Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
29 MARCH 2010
Q40 Chair: Nick, what you are
saying is that the sponsorship money is only a part of the thing.
The real help you get is actually the management quality, the
administrative help and all that an organisation like that brings.
Nick Weller: Absolutely. Yes.
Chair: You are asking us to put that
in in advance.
Nick Weller: Yes, and I think
one has one's own opinions about the range of sponsorship models.
Some of the larger chains, for example, can takenot all
of them, but some of thema top slice of 10% off the budget.
That sounds to me like a national local authority without the
local interest. Whereas the smaller, more typical model among
the smaller independents sponsoring other academies would be something
like contributing about 2% of budget to some sort of central foundation
from each school, because if you take 10% away, you rather negate
one of the main advantages of being an academy. So as I said at
the beginning, I think in the next few years it will be very clear
which models of sponsorship work best. We've already heard of
one start-up that doesn't inspire one with confidence. It's often
clear right from the start, and if an academy does go wrong, it's
often been clear early on that perhaps that might happen. All
I'm saying is that clear models of sponsorship will emerge over
the next few years, and I think you'll get a very clear picture
of which sponsors are highly successful and which are less so.
Q41 Paul Holmes: You were very
critical in your opening comments about local education authorities
that retain 8% or 10% of their budget. The Government are moving
heavily down the road of setting up lots of mini local authorities,
such as ULT with 17 schools, or E-ACT with eight schools and five
more in the pipeline. As you say, they cream off money for their
central administration. Are you against that model?
Nick Weller: I would say that
when that model builds too big a centre, absolutely. Obviously,
I may be proved wrong. It may well be that some of the larger
shared academies that have a very large centre will be able in
some way to provide their schools with better central services
than we are able to do with our small federation of schools. However,
I personally don't think that's the way to go. I think those patterns
of success will emerge very quickly. Among the larger sponsors,
I am sure, there will be some that emerge as highly effective
and others that are less so.
Q42 Paul Holmes: This is a question
for whoever wants to respond. A mini local education authority,
such as E-ACT, has eight brand new academies that have been open
for less than a year, and five more in the pipelinethat
is 13 schools maximum, but at the moment only eight. Sir Bruce
Liddington, who of course piloted the whole Government scheme
for 400 academies and was paid £200,000 a year when working
with the civil service, is now paid £265,000 a year to oversee
eight schools. He has got eight directors, I think, who earn between
£85,000 and £195,000 a piece. They've all got company
credit cards and expense accounts. They use chauffer-driven BMW
and Merc limousines to go and visit academies around the country,
in Sheffield and various other places. Sir Bruce, with one of
his staff, spent £1,500 on two nights in a hotel in Birmingham
while they were on business. All that is paid for entirely by
the taxpayer, for what is effectively a small local education
authority of eight schools. Is that the way forward?
John Bangs: That is one of those
balls that you can see coming towards you very, very slowly indeed.
No, it is not the way forward.
Chair: Sir Bruce, as schools commissioner,
used to give evidence to this Committee and we liked him rather.
I don't know where Paul is getting this information.
Paul Holmes: The Evening Standard
on Friday. I've got the paperwork.
Chair: It's owned by a Russian these
days, isn't it?
John Bangs: It isn't the way forward.
One of the reasons why, and this affects other aspects of the
inquiry, is that it is down to Paul Holmes to spot that in the
Evening Standard instead of discovering exactly
how the institutions operate in public. That is what local authority
community schools have to do in relation to the Audit Commission,
the regular audit that takes place, and the accountability of
their finances submitted every three months to the local authority.
Everything is open and above board. It may or may not be the case
that some of the claims made by some people about Sir Bruce and
his minions driving BMWs are over-exaggerated, but how would you
know? That is the key issue. People laugh about local democratic
accountability being the antithesis of freedom for head teachers.
I don't understand that. I've never seen it, but when you talk
to the head teacher of a local primary school, they rely on their
local authority and on the cluster of schools that surround them
for mutual support that is fostered and sponsored in an open and
accountable way. Nothing is perfect, and local authorities certainly
aren't perfect, but at least you know what's going on.
Q43 Chair: So, that's a plea for
John Bangs: It is.
Q44 Chair: You wouldn't disagree
with that, Nick?
Nick Weller: I wouldn't disagree
with that. As a local authority head, my finances went to the
local authority and I don't think they were published more widely
than that. As an academy head, we have to report under the accounting
rules of the Charity Commission, and we have published annual
accounts. I would say there is probably more openness and accountability
as an academy head than as a local authority head.
Q45 Paul Holmes: Before I let
Andrew come back, PricewaterhouseCoopers has said that there is
a missing link between what academies are reporting in their own
accounts and the reconciliation of these with the Department's
resource accounts against their funding agreement. When I asked
a parliamentary question a few weeks ago on whether academies
are subject to Freedom of Information, because they are almost
entirely publicly funded, the answer was no. Ed Balls, or whatever
Minister it was, said, "But we're consulting with the academies
to see if they would like to be subject to Freedom of Information."
Have you been consulted and have you said, "Yes, please?"
Nick Weller: I have responded
to that consultation and said that, as a publicly funded organisation,
I would expect to be held publicly accountable in that way. The
one thing I would not want is to be pestered with lots of requests
that could be answered much more easily from the Governmentfrom
the centre. The DCSF holds quite a bank of information, as will
the new YPLA, about academies. As long as they are the first port
of call, personally I have no objection.
Q46 Paul Holmes: The DCSF does
not hold the information on what the directors are paying themselves
from these many education authorities, what their expense accounts
are, what the limousines are, what their 5% bonus iseven
though they only pay the staff 1%for this new financial
new year. I am talking about those sorts of things.
Andrew Baisley: I question why
it is that academies are always seeking more secrecy and more
opacity in their reporting. In the latest round, there was an
attempt to get academies to have exempt charity status and therefore
avoid further scrutiny. That was removedthe Government
backed down from thatbut I am always intrigued about why
the suggestion is that there should be more shielding and cloaking
until campaigners, such as myself or John, succeed in turning
Nick Weller: A point of information
on that is that the DCSF wanted and suggested that we would have
exempt status. That is something that academies resisted because
it would have compromised charitable status. It is the exact reverse
of what Andrew is suggesting. It was a DCSF initiative and it
was something that academy heads were successful in overturning.
Q47 Paul Holmes: The other question
linked to the factors about pay, expenses, limousines and all
the rest of it is on conflicts of interest. Long ago, when the
first academies opened, the Vardy Emmanuel Schools Trust, for
example, paid £111,000 to Reg Vardy plc for marketing and
recruitment services. They paid £121,000 to Emmanuel College
for educational advice and £14,000 to the Billy Graham Evangelistic
Association to pay for the work of Sir Peter Vardy's brother,
who worked for that association, and so on. Much more modern is
the case of E-ACT, where Sir Bruce Liddington is an associate
of Veritas, but uses Veritas to hire consultancy staff. He has
just hired one at £900 a day, for example, from Veritas,
with which he has links. Another director at E-ACT is on the board
of Harvey Nash. It uses Harvey Nash to recruit the directors for
E-ACT. If that happened in a local authority, those involved would
be sacked straight away. Why are E-ACT or any of the other bodies
that are running little chains of schools and academies allowed
to do all that?
Nick Weller: I wouldn't say it
was typical. As I said to you, I think that successful models
of running academies will quickly emerge soon. If you suck money
out of schoolsaway from the education of studentsobviously
you are not going to be as successful. As I say, that will happen
Chair: Last one, John.
John Bangs: There are an extraordinary
number of odd sources of information. The Mail on Sunday
came up with information about how much consultancy firms were
charging academies for opening bank accounts, registering exam
boards and so on. There is the interesting role of Graham McAvoy,
who worked for the DCSF's academy programme. He was engaged, through
his company Alligan, to oversee the building and establishment
of new schools and so on. On Paul Holmes's comment, the total
figure is that around 30 academies triggered the expenditure of
£1 million in consultancy fees. You are right. This is a
situation where individual schools that are outside the maintained
sector can pay enormous fees relative to their own revenue budgets
to pay for services that would have been "free" from
local authorities. It is a waste of money.
Q48 Paul Holmes: And they do it
John Bangs: Exactly.
Chair: Okay. We will finish on that note.
We have had The Evening Standard, we have had The Daily
Mail. It is a fitting end to this session. Thank you very
much, John Bangs, Andrew Baisley and Nick Weller. It has been
a pleasure having you in front of the Committee for what looks
like our final session. Now we will ask you to vacate those seats,
so we can get our next witness in.