Fourteen academy chains have been barred from running more schools

Fourteen academy chains have been barred from running more schools amid serious concerns over education standards and financial mismanagement, The Telegraph reports.

The Department for Education has said that 14 organisations – currently sponsoring 170 academies – are unable to expand until urgent improvements are made. The chains would be prevented from “taking on new projects” to put a renewed focus on driving up standards in their existing schools, although the Government insisted the number of groups hit by restrictions had actually fallen in the last six months.

The disclosure comes just weeks after the second biggest academy group – E-ACT – was forced to hand a third of its 34 schools back to the government after a series of Ofsted inspections.

The chains effected include:

the Academies Enterprise Trust, the biggest academy chain, with 77 schools; the Academy Transformation Trust, which runs 16 schools; the University of Chester Academies Trust, which has nine schools; the Prospects Academies Trust, which currently runs six schools; the City of Wolverhampton Academy Trust, with two; the Djanogly Learning Trust, with three; the Grace Foundation, with three; Landau Foundation, with two; Lee Chapel Academy Trust, with two; South Nottingham College Academy Trust, with two; the Learning Schools Trust, with three; and West Hertfordshire Teaching Schools Partnership, with two schools.

In most cases, restrictions are imposed due to concerns over education standards but the report suggests that some cases have emerged of poor financial management. Last week, ministers wrote to the Barnfield Federation saying weaknesses must be addressed following evidence of “significant financial irregularity”, including “substantial pay rises” to certain executives without proper oversight.

Edward Timpson, the children’s minister, said these chains were “restricted in full from sponsoring new academies or free schools”, but insisted the number was small compared with the 350 approved sponsors currently in operation. He said: “When we do have concerns about the performance of academy sponsors, we act quickly by stopping them from taking on new projects, so that they focus on their existing schools and ensure that pupils receive a good education. Only when sponsors have demonstrated this are they then able to take on new academies.”

Olly from PSI: Not only will this news increase the pressure on the DfE to introduce a middle tier of academy oversight, but these developments also suggest that some of the larger chains are growing too big too quickly and that some small chains of two-three schools are not having any beneficial effect on school performance.  The evolving school landscape seems to be determining an optimum chain size, which will depend on the size and type of the schools involved.