Are Academy Trusts being told to poach high-performing local authority schools?

Given that my study of free school applications has stalled while I await the DfE’s legal battle to stop me getting the information I need, I decided to look for an alternative approach. Having stumbled upon the Targeted Basic Need Programme, where funds are given to local authorities for new academies, I began considering how providers were being chosen for these schools. As with my Free School studies, I decided to ask for public documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Partly I did so because I’m now horribly familiar with the process, but mostly because I don’t like the ethics of gaining documents via nepotism or as part of a ‘strings attached’ deal.

Among one of the bundles of information I received in a recent FOI-ing bout, I noticed an email from the DfE’s ‘Academies Presumption Team’. It was sent to a council considering Wey Education Schools Trust as the potential sponsor of a new school. It read:

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This struck me as odd. “(T)hey have been advised that they should concentrate on encouraging high performing converters to join the Trust before we will consider them for London projects”.

But…why? Why is an academy trust being asked to encourage high performing local authority schools to convert into it? As far as I can see, The Wey Education Trust website doesn’t name any school that it runs. There appear to be no results. So why is the Academies Presumption Team asking Wey to encourage schools to convert into their management?

It’s one thing for academisation to remove a failing school from a local authority and place it in to the hands of a better provider. But this email suggests Trusts have pointedly been told they must go and ‘encourage’ (effectively: poach) high-performing schools from local authorities who presumably have thus far been doing a pretty good job. And if the Trust doesn’t follow suit, then they will be unable to begin new ventures.

This seems extraordinary. What benefit can there be to this?

As always, I hope that I’ve got the wrong end of the stick. So if someone has an alternative explanation, I’ll be all ears.



Categories: UK Education Policy

6 replies

  1. Our Academy Sponsor has had to look outside it’s chain for school to school support. It only had predominantly failing schools that weren’t going to get better ASAP. From experience you need opportunity to see and liaise with good schools. So I would imagine that could be why.

  2. I think the “converters” mentioned are short hand for Academy Converters. I’d guess this is therefore about getting schools that have already converted to academy status into the chain rather than about getting LA Schools to become part of a chain. That’s still interesting as it suggests a preference for Academy chains over stand alone Academies (even very good ones)

  3. Might this also be something to do with the sense that there’s not much evidence that stand-alone academies will do any better, but there is some evidence (in theory) that there are benefits to be gained from collaborating across a chain? ie maybe it’s the dept implicitly noting that the policy to create stand-alone academies is somewhat flawed, and they’ve decided to try to ‘fix it’ by encouraging chains to hoover up stand-alones. After all, having stated that ‘independence and autonomy is IT, so please convert’, it’d be a bit weird to then approach newly autonomous academies and say ‘oh, and now please join this chain’.

    Or maybe, like you, I am missing something else (perfectly poss!)

  4. I know someone (an individual) who went some way along the application process to be an Academy Sponsor. This was about a year ago so the process might have changed or become a bit more stringent. Basically the individual got all the way to interview at DfE stage. The sticking point was that they did not have an Outstanding school to partner with. It seemed that this school didn’t actually have to be an existing part of the sponsors organisation, just be available to provide unspecified levels of support for schools that were allocated to the sponsor.

    They were also advised that depending on which schools they took on (what their development needs were) there would be different levels funding top-slice permitted.

    So if an organisation has been accepted as a sponsor, then it would make sense to be able to attract an Outstanding school or two to provide this support for others. The (slightly shocking) thing is that Wey seem to have been accepted without already having that support arranged. or they might have it in the form indicated above, but DfE consider that to be insufficient support to enable them to allocate a TBN school.

    The whole process came across as a little too easy to me.

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