The minister who oversees the academy system could be allowed to make key decisions about the controversial academy trust that he founded, Tes can reveal.
Lord Agnew set up the Inspiration Trust in 2012, and it now runs 13 free schools and academies in Norfolk and Suffolk.
He resigned as its chairman when he became a minister in September 2017, but remained as a trustee.
Since he joined the Department for Education, any decisions about the Inspiration Trust have been taken by another minister – including about whether Inspiration could expand to take on more schools – due to Lord Agnew’s conflict of interest.
The minister then stepped down as a trustee and member at Inspiration in August, relinquishing all formal links. Now, the DfE has told Tes that the conflict-of-interest agreement was being “reviewed in light of this change”.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner accused the DfE of “weakening whatever controls there were”.
Secrecy surrounding Lord Agnew’s conflict-of-interest agreement has already proved controversial, after the DfE blocked a Tes freedom of information request to see a copy of the document.
Ms Rayner raised the issue during her keynote speech to the Labour Party conference, and the Information Commissioner's Office is currently investigating an appeal by Tes.
Ms Rayner told Tes: “Important decisions about the future of schools are being made by an unelected minister in Whitehall, far removed from the communities affected and with potentially serious conflicts of interest.
“It is hardly too much to ask that ministers are transparent about their own transparency policy, but apparently they can’t even manage that. Instead, they now seem to be weakening whatever controls there were.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “When Lord Agnew became minister, arrangements were put in place between the permanent secretary of the Department for Education and Lord Agnew on the decisions that he would take as a minister given his role with Inspiration Trust, which were approved by the prime minister’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests.
“Under this agreement, any decisions taken on Inspiration Trust would be taken by another minister, which would include decisions on expansion.
"Lord Agnew has now stepped down from his roles with Inspiration Trust, so these agreements are being reviewed in light of this change.”