Academy payments under fire

Companies linked to sponsors are profiting from the new independent state schools. Michael Shaw and Graeme Paton report

Academies are continuing to do a substantial amount of business with companies linked to their sponsors, The TES can reveal.

Accounts for the first 17 academies show that four made payments totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds to organisations their benefactors had interests in.

The Department for Education and Skills said this week that the payments, covering the 20034 financial year, were entirely above board and often concerned consultancy fees, which are to be expected with all new academies.

Critics say the practice raises further concerns over the role of the private sector in the running of academies, independent state schools exempt from local council control.

The main sponsor of the King's academy in Middlesbrough is Sir Peter Vardy, a major shareholder in the Vardy car dealership group and founder of the Emmanuel Schools Foundation. Accounts show the academy was invoiced pound;72,858 by the Vardy Group, most for the purchase of minibuses and the rest for publicity materials and security hire. It was also billed pound;102,904 for the salaries of staff seconded from Emmanuel college in Gateshead, which is also sponsored by the foundation.

A foundation spokeswoman said: "We are using sensibly the resources available to achieve the best value for money. For example, the King's academy was able to purchase and convert three Fiat vans for use as school minibuses at enormous discount. Without the buying power of Reg Vardy plc, the cost to the academy would have been considerably higher."

The West London academy's main sponsor is Alec Reed, chairman of Reed Executive, parent company of the Reed recruitment agencies, and the Reed Charity.

The academy says in its accounts that none of its staff costs were paid to companies in the Reed Group. However, the school paid pound;58,572 to the Reed Charity for project management. It also paid pound;633 in total to Reed Personnel, Reed Learning and Reed Training for project management and training services.

A Reed spokesman said: "The larger sum was not a purchase but a secondment of a member of the Reed team. The small sum was approved by the DfES."

Walsall city academy is sponsored by the Mercers Company, a charitable grant-making trust, and Thomas Telford Online, the education resources company run by Thomas Telford city technology college in Telford, Shropshire.

Accounts show it paid pound;20,000 in management fees to the Telford city technology college trust, which runs the CTC. It also paid pound;26,139 a year earlier. Jean Hickman, academy principal, said: "All academies have project managers. Back in 2000 when the school was thought about, Thomas Telford became project managers and were given a fee for so doing."

City of London academy, Southwark, which welcomed Tony Blair earlier this month as it opened its new pound;31 million building, is being sponsored by the Corporation of London, the local authority providing services to the City of London. Accounts show that pound;385,000 was paid to the corporation's department of technical services to act as buildings project manager. The documents show these costs were agreed in advance with the Government and "comparable to industry norms".

Accounts also reveal that not all sponsors are providing pound;2m.

The London academy, in Brent, north London, is sponsored by Peter Shalson, chairman of SGI, the venture capitalists. According to the accounts he is personally contributing pound;1.5m. The DfES says additional funding will come from the local authority sale of part of the predecessor school site, Edgware comprehensive.

Earlier this month The TES revealed that the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Southwark will pay pound;200,000 to sponsor St Paul's academy, Greenwich, which will move into new buildings in 2007. The remaining pound;1.8m will come from the sale of St Paul's existing site by the local council.

And some sponsors are being offered "three for the price of four" deals on academies, as ministers attempt to open 200 within the next five years.


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