Tory peer’s academy trust seeks unpaid workers

An academy trust founded by a Conservative peer is advertising for unpaid volunteers to fill key roles, as plans for another free school bite the dust.

Newly published accounts for the Floreat Education Academies Trust, founded in 2014 by Lord James O’Shaughnessy, a former aide to David Cameron, show “very low pupil numbers” forced it to scrap its plans to open a free school in Berkshire in September.

It is the trust’s third proposed free school that has fallen through, leaving it with just two small primaries. It did have another school – Floreat Brentford – but that closed last year over site issues. At the time, it had 381 pupils across its schools.

It has also emerged that the trust is looking for volunteers to fill the roles of finance assistant, office administrator and personal assistant to the chief executive.

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A response to ‘Academies the School System in England and a Vision for the Future’ West and Wolfe 2018

For the abolition of academy status, not a ‘common rule book’ for co-existence with maintained schools

David Wolfe is a legal expert on academies whose website ‘A Can of Worms’ provided valuable analysis for several years. He has recently published jointly with Anne West a paper titled ‘Academies, autonomy, equality, and democratic accountability: reforming the fragmented publicly-funded school system in England’, dated 28 October 2018 (i.e. after the Labour Party conference). In it they say:

We would argue that the desired policy goal is for there to be a common framework or rule book for all state-funded schools – academies of different types and maintained schools. (p12)

The phrase ‘common rule book’ had been used by Rayner in her conference speech:

we will use our time in government to bring all publicly funded schools back into the mainstream public sector, with a common rulebook and under local democratic control. [5]

But West and Wolfe interpret it as meaning accepting the continuing existence of academies alongside maintained schools. They say:

One option would be a wholesale statutory conversion of academies into, or back into, maintained schools. (p12)

But they don’t explain what statutory measures a Labour government would need to take, and choose not to explore this option further.

What we describe below seeks to address many of the main issues with academies as we describe them here, but without the same level of disruption and cost. (p12)

They don’t explain what they think the ‘disruption and cost’ might be, and in contrast, two pages later, they describe the option of a Labour government compulsorily integrating academies into the local authority system as a ‘modest further step’:

A bespoke legal mechanism could be devised by which a school, reinstated as a legal entity could make the modest further step of becoming a maintained school again. […] If there were a political will to do so more quickly, that process could be made compulsory (cf. Hatcher, 2018) as opposed to permissive. (p14)

But this option is left till the penultimate paragraph of their paper and the statutory procedures to enable it are left unaddressed.

A new legal framework could ensure that maintained schools and academies operated to the same rules with the same obligations regarding admissions, the curriculum, governance and funding. However, they would still leave in place two parallel strands overall: maintained schools and academies […]. Stopping there would have the attraction to policy makers of not actually changing the core legal notion of an academy… (p14)

It isn’t explained why the authors regard ‘changing the core legal notion of an academy’ as a problem for a Labour government that it would prefer not to countenance. There seem to be some unspoken assumptions about strategy underlying West and Wolfe’s argument. The danger is that focusing on measures to regulate and restrict the status of academies and the trusts that control them without calling for the total abolition of academy status plays into the hands of those who support the academies policy or at least are unwilling to challenge it.

Richard Hatcher

12 January 2019


  1. West, Anne and Wolfe, David (2018) Academies, autonomy, equality, and democratic accountability: reforming the fragmented publicly-funded school system in England. London Review of Education. Date 28 October (i.e. after LP conference)
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Some free schools were always ‘bound to fail’, admits former minister

Some free schools were always “bound to fail”, one of the main architects of the programme has admitted.

Lord Hill of Oareford, who served as a schools minister under Michael Gove between 2010 and 2013, told a House of Lords debate today that he has “never believed that structure is more important than people”, and admitted he always expected some free schools to collapse.

The debate was called by Lord Nash, who succeeded Hill at the DfE in 2013 and served until 2017, and sought to recognise the contribution made by free schools to improving educational standards.

Free schools post some of the best progress scores in the country, and many have been singled out for praise by ministers for their results.

However, dozens of the institutions have closed, many after failing to attract enough pupils, and the programme has increasingly moved away from being a way for parent groups to open schools, and is now predominantly a mechanism for academy trusts to swell their school numbers.

“I’ve never argued that academies or free schools would automatically be better than local authority schools simply because they had a different structure,” said Hill.

Some free schools were always ‘bound to fail’, admits former minister

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Ofsted under fire for sharing new inspection plans with MATs

Ofsted has been criticised for giving academy chain leaders advance details of its controversial new inspection framework before other schools.

A group representing multi-academy trust chiefs has been given sight of a working draft of the new inspection handbook before it is officially published later this month, Ofsted has confirmed.

One teaching union leader has questioned whether maintained schools have been given the same access to Ofsted’s inspection plans and accused the inspectorate of being biased towards MATs.

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Meet the man at the top of the academy tree

Academies have not had a great press recently.

Amid stories about failed MATs, soaring salaries and conflicts of interest, the DfE has struggled to get across its messages about its flagship schools policy.

But now, the sector has a new figure at its helm, and he intends to shout about its successes.

“I want to celebrate more – not in a glitzy marketing way – just what’s good,” says Dominic Herrington, who became interim national schools commissioner (NSC) in September.



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