Exclusive: How the DfE failed to persuade business to sponsor academies

Only three academy sponsor applications have come from the business sector in two years – and none have been approved

Government efforts to recruit new academy sponsors from the business sector failed.

Ministerial efforts to get more businesses to run academies has failed to generate any successful sponsorship applications over the past two years, a Tes investigation has found.

Only two applications to become an academy sponsor emerged from the business sector in 2016-17 and just one emerged the following year.

Of these, two were withdrawn and one was rejected. None were approved.

The figures, released following a Tes freedom of information request, come against a backdrop of a 40 per cent drop in the overall number of academy-sponsor applications over the same period.

Ofsted: More good sponsors needed for failing schools

Academies: Failure to find sponsors raises questions

Revealed: 20 most expensive academy transfers

The failure to secure any new business sponsors was despite repeated ministerial efforts to woo the sector.

In 2013, then-academies minister Lord Nash travelled to Norwich to urge businesses to become sponsors, and then-education secretary Nicky Morgan made a similar plea two years later at what the Department for Education described as a “gathering of England’s top business leaders” in the House of Lords.

According to DfE records, Lord Nash held a series of meetings with business figures in 2016 to discuss “academy sponsorship”.

And in February 2017, the DfE told Tes that its regional schools commissioners would continue to encourage sponsorship applications from business.

In the same month, Lord Nash met New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) to discuss “the business-sponsor possibilities”, according to the DfE.

NPC told Tes that the meeting was actually about charity involvement.

Only one application from the charitable sector to become an academy sponsor was received in 2016-17, which the DfE lists as still “under assessment”. None were received the following year.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said: “If you are in the business sector and you are looking to sponsor a school in a sector where the funding is going through the floor, and where the reputational risks of a school falling foul of an Ofsted judgement are great, then why would you?

“The conditions are not right for business to want to be involved in the education service, and in my view, nor should it be.”

Businessman Graham Dacre co-founded the Open Academy in Norwich – Norfolk’s first – in 2008, but resigned five years later and the school transferred to a diocesan multi-academy trust.

Two years ago, he told Tes that he “would not do it again” because he did not have as much freedom as he expected.

He said: “I ended up being accountable and responsible without having the ability to lead it the way I wanted to lead it.”

A DfE spokesperson said the department was currently able to draw from more than 1,100 approved sponsors.

He added: “Our focus when finding sponsors is to identify one that meets the specific needs and requirements of the school in question, rather than trying to find a sponsor from a specific sector or background.”

He noted that experienced people from the business sector “continue to play a vital role” in supporting school governance, adding: “This includes the Academy Ambassadors programme, which has now placed more than 1,200 non-executive directors on academy trust boards, bringing their specific skills in business and industry to support school improvement.”

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you