Monday 1 December 2014

£71m Paid to Companies Owned by Academy Directors

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£71m Paid to Companies Owned by Academy Directors

The National Audit Office has reported that 976 academy trusts – 43% of those examined in 2013 – disclosed “related party transactions” worth an estimated £71m. Almost £9m of this money posed a risk to public money, it added.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the public accounts committee which will question education officials about the figures, told the Education Funding Agency (EFA) to get a grip of these ‘dubious’ relationships, adding ‘Related party transactions are a big issue … I am very concerned that the agency’s reliance on whistleblowers and ad hoc reports means that many more questionable business relationships could exist and have gone unchallenged, putting public money at risk.  Given its track record, I have little confidence that the agency will know if academies are complying with its new guidance’.
The report was sparked by inquiries into alleged irregularities and potential conflicts of interest at the Durand academy trust in south London.  The report says that the structures and associations between the school and its directors were ‘complex’.  Durand has never been far from the headlines whether over its headteacher’s salary,  spending of £20,000 per month – yes a month! – on PR (to a company run by a governor of course) or its development of state boarding provision in the Sussex countryside.

In the same week that NAO published this report, the government announced that it would be encouraging academy trusts to take out loans rather than apply for grants for building projects.  What could possibly go wrong?  The Local Schools Network has come up with some answers.

Death Knell for the Converter Academy

The Haringey Independent reports that a secondary school has been refused permission to convert to an academy.  The school which has an Ofsted rating of “good” had boasted of record breaking exam results but the DfE’s Regional Schools Commissioner disagreed and suggested it join a multi-academy trust or chain.  It seems that the DfE no longer wants stand-alone academies.  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. Read our full analysis here.

Forced Academies

Bisham Church of England Primary sits on the banks of the River Thames in the exclusive borough of Maidenhead, where Home Secretary Theresa May is the local MP.  The school’s story has followed a familiar path, downgraded in a rushed Ofsted inspection from ‘good’ to ‘special measures’, the long-standing headteacher has been forced out and a compliant local authority seems unbecomingly eager to hand over this inclusive village school to the DfE and their preferred sponsors.  What’s different about this story is that parents fear that this is nothing more than a land grab – the school’s idyllic site occupies is estimated to be worth £250,000,000.

Parents at Inkersall Primary School in Stavely, Derbyshire are furious that although their academy consultation has not even officially started, the DfE has set a date for conversion to a Spencer Trust sponsored academy! You can follow their campaign on Facebook.chool’ with a hand over date of 1st May 2015.

We thought that if the consultation were to be FAIR and MEANINGFUL, the outcome should not already have been decided. It has clearly been decided.

The forced academy programme is so unpopular with parents and communities that ending it would be a quick win for any future government argues Annie Powell writing in the New Statesman.

Waiting for Inspiration

Lawyer Julian Gizzi has been appointed to head the independent inquiry into Ofsted and the Inspiration Trust. You will recall that Ofsted cleared itself of any wrong doing over the allegations that Norfolk’s Inspiration Trust had been given notice of inspections. Then further emails came to light suggesting that the Principal Dame Rachel de Souza, one of Michael Gove’s favourites, may have had just an inkling. We look forward to hearing what Mr Gizzi has to say.  Meanwhile the Regional Schools Commissioner has said he will keep a close eye on the chain as GCSE results appear to have slumped.

Governing the Governors

The recent ‘U turn’ over academy conversion at Hove Park was, in large part, due to the election of three anti-academy parent governors. The Department for Education now requires all governing bodies of local authority maintained schools to ‘reconstitute’ by September 2015.  Switching from the stakeholder model we’ve had since 1988, the DfE wants to see much smaller governing bodies as they’re apparently more efficient and effective.  Schools will have only one governor nominated by the local authority, a minimum of two parent governors and only one staff governor. And the guidance explicitly states that their role is ‘not to represent the interests of the constituency from which they were elected or appointed’. Who will provide checks and balances, ensuring that schools are challenged by a range of opinion and experience?  Would it have been more difficult for the parents and staff at Hove Park School to fight off the headteacher’s plans to convert if the governing body had included only two parents and one staff member?  The new governing bodies closely mirror the structure at many academies. Perhaps this is the reason Lord Nash and the Department are insisting on reconstitution?

In his Guardian Speed Read column, Warwick Mansell queried whether Academies Minister Lord John Nash was following his own department’s guidance. Nash runs Futures Academies whose Pimlico Academy has just one parent representative on its board. Hopefully such idiosyncrasies will be ironed out soon with the appointment of a new company secretary at Futures.

The Chains they Revere

Academies Week reports the welcome news that England’s largest academy chain – AET – has dropped plans to outsource its support staff.  Academies Week also reviews the Ofsted gradings for AET and the next four largest chains.  Four out of the big five chains have more than half of their academies judged as requiring improvement or inadequate. It doesn’t make for pretty reading, especially for parents and staff at Weyfield Primary Academy in Guildford, Surrey. Their previously ‘good’ school has been downgraded by Ofsted one year after their own ‘inspiring’ headteacher was forced out when TKAT came in.  TKAT have 40 schools in Hampshire, Surrey and Kent and they rank bottom of the big five with 62% of their academies judged as inadequate or requiring improvement.
And in Witham, Essex, Tory MP Priti Patel has slated AET academy trust’s plans to merge two of its academies.  Comparing the chain to Tesco, she argues that AET was allowed to grow too quickly under the last government.

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