ARE ACADEMY TRUSTS BUSINESSES?
Academy trusts are education charities that are set up purely for the purpose of running and improving schools. Trustees have strict duties under charity law and company law. Trustees are not paid – they are not allowed to run the trust for their own ‘private’ interest but are required to advance education for public benefit. They are required to uphold the Principles of Public Life.
CAN ACADEMIES MAKE PROFITS?
As education charities, academy trusts are not allowed to make profits or distribute profits to trustees or members. They also have to follow strict rules on conflicts of interests. All surpluses are invested into the front-line to improve the quality of education.
WHO ARE ACADEMY TRUSTS ACCOUNTABLE TO?
Trusts are held to account to a higher standard than local authority schools - known as "maintained schools". The obligation of transparency and accountability is much greater than maintained schools. Trusts are held to account by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), Ofsted and Regional Directors at the Department for Education.
Every trust has a person known as the 'accounting officer' - usually the chief executive - who is personally responsible to Parliament for the spending of public money.
School trusts are required to have an independent audit annually and to publish their accounts. They are also required to disclose senior pay in their accounts. If the ESFA investigates a trust, the investigation report is published on the government’s website. There is no similar requirement on local authorities to publish investigation reports or tell you how much senior staff like head teachers get paid.
ARE ACADEMIES FREE TO ATTEND?
Like any other state school, academies are free to attend, inspected in the same way, and children take the same tests and exams. Academy trusts are funded from your taxes, so parents do not pay fees. Each school has a funding agreement with the Secretary of State for Education - if it doesn't keep to the rules, the agreement can be ended and the school transferred to a different trust.
More than half of pupils in England – 3.8 million pupils – are now educated in academy schools. This is about seven in ten secondary pupils and three in ten primary pupils.
WHO OWNS THE BUILDINGS AND PROPERTY AT AN ACADEMY? CAN THEY BE SOLD OFF FOR PROFIT?
Academy trusts can use buildings and land in various ways, but most hold their sites on long leases from the local authority, for a nominal charge. There are legal controls on the disposal of academy and maintained school publicly funded land. The Secretary of State’s permission is required before anyone can sell publicly-funded school land or school land which has been enhanced at public expense. They can impose strict conditions to protect the taxpayer, like paying back any money raised.
DO ACADEMIES HAVE TO LOOK AFTER CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS AND DISABILITIES (SEND)?
Yes, academy trusts are subject to most of the same direct statutory duties as maintained mainstream schools when it comes to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Mainstream academies must:
- Have regard to the statutory SEND Code of Practice
- Use their best endeavours to make sure a child with SEN gets the support they need
- Designate a qualified teacher to look after their interests, known as a SENCO
- Co-operate with the local authority in respect of the child
- Admit a child where the school is named on that child’s Education, Health and Care plan
- Ensure that children, young people and their families are involved in decision-making and planning.
CAN ACADEMY TRUSTS MAKE UP THEIR OWN ADMISSIONS POLICIES?
Academies can set their own admissions policies, but they still have to meet the strict rules in the Government's School Admissions Code and the law relating to admissions. They usually work together with other local schools and local authorities to coordinate admissions.
So, why are Trusts a good thing?
Trusts are specialist organisations set up to run and improve schools – this is why it is clearer to talk about School Trusts, rather than academy trusts. There a very clear lines of accountability in the School Trust model.
Many academies now work together in a group of schools as one entity to improve and maintain high educational standards across the group. Where a Trust runs a group of schools, it has the power to create a collaborative framework.
A group of schools working together in a single entity can do lots of things that are harder for stand-alone schools to do:
- Teachers work and learn together to improve the way they teach;
- Schools share practices that make a difference to the quality of teaching;
- Teachers and leaders can work together on the things that matter – like curriculum and assessment;
- Failing schools can improve – only one in 10 schools that were required to join a trust were judged good or outstanding before they converted, compared with almost seven in 10 after they joined a trust (of those that had been inspected);
- It is more possible for teachers and leaders to move to another school to help improve the quality of education where that school is struggling – and these moves are more likely to be to schools with more disadvantaged pupils; and
- It is more possible to be efficient – and thereby to invest money in supporting pupils to have wider opportunities.
Further information can be found on The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) website.