Funding of Academies - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 20-39)


29 MARCH 2010

  Q20 Chair: Doesn't that show that among local authorities in London with similar funding, some perform very well and some perform awfully? Isn't it a question of political leadership and of wanting to do something about education? Come on, there are some bad authorities, aren't there?

  Andrew Baisley: There are some bad authorities, but there are some bad academy sponsors as well. The difference is that with a bad local authority, there are straightforward democratic mechanisms for making your views about failure felt and standard procedures for working towards progress. Where you've got a failed sponsor, what do you do? Where do you go? You have to go to the Secretary of State, and he's very remote. Further, his powers of intervention are very difficult for a funding—

  Q21 Chair: I can't believe you've just described the Secretary of State as remote. We've always found him very hands-on.

  Andrew Baisley: I'm sure you did here, but what was it he said about Carlisle and Richard Rose? That you can't micro-manage a school; Carlisle is a very long way from London.

  Nick Weller: This idea that academies can't be community schools I would refute. Just because they're not called community schools doesn't mean they can't serve their local community. There are exactly the same number of staff governors and parent governors in both our academies as there are in any local authority school and as I had in my previous local authority school. The school we've just taken over—

  Q22 Paul Holmes: But parents are not on the governing body of most academies, and staff certainly aren't.

  Nick Weller: I can talk in detail about five, and on all of those, they are represented. Again, I'm not sure where you're getting that information, but I would refute that.

  Paul Holmes: From all over the country.

  Nick Weller: The school we've just taken over was failing for 15 years. The 200 original academies were the schools that were never going to get specialist school status, because they just weren't going to attain the standards necessary to get there. It's very much a movement about turning around the very worst schools in the country. Surely the only time you want cohesion in the system is if you agree that standards are good enough. If you don't agree that standards are good enough, there's no one to cohere around inadequate standards. You need to do something to break that pattern. To have a few schools that are trying to break that mould in their way—there are other ways to do it. There are trust schools and various other ways of doing it. They are showing progress, and I am sure that progress will show increasingly strongly. Can I make a point about collaboration, too, just to finish off? We are in south Bradford. There are three academies, two trust schools, another school that's thinking about becoming a trust and one local authority school. Of all the sections of south Bradford—it's divided into three areas—we're the most collaborative group. I think people do collaborate best from a position of independence and strength rather than from a position of weakness. I don't see that academies and collaboration don't go together, either.

  Q23 Chair: But this was in a local authority that had had a serious failure in education for a very long time as a local authority.

  Nick Weller: That's where academies have been focused.

  Q24 Chair: Didn't they have to have a private safety provider coming in?

  Nick Weller: Indeed, yes. That contract is just ending.

  Q25 Chair: John, aren't you tilting at windmills that no longer exist, in the sense that there have been big changes in the academy programme? Local authorities have much more bite on academies. Sponsorship is no longer necessary. I would have thought that the campaign Andrew and you have run has been successful. The Government's given you what you want; you're just going through the motions because you can't help yourselves.

  John Bangs: No. In fact, you've got the education equivalent of an arms race in front of the next election.

  Q26 Chair: An educational arms race?

  John Bangs: Claims are being made about who is more in favour of various exotic variants of free school, for example. Education tourism has gone rampant. It's not just Sweden; they're looking elsewhere, at the States with their Knowledge is Power programme schools. As I said, Estelle Morris was absolutely right about the direction of travel. The fact that there are only 200 academies means that they provide a basis for a wholly distracting debate—I mean distracting from the question of how you improve schools—about how new and ever more exotic forms of structural change can, of themselves, improve schools. What we've always said is that structural change does not improve schools. Your point earlier—that's why I came in, Chair, because I thought you were going to ask that question—was about academies tackling the problems of failing local authorities. I couldn't think of a worse way of tackling the problem of failing local authorities—and I don't hold up any candle for local authorities that fail—than changing one or two individual schools within those authorities. I can't think of a worse way of doing it, because you actually make the situation worse; you concentrate on the school, rather than the systemic failure running across the administration of all schools.

  Q27 Chair: That's not normally the way it's worked, is it? If a local authority has been absolutely dire, hasn't the Department generally sent in a private sector provider? They did that to some extent in Bradford, Leeds and other authorities.

  John Bangs: They have, and the picture there has been mixed, because those private providers have poached off the best authorities to provide the personnel to improve other authorities. Of course, the quality of the personnel they poached has, by and large, been good, so the authority has improved. I think this is about government looking to its own resources among local authorities—the very best administrators. We have had more than 20 years of denigration of local authorities—it has been 22 years of denigration since the Education Reform Act 1988—and that has had an effect on the self-efficacy of those going into local government. Post the election—one can only wish—there should be a debate about how you actually put flesh on the bones of a democratically accountable local authority. Two years ago, we floated the idea of school boards, for example, piloting that. There needs to be a debate about how you restore pride in the administration of a local authority's education and children's services and about how you provide status for people and links between authorities and schools. That's where the debate is. I feel a bit sorry for local authorities; they ploughed on in a climate where there was complete denigration of what they'd done from a number of parties.

  Q28 Chair: Sorry, John, but can I push you a bit on the denigration? I don't understand this. I thought the Government had consistently applauded local authorities that do a good job, whether providing good schools and good education or protecting children in the way they are supposed to protect them. The criticism—denigration is rather an emotive word—is quite rightly for those local authorities that do not provide a decent education for their children or which fail to protect them. We've become a lot more sensitive about the performance of local authorities when it leads to child murder and child death, but we can't be complacent more generally if we're not delivering a good service in a local authority.

  John Bangs: Well, there's a general description of the concept of local authorities and a general pressure constantly to devolve. To answer Mr Timpson's question about whether I'm in favour of the status quo, I actually think community schools are about as good as it gets in the current situation. The fact of the matter is that local authorities such as Barking and Dagenham, Newham and Tower Hamlets, which I know particularly well, have had their arms bent behind their backs to have academies, despite the fact that they are successful local authorities. Why, I have no idea. They've had tremendous problems with their Building Schools for the Future budgets, because they haven't agreed to academies—and they're successful authorities.

  Q29 Chair: Okay. We've got to move on. I have a quick question. There is a view that some of the sponsors haven't actually stumped up their sponsorship money. Nick, is anyone aware of this? Is it true? Is it untrue? If it is true, how have they got away with this?

  Nick Weller: I'm sure colleagues sat to my left can give you fuller information. I only know the case of one such sponsor through my direct contact with about five academies. They were joint sponsors; the Church of England was the other sponsor, and it came to an arrangement with the DCSF to plug the gap. Most sponsors these days are educational sponsors anyway, so to a certain extent, the question is possibly no longer as relevant as it might have been.

  Q30 Chair: Are you saying that some of these people with a good reputation, such as the Arts Foundation, haven't come up with their sponsorship money?

  Andrew Baisley: I've got a list here of all the academies, how much was pledged and how much has actually been handed over to date.

  Q31 Chair: Would you let the Committee have that?

  Andrew Baisley: Yes. I'd be very happy to.[1]

  Q32 Chair: What's the worst example?

  Andrew Baisley: The worst is nothing, of course. Bede Academy had £1.5 million pledged.

  Q33 Chair: Which academy?

  Andrew Baisley: Bede Academy. The sponsor is the Duke of Northumberland, isn't it? I think he's got some money. Harris Crystal Palace—£1 million pledged, nothing received; Harris Boys East Dulwich—£1 million pledged, nothing received; Harris Girls East Dulwich—£500,000 pledged, nothing received; Harris Merton—£500,000 pledged, nothing received; Harris, Bermondsey—£1.5 million pledged—

  Q34 Chair: So you're picking on Harris are you?

  Andrew Baisley: Well, I'm just on the "H"s.

  Nick Weller: Harris is an educational sponsor; it wouldn't need to pledge any money. It may well keep its money in a central foundation, presumably, or something like that, but it is not obliged, like a private sector sponsor, to hand over millions.

  Chair: Harris Foundation is not a private sector sponsor. I see. It's an educational foundation.

  Nick Weller: It could be an educational foundation.

  Andrew Baisley: But Lord Harris makes carpets.

  Nick Weller: He does. It doesn't stop people having a foundation.

  Andrew Baisley: Why has he pledged all this money? He's pledged, in total, £6.5 million, and so far stumped up £750,000.

  Q35 Paul Holmes: But the actual overall figure is that, of 19 academies that were pledged sponsorship money, 13 have not received a penny and one third of the total that was pledged has not been received across the board. They are the actual figures from December 2009. So that is the most up-to-date summary. What about the extraordinary side-deal that was done with United Learning Trust? It hadn't got the money to pay the sponsorship it pledged, so the Department gave it the money so that it could pay the sponsorship, and then said that it could pay the Department back by knocking it off future payments to the academies. I mean, what on earth is that about?

  Nick Weller: I'm not sure that money, and seeking sponsorship money, is the main thing that a sponsor should do.

  Q36 Paul Holmes: But the Government said that was the whole point when academies started, as with CTCs when they started. They all had to be bailed out by the taxpayer as well.

  Nick Weller: Well, I don't know. At the end, I think the sponsor would have put in about £1 million for something like a £20 million build, or something like that in those days. That wasn't the most important thing that our sponsor brought to our organisation. Arguably, that was just at that time another form of political donation.

  Q37 Paul Holmes: But do you think the side-deal made sense?

  Nick Weller: You'd have to ask the DCSF.

  Q38 Paul Holmes: For the Government to say, "Sponsorship is important; you can't raise it, so we'll give it to you and let you cream it off taxpayers' money." What is the point?

  Nick Weller: What I'm saying is that I think the money is a side issue. Most sponsorship of academies these days does not involve money, because it involves educational organisations such as universities, further education colleges and outstanding schools—some of those are local authority schools, for example. Some local authority heads are so keen on academies, they actually want to sponsor academies. So I think that is becoming increasingly irrelevant, really.

  Q39 Paul Holmes: So, do you approve of the side-deal that Ed Balls did with ULT?

  Nick Weller: I have no knowledge of that; I don't really have anything—

  Chair: I don't think it's fair to press him on that.

  Paul Holmes: It was all over the newspapers not very long ago.

  Chair: But I don't think Nick Weller is responsible for that.

  Paul Holmes: But he's here on behalf of the Independent Academies Association, or whatever it's called. He represents academies as a whole.

  Nick Weller: In general, we don't. We represent roughly 50% of academies. They tend to be the smaller, more independent ones. We don't get a lot of membership from the larger chains. The larger chains tend to prefer to put their own systems in place, whereas we are about sharing good practice, exchanging ideas and that sort of thing. We don't have as much membership among the larger chains. So I wouldn't particularly—

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