New concerns about conflicts of interest in the system that decides who runs academies have reignited calls for more openness and transparency.
In more than a fifth of the cases – 26 out of 115 – where headteacher board (HTBs) minutes record an academy being “rebrokered” from one organisation to another, they were handed over to a trust that a member of the board has an interest in.
A TES analysis also found another 28 academy handovers since the HTBs began their work in September 2014 which could have involved a conflict of interest, but TES could not confirm whether this was the case, because there are no published records of who took the decisions, and when.
Angela Rayner, Labour shadow education secretary, called for education secretary Justine Greening to “intervene immediately and demand an explanation about why there is no public record of these rebrokering arrangements or whether there was any conflict of interest”.
There is no suggestion any board member behaved inappropriately, and in all 26 recorded decisions with conflicts of interest, the HTB minutes list the relevant board members as either not being at the meeting or leaving the room during the discussions.
But in September 2015, the National Governors’ Association told the Commons Education Select Committee that “simply excluding the individual from the discussion and the formal decision-making process does not mean they do not unconsciously or consciously affect the decision”.
It added: “Their underlying influence as a member of the HTB will still be felt and it is difficult to argue that the other board members’ consideration was not affected by their knowledge of the excluded individual.”
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We need more transparency and clarity on what’s going on because things need to be reported accurately.
“It’s in the interests of the members of the HTB to show how it is done, as it protects them from any allegation of self-interest.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Our published advice is clear: HTB members must remove themselves from discussions and must not provide advice on cases where there is a conflict of interest, a potential conflict of interest or an appearance of such a conflict.”
The TES analysis also revealed that 54 academies, including 12 free schools, have been transferred to new academy trusts two years or less after opening with their original sponsor.
Malcolm Trobe said: “If we are finding examples, as I think we are, where these free schools are being rebrokered relatively soon, it would indicate that appropriate checks have not been made in the first instance.”
The Department for Education said that only 2.6 per cent of academies had moved trusts due to underperformance.
This is an edited article from the 10 March 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