In a very welcome move Birmingham City Council has this week deferred decisions on academy conversion at 8 schools amid concerns about asset stripping and the practice of writing off debts for converting schools. This should come as a huge relief for the ordinary citizens of Birmingham, many of whom have probably been unaware that they have been haemorrhaging public assets and funds to the academies programme in this way over the past two years.
Matters had been set to get even worse with Michael Gove targeting the city’s primary schools for forced academy conversion. A plethora of new sponsors – many with little or no experience of running schools – has emerged in response to the Government’s forced academy programme, and they have been hovering like vultures over Birmingham schools. Meanwhile, the more established sponsors have been digging in. ARK announced in March that they would be opening a ‘Birmingham Hub’. So it will be interesting to see how the sponsors respond to this new development. ARK, which is run by hedge fund managers, were expecting significant deficits to be written off for their 3 new acquisitions, including £797,922 for Primrose Junior & Infants alone.
At least 30 other Primary Schools across the city have been told they must ‘choose’ academy conversion or Michael Gove will impose it on them. But despite the expanding choice of sponsors, some schools have struggled to find a sponsor prepared to take them on. The Elliott Foundation pulled out of West Heath Primary School earlier this year, after a buildings survey revealed asbestos and the need for considerable investment. The sponsors are only in it for the money after all. They see the £ signs in a system that will provide them with a guaranteed per-pupil income. Paying off a deficit, just like investment in crumbling buildings, may well prove to be a deal-breaker in Birmingham.
For more on how ‘charity’ sponsors like the Elliott Foundation plan to make money out of our schools see Spotlight on sponsors – Elliot Foundation