Major problems have again struck E-Act, one of the country’s largest academy chains, which has been stripped of nearly a third of its schools due to concerns over standards.
The sponsor has been beset by troubles for some time, with the government being forced to investigate the group over unease about its finances just last year.
And the Department for Education (DfE) confirmed today that the sponsor would be handing back control of 10 of its 34 academies following a number of Ofsted inspections that raised concerns about standards.
The decision will be seen as a significant blow to the government’s academies policy, which has seen more than half of all secondary schools convert since 2010.
It will also add more pressure on education secretary Michael Gove to allow Ofsted to inspect academy chains, something his deputy, the Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws, called for two weeks ago.
In a statement to The Daily Telegraph, E-Act said it was working with the DfE to “identify where we are best place to make a significant difference”.
“Our pupils, parents and staff deserve strong support and leadership,” the sponsor said. “Our focus is on where we can provide this and to allow others to deliver elsewhere.”
The move to strip the schools from E-Act’s control marks the latest in a difficult 12 months for the chain, with an investigation by the Education Funding Agency last year finding a culture of “extravagant” expenses among the board and financial mismanagement.
The report led to the resignation of the chain’s then managing director Sir Bruce Liddington.
It is understood that two members of the E-Act board have resigned after it agreed to cede control of 10 of its schools to the DfE. Officials are now working to “rebroker” agreements for the academies to find new sponsors.
A DfE spokesperson said the decision showed that it had the right checks and balances in place when it came to overseeing the academy programme.
“We will take swift action to address underperformance in all schools — no matter who controls them. That is as true for academies and free schools as it is for council-run schools,” a spokesperson said.
“We welcome E-Act’s decision to hand over a number of their academies to new sponsors. We hope this will mean that E-Act can focus on raising standards in their remaining schools.”
Tristram Hunt, Labour's shadow education secretary, said: “David Cameron and Michael Gove are allowing underperformance to go unchecked in academy schools and free schools. The complete lack of local oversight and the practice of allowing unqualified teachers in these schools has meant poor standards of education are allowed to set in.
“Michael Gove is refusing to take the action that is needed to prevent standards slipping.”