Exclusive: DfE approves scores of ‘ghost trusts’ with no schools

Unions raise concerns over academy ‘sponsors-in-waiting’ with no track record of running schools

The government has approved scores of multi-academy trusts to sponsor underperforming academies despite them not having a single school under their control, TES has learned.

These “ghost trusts” have been created by groups across the country in the hope that they will be approached by the Department for Education to support failing schools.

According to officials, the DfE has approved 111 “unutilised sponsors” through its regional schools commissioners (RSCs) since 2014. However, a source within the department said that some trusts were “never used and never will be”.

Teaching union leaders have branded the idea of using the ghost trusts to sponsor schools as “desperate”, raising concerns about their “complete lack of a track record”.

In an exclusive TES interview, Tim Coulson, RSC for the East of England, described the trusts as “sponsors-in-waiting”.

“We have a number of trusts that are effectively would-be sponsors,” Dr Coulson said. “They tend to be schools or trusts that have set themselves up as sponsors, but they haven’t yet found the school for them to join.

“One of the biggest jobs we’ve had in the last 18 months is to say, ‘How do we grow the number of really good sponsors we’ve got?’”

‘How can they help failing schools?’

One such sponsor-in-waiting is the West Midlands Academies Trust, which was named as a potential sponsor for the scandal-hit Perry Beeches Academy Trust in Birmingham, despite not running a single school.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, said the government’s decision to approve “ghost trusts” was “desperate”.

“The obvious issue is what track record they have in turning around a failing school,” Dr Bousted added. “If they have never run a school before, what model of education will they adopt? It strikes me as desperation.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 22 April edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. TES magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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