute stipulation for a MAT is that there is absolutely no room for local democracy “the number of trustees that are local authority influenced cannot exceed 19.9%”. Parents are given a very minor role with either one on each local academy governing body or just two on the board of the MAT.

There are currently about 4,000 academy schools (21% of all schools), and of those recently investigated by the National Audit Office 43% were found to have ‘related party transactions’ worth £71 million – i.e. paid to companies owned by the academy or chain directors – public money being siphoned off into private hands.

This new direction from the DfE serves to reduce their workload but does nothing to address the ever-increasing number of scandals. Parents, councillors and staff are left without any local recourse when things go wrong.

Academy Trusts are quasi-charitable and quasi-business organisations and they can run schools in disparate parts of the country. We have regional schools commissioners (RSCs) covering areas which bear no relation to traditional governmental regions. The RSCs are responsible for establishing and monitoring academies managed by MATs which may well be based elsewhere in the country.

In maintained schools (79% of schools in England) local authorities have oversight of how a school’s money is spent. This oversight is absent in an academy or in a MAT. Heads within MATs have already been warned by Nicky Morgan (Secretary of State for Education) not to bump up their pay. We estimate that at least 30% of academies are overpaying their senior leaders.

Gove wanted MATs to be run for profit. Their structure, devoid of local oversight, lends itself to be easily handed on to a for-profit company. The danger of take-over is real whether it be from a for-profit chain or a ‘charitable’ organisation. Multi Academy Trusts must be opposed. Parents, communities, staff, governors, councillors and Members of Parliament; if your school is facing a MAT take-over, please get in touch.


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