Squeezed budgets, falling rolls, deprivation and crumbling buildings are leaving a growing number of schools facing “untouchable” status and rejection by risk-averse academy trusts.
A TES investigation reveals that a recent change in the Department for Education’s approach to the contracts drawn up between multi-academy trusts (MATs) and schools, combined with a more cautious approach from the trusts, is deepening the problem.
The chief executive of one large academy trust, which was looking at incorporating a particular school, told TES: “We have a school at the moment in such a state that we have had to go back to the regional schools commissioner to say, ‘This is not happening unless we get more money,’ and it is a very a big amount of money we’re asking for. They have a deficit budget. Although we have reserves, there is no way we would use that to bail out that school.”
Analysis of latest government figures shows that 26 schools in England are still without confirmed sponsors, more than a year after Ofsted branded them inadequate and ministers demanded that they become academies.
Ofsted this week cited the “failure to secure a sponsor” in an inspection report for Baverstock Academy in Birmingham, judging the secondary “inadequate” in all areas.
It said: “The school is not financially sustainable. The lack of a sponsor and a significant fall in the number of pupils on roll mean the school has no capacity to continue in its current state.”
Multi-academy trusts 'can't walk away'
Solicitor Matthew Wolton, who heads the public sector arm of law firm Clark Holt, said changes made by the department were fuelling the problem.
“The DfE has recently changed the rules on funding agreements, which makes it more difficult for a MAT to stop operating a school if it threatens to bring the whole chain into insolvency,” he told TES.
The solicitor said that if local or central government were unable to provide schools with large amounts of money needed for major building work, then academy trusts would now “walk away”, unable to take the risk of accommodating them.
“It is easy to see how this could quickly lead to a school becoming ‘untouchable’,” he said.
But the DfE said there was no evidence to support the claim that schools were untouchable.
“Where a school is underperforming, regional schools commissioners can compel a governing body or local authority to take specified steps towards academy conversion,” a spokesman said.
He added that the DfE gave sponsors grants that varied with the scale of the challenge.
This is an edited article from the 25 November edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here