Spotlight on Sponsors – Academies Enterprise Trust

The Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) is the fastest growing Academy chain.

They currently run 19 academies. The government has identified 19 primary schools that it says are ‘underperforming’ and are to be handed over to AET. This will make them the largest chain in the country with 38 academies.

AET was formed in September 2008 to run 3 academies based on the success of the Greensward academy. The CEO is David Triggs who was one of the first self-styled ‘superheads’ enlisted to help run schools in need of assistance.

Allegedly Triggs claims he does not support the Government’s forced academies programme and has been critical of some free schools. Yet he is directly benefiting from the programme. The AET accounts for 2010 state:

“The new coalition Government has made it clear they expect to see the AET grow rapidly. To this end the AET Board has agreed to grow clusters of schools across the country. Their ambition is to have a group of secondary academies, primary school academies, a studio school academy and a university technology college academy They will be exploring the possibility of moving their current secondary academies to all-through academies. This expansion may see the development of clusters in the North of England, Central and Southern England.”

There are questions about the extent of AET experience. Do they have the capacity to run 38 schools? Do they have sufficient primary experience? There is also limited evidence of success. Just 3 of their academies entered pupils for GCSEs in 2009 and 4 in 2010, although these they have shown some improvement.


AET GCSE results – anything special?

Academy providers often boast that they are ‘better’ at school improvement. But there have been questions about their ‘success’. Like other academy providers, AET have ‘gamed’ the system to create the appearance of rapid improvement. .

Under New Labour a series of GCSE ‘equivalent’ courses were introduced where qualifications, such as GNVQs, were counted as equivalent to 2, 3 or 4 GCSEs. This was used by many schools, but particularly academies, to boost their GCSE rankings.

The government recently removed 3,000 GCSE equivalents. While many schools’ rankings were affected by this, it was particularly so in academy chains. When the equivalents are removed, the average drop for all maintained schools nationally is 6% for 5 A*-Cs with English and Maths, from 59.1% with equivalents to 53.2% without equivalents.

AET has 7 academies which entered pupils for GCSEs in 2011, of which 4 had been AET schools when they sat GCSEs in 2010. The results show that all the AET academies saw a significant drop, compared to the national average, and only Greensward is above the national average for GCSE results without equivalents.

The drop in results shows that all were heavily reliant on equivalents.

Academy Name 2010

Claimed GCSE A*-C with English and Maths 2011

Result adjusted to remove equivalents

Drop in results
Greensward Academy





New Rickstones Academy





Maltings Academy





Clacton Coastal Academy





Aylward Academy





Nightingale Academy





Richmond Park Academy





Results with * are for the predecessor school. Source: GCSE data:

The data shows that AET has done nothing special in terms of school improvement. Other programmes such as the City Challenge have as good or better a record of school improvement.


David Triggs – head teacher or CEO?

David Triggs has long been regarded as a successful head teacher. He has acted as an executive head in a number of areas to help turn schools around. There is no doubt that he has turned this to his own personal financial advantage.

In 2009 the TES ran an article entitled ‘a head for business’ that summed up Triggs’ approach. He has been a director of 28 education companies.

For example, he set up Empowering School Improvement (ESI) and used this company to sell his services. In 2009 he was charging £850 per day for his services. He boasted: “I started doing a lot of speeches and the cheques kept arriving”.


Unity City Academy – David Triggs’ hidden failure

Unity City Academy (UCA) in Middlesbrough was one of the first academies in the country. It was opened by David Miliband in 2002 and was sponsored by Amey Plc the building firm. Amey Plc announced “For us, Unity City Academy is our opportunity to contribute to innovation and leadership in learning – and a strong signal of our commitment to supporting public services in Middlesbrough and the North East”.

From the beginning UCA had difficulties which are reflected in their GCSE A*-C with English and Maths results as the timeline below shows:

2004 – 7%

2005 – 6% – put into ‘special measures’ following an Ofsted report.

2006 – 14% – January – Triggs made executive head.

2007 – 12% – November – Triggs was in dispute with the NASUWT when 54 of their members withdrew cooperation accusing his management of being “oppressive and harassing”. Jerry Bartlett, then Deputy General Secretary of the NASUWT said: “Unity City Academy is the worst-managed school I have had to deal with in 30 years’ experience.”

2008 – 18% – Amey announced that they were no longer going to sponsor the school. This is despite the funding agreement they signed that said they had to give 7 years notice to terminate the agreement.

2009 – 23%

2010 – 28%

2011 – 25% – Considering the GCSE equivalents referred to above if you remove the equivalents from UCA results for 2011 they drop from 25% to 9%.

2012  – January – AET took over but still judged inadequate by OFSTED.


While David Triggs may have had some success, Unity City Academy is a reminder that neither academies, AET nor David Triggs, have a magic bullet for school improvement.



The AET – profiting from the public sector?

As with all academy chains, there are questions about if and how they profit from running our schools.

In 2010 AET had a turnover of £83 million. This represented over 50% growth from the year before.

All its income comes from school budgets, paid for by the taxpayer. Yet there is some evidence that a layer of AET executives are profiting handsomely out of this.

In 2009 there were 11 employees earning over £60,000 making a total of £890,000. By 2010 this had become 25 employees earning over £60,000 making a total of £2,180,000. These are company executives not head teachers.


There are 9 Trustees of AET. One of them is an employee of AET but their pay is not declared. Three of them have set themselves up as consultants and sold their services to back to AET. In 2010 they received the following payments:

  • Ian Foster, aka Foster Project & Leadership Development, was paid £59,773 for ‘project management’.
  • Steve Leveren was paid £36,878 for a service described simply as ‘responsible officer’
  • Frank Butler, aka Frank Butler Human Resources Consultants, was paid £21,408 for ‘HR Consultancy’.

We are not suggesting that any of this is illegal, but it does raise questions about how individuals within academy chains can profit from businesses associated with the running of academies.


A web of business interests?

Academy chains are frequently at the centre of a web of business interests. AET is no exception. For example, they are linked with Synabor.

It is a recruitment company which made £2.3 million pre-tax profits in 2010. Its highest paid director took £220,020 and the combined directors’ pay was £326,000. David Triggs is a Director of Synarbor Plc.

Again we are not suggesting anything illegal, but it does raise questions when the director of an academy is also the director of a company making money from the academy.


AET and the future?

In just 4 years AET has grown from a small local group of academies to a national chain. It is approaching the size of a small local authority.

AET presents itself as having the best interests of the community and staff at heart. But to whom is it accountable? local authorities – for all their faults- have elected representative. AET has no such accountability.

As the Coalition’s privatisation agenda expands, it is likely that ‘for-profit’ providers will be given the green light to enter the ‘market’ en masse. Chains like AET are perfectly placed to ‘transition’ from charitable to ‘for profit’ status.  It would be for the directors of AET to decide. No one else would have a say! Given that it is run by a businessman, along business lines, and with many of its people running profitable businesses and with consultancies providing services for it, it does not seem unreasonable to think that, in new ‘market’ conditions, this transition will happen.

We think, from what David Triggs has said, that he is unlikely support this direction of travel. But everyone retires at some point. Who then will lead AET? And where will they take it?

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5 Responses to Spotlight on Sponsors – Academies Enterprise Trust

  1. paula young says:

    Please could I have a copy of the report that Mr Bartrom did at the Marlowe Academy this academic year.

  2. rose dowling says:

    the new CEO of ULT is actually a decent guy and not one of Goves little friends.. I worked with him quite a bit while he was at DfE

  3. Synarbor PLC is the parent company for the teaching agencies ‘Teach In’,
    ‘Supply Desk’ and ‘Synarbor Education’. I expect that these agencies will be supplying copious numbers of teachers to work in AET academies!

  4. max dowling says:

    Would also like a run down on ULT as their newly appointed CEO has just come from a senior position in the DEF. Are there conflicts of interest here? will schools be given to Gove’s little friends?

  5. Teddy Mcnabb says:

    Would love your run down on ULT, ive a child at Northampton Academy, its parents …who are they?

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