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Charity's academy sponsorship branded 'conflict of interest'

A decision by one of the country's biggest educational charities to become an academy sponsor has been branded a "conflict of interest" by a teaching union.

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) has revealed that within the next academic year it intends to become involved in running underperforming state schools that have converted to academy status.

But the proposals have been criticised by teaching union the ATL, which has questioned whether there is a conflict for the SSAT when it comes to its thousands of paying members and the sponsored schools.

The vast majority of secondary schools, including existing academies, pay an annual fee to the SSAT for a range of support services.

"I do think there is a potential conflict between providing services to all academies and then having a much closer relationship by sponsoring them," said ATL general secretary Mary Bousted.

The SSAT said it had taken up the Government's offer to step in and sponsor at least two struggling schools in a bid to raise standards.

Chief executive Elizabeth Reid said that the trust is among a list of Government-approved sponsors currently in talks with schools about helping to run them.

According to Ms Reid, the establishment of a trust to sponsor academies was "very considerably" debated by the SSAT's national headteacher steering group.

"We have met with governing bodies of schools, and now it is up to the governors which sponsor they would like to go into partnership with," she said.

"We have also been approached by schools and local authorities with the possibility to come to an arrangement. We have been having enough conversations to be confident that we will have more than one academy within the next academic year."

A new body, the SSAT Academy Trust, will be set up to oversee the sponsorship of schools. It will have its own board and its own chief executive, both of which are yet to be appointed.

The SSAT is just the latest in a line of organisations that has taken up education secretary Michael Gove's offer to sponsor schools.

Last week, The TES reported that political and social policy charity the RSA was to dramatically expand the number of schools under its control from one to more than half a dozen.

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