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'A scandal' - £31m spent on academy transfers included £550k to takeover failing Ipswich school

PUBLISHED: 08:44 26 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:05 26 July 2019

Paradigm Trust chief executive Bill Holledge at Ipswich Academy Picture: JASON NOBLE

Paradigm Trust chief executive Bill Holledge at Ipswich Academy Picture: JASON NOBLE

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The academy trust tasked with improving a failing Ipswich school was awarded £550,000 as part of the takeover - one of the largest payments of its kind ever made in England.

Ipswich Academy in Brazier's Wood Road Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHIpswich Academy in Brazier's Wood Road Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

The six-figure sum awarded to Paradigm Trust when it took on Ipswich Academy in 2015 was disclosed in a Department of Education report last week.

In all, the DfE spent more than £31million transferring academies between sponsors since 2014 - a figure described by unions as "a scandal". Suffolk's 15 academy transfers and the 17 in Essex are among the highest of all local authorities. The cost of Suffolk transfers was £858,000.

Of all 935 transfers in England, only three came with more grant funding than the £550,000 awarded to Paradigm. Most transfers did not include funding. The DfE said funding was agreed on a case-by-case basis to improve under-performing schools and to support an effective transfer.

The Ipswich Academy grant included school improvement funding and an amount to create "appropriate classroom facilities".

Paradigm, which has improved standards at the school, securing a 'good' Ofsted rating following the previous 'inadequate' rating, declined to comment. The trust also chose not to comment on new figures showing it was one of 146 trusts that paid at least one person £150,000 or more in 2017/18.

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The second largest grant in Suffolk, £283,000, went to Samuel Ward Academy Trust when it took over Castle Manor Academy, along with Burton End and Place Farm primary academies in Haverhill in December 2016

Decisions on academy transfers are led by regional schools commissioners (RSC).

Tim Coulson from the Unity Schools Partnership. Picture: UNITY SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIPTim Coulson from the Unity Schools Partnership. Picture: UNITY SCHOOLS PARTNERSHIP

Tim Coulson, who was RSC for region at the time, left three months later to become chief executive of Samuel Ward Academy Trust. The trust, which is now Unity Schools Partnership (USP), said Mr Coulson was not involved in the funding decision, which was taken by a minister.

Mr Coulson said the funding helped historical financial issues and he was delighted with the schools' progress with USP.

Graham White, the National Education Union's (NEU) spokesman in Suffolk said the figures showed many "failing" schools required to become academies continued to struggle and needed to be "rebrokered" to another trust. "The taxpayer has lost accountability of their local school, has had to pay for a school to become and academy and then pay again when it failed," he said.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU said the £31m spent nationally was "nothing short of a scandal".

"This is a huge sum that could have been better invested in our schools across England which are making staff redundant and sending begging letters home to parents because they simply don't have the funding they need," Dr Bousted added.

The DfE said funding was agreed in "very exceptional cases" where the incoming trust identified issues, such as risk of under performance, to "secure stability and improve pupil outcomes".

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