NGA comments on research into academy conflicts of interest


New research published by the House of Commons Education Select Committee has suggested that the regulation of conflict of interests in academy trusts needs to be tightened further.  The research was conducted on behalf of the Committee by the Institute of Education, found that there were a number of examples identified at existing trusts that raised concerns.

The report identifies four main categories where perceived conflicts of interest could arise, these being:

  • Connected party transactions – where individuals or their companies benefit personally from the position on the academy trust
  • Sponsors benefiting through licensing agreements which prevent schools using other services
  • Intangible conflicts – such as the control exerted in Trojan Horse schools
  • Conflicts in the wider system – such as where a Department for Education (DfE) broker is working for an academy trust and this influences their decision on which trusts can pitch for sponsorship

Graham Stuart, the chair of the Education Select Committee confirmed that the Committee would be asking the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, questions on this topic when she appears before the committee next month, saying: “The public need to be sure that academy sponsors act only in the interest of their schools and never for other purposes.”

Gillian Allcroft, Policy Manager of the NGA said “It is vital that those responsible for the governance of our schools, whether academies or local authority maintained, act in the best interests of those schools.  Governors need a clear understanding of what constitutes a conflict of interest and should have clear protocols on how to manage them.”

The report makes a number of recommendations to the Committee on the area of conflicts, not least recommending that the Committee adopt the recommendations from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, for the DfE to introduce a ‘fit and proper’ person test at individual academy level, in addition to the Department reviewing its policy of allowing related party transactions.

The report also recommends the Committee:

  • Looks into whether further regulation is required in the governance of academies - with the report questioning the practice of having staff as members of an academy trust and having the same persons as members and trustees.
  • Review the ‘at cost’ requirement and whether it can in practice be policed.
  • Considers whether the Education Funding Agency’s funding and regulatory roles should be split up.

NGA will be writing a full analysis of this report for Friday.

Academies and Free Schools Inquiry: Research into Conflict of Interest