Academies: Shortage of trusts and sponsors among concerns highlighted in National Audit Office report

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

​There is “considerable regional variation” in the number of available sponsors located close to underperforming schools and a shortage of sponsors and multi-academy trusts (MAT) able to take on new academies, the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned.

Furthermore, some local authorities are finding it difficult to take an integrated approach to education in their areas because of the high number of secondary schools that have converted.

The report – Converting Maintained Schools to Academies – finds that since 2010/11, converting maintained schools to academies has cost the Department for Education (DfE) around £745 million – of which £81 million was spent in 2016/17.

As of January 2018, the DfE had converted 6,996 maintained schools to academies and there were a total of 1,101 approved sponsors. With 476 free schools also open, it means that 7,472 of the 21,538 state-funded schools in England (35 per cent) are now academies.

However, the report warns that there are not enough sponsors or MATs with the capacity to support new academies.

The DfE has said that by 2020, around 2,700 more schools might need a sponsor, but its own surveys have also found limited capacity within the existing academy sponsors and MATs to support additional schools.

The NAO report adds: “At January 2018, 95 of the approved sponsors had asked not to take on more schools because they lacked capacity, and the DfE had ‘paused’ 12 sponsors because of educational, financial or governance concerns.

“Since 2012/13, the DfE has also provided grants aimed at boosting sponsor capacity, but we have not seen evidence that it has evaluated the impact of this funding.”

The report continued: “It can be difficult for the DfE to find sponsors for certain types of school. Issues faced by the most challenged schools, including falling pupil numbers, leading to a drop in funding, and difficulties in recruiting or retaining teachers, may make them less attractive to sponsors.”

Another key challenge is that there is “considerable regional variation in the availability of potential sponsors located close to underperforming maintained schools” that may convert. For example, there are 242 sponsored academies that are more than 50 miles from their sponsor.

The report finds that the DfE is taking longer than the targeted nine-month period to convert a “sizeable proportion” of the underperforming schools that are required to convert to academy status – those rated by Ofsted as inadequate. Currently, almost two-thirds of these schools take longer than nine months to open as academies.

Another issue raised by the NAO is the impact on local authorities of the high secondary school conversion rate. Currently 72 per cent of secondary schools, including free schools, are now academies compared with just 27 per cent of primary schools.

This leaves local authorities with responsibility for most primary and specialist schools, but few secondary schools.

The report adds: “In 2017/18, the DfE withdrew the ‘general funding rate’ that was previously paid to local authorities and academies for school support services as part of the Education Services Grant. There is a risk that, because of the loss of this funding, local authorities will reduce their support for maintained schools, which will affect primary schools in particular.”

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “It is unclear how feasible it will be for the DfE to continue converting large numbers of schools to academies. There is extensive variation across the country, leaving many local authorities with responsibility largely for primary schools.

“To cut through this complexity, the DfE needs to set out its vision and clarify how it sees academies, maintained schools and local authorities working together to create a coherent and effective school system for children across all parts of the country.”

Converting Maintained Schools to Academies, National Audit Office, February 2018:

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
About Us

Headteacher Update is the only magazine delivered directly to every primary school headteacher in the UK. It is published six times a year, at the beginning of each term and half-term, to keep headteachers up-to-date with everything going on in primary education.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.