Academies U-turn gives green light to captains of industry to go it alone

19th February 2010 at 00:00
Government drops requirement for sole sponsors to have background in education

Plans to ban non-educational organisations from being sole academy sponsors have been abandoned by the Government.

Ministers had pledged to stop groups without a track record in education from being lone backers of academies as part of an initiative to weed out unsuitable sponsors.

But the requirement that lead sponsors must have experience in running schools or have a co-sponsor with educational expertise has now been dropped.

The shift was revealed in the final guidance of the Government's accreditation system, published this week. It covers organisations that want to be academy sponsors or lead school federations and trusts.

The U-turn on non-educational bodies followed a consultation in which a number of sponsors complained that stopping similar groups taking control of schools would stifle innovation.

In its response, the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "We have considered these arguments and agree that our original approach was too rigid.

"Many felt that the excellent innovative practice that exists in the academies programme has sometimes been as a result of individual business sponsors and organisations without educational expertise contributing their drive, commitment and considerable capacity to great effect.

"We agree that it is important to ensure this contribution is still possible."

The controversial move has been made despite the majority of respondents to the consultation backing the original proposals.

Instead of being forced to have an educational partner, sponsors will now have to set out their strategy and how they will access school-improvement expertise.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, criticised the decision.

"A key criterion to being a sponsor must be having a successful track record in education," she said.

"It was there to ensure that organisations running schools would have expertise and knowledge, but because academy sponsors have complained, the Government has dropped it.

"What is the point of devising criteria if a key principle can be jettisoned?"

The accreditation scheme was announced last year after a number of high-profile problems at academies.

These included Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle being placed into special measures. The school is sponsored by two businessmen without a background in education and appointed the first state school leader who was not a qualified teacher.

John Chowcat, general secretary of the Association of Professionals in Education and Children's Trusts, also raised concerns that the accreditation system will not be sufficiently robust.

"There are elements of a proper quality-assurance system, but it's not a full mechanism of the kind you would find in other industries," he said.

"There needs to be full transparency and genuine independence for the assessors, but that is still unclear."

There will be two different types of test for suitability - one is for providers that will run one or two schools, and the other is for organisations that will run chains of three or more schools.

No experience necessary: the academy sponsors without education expertise

- Sir David Garrard, a retired property developer who backed Bexley Business Academy, Kent.

- Lord Harris, chairman of Carpetright, who sponsors a chain of nine academies in south London.

- David Ross, co-founder of the Carphone Warehouse, sponsors Havelock Academy in Grimsby.

- Courier magnate Sir Clive Bourne, sponsor of the highly successful Mossbourne Community Academy in Hackney, east London.

- Sir Frank Lowe, advertising millionaire, sponsor of Capital City Academy in Willesden, north-west London.

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