Exclusive: Cash for academies: Michael Gove 'bribes' schools to change their status

Claims taxpayers' money is being spent on 'buying off' critics of the Education Secretary's pet project

Officials from Michael Gove's department are offering £65,000 "bribes" to convince reluctant headteachers to convert their schools to academies.

The sweeteners are being offered to schools which drop their opposition to academy status – sparking claims that taxpayers' money is being spent on "buying off" critics of the Education Secretary's pet project.

Teaching leaders described the incentives as "questionable" and "disturbing" at a time when overall education budgets are being cut.

The Independent understands £40,000 in payments have been offered to 32 schools in Lancashire alone, with similar sums offered to schools in other parts of the country. Some schools have also been offered £25,000 towards legal fees. In a letter to Mr Gove's department obtained by this newspaper, Tony Roberts, from the NAHT headteachers' union, criticises two "brokers" – officials from the Department for Education (DfE) tasked with converting state schools to academics – for offering payments to win over a reluctant group of state schools in Lancashire.

The DfE did not deny that incentives were being deployed, but said the additional cash was for "improvements" to be made in schools where it was necessary.

The sanctioned use of cash to persuade state school to make the switch to academies will be another embarrassment for Mr Gove.

The news has emerged after a leaked memo last week revealed the Education Secretary, pictured, is considering the outright privatisation of academies and free schools, enabling them to abandon their charitable status and become profit-making.

The rate of academy conversions is also deemed to be at a critical stage, with more progress urged before the next general election in 2015.

Previously, schools converting to academies have been told they would be spared the impact of budget cuts, but the offering of one-off payment appears to represent a stepping up of Mr Gove's drive to roll out the programme.

Out of 484 primary schools in Lancashire, only four have opted for academy status. Although half the country's 3,000 secondary schools are now academies – up from just around 200 at the time of the last election – Mr Gove is facing increasing resistance, especially from primary schools, to make the switch to academy status.

Only 6 per cent of state primaries have become academies.

In the letter to the DfE, Mr Roberts writes that "Lancashire schools do not wish to change their status, or even if they did, they do not need someone leaning on them to do so."

He added, "In these times of financial stringency, the money that your brokers seem to have at their disposal would be better used to help schools maintain their core services."

Teachers' unions claim the cash incentives are part of a sanctioned drive by Mr Gove to ensure academy numbers continue to rise.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, reacted furiously to the exposé of the brokers' bribery.

She told The Independent: "Across the country primary schools are being bullied into accepting academy status and when the bullying proves insufficient grounds to 'persuade' them, they are being offered financial inducements instead." Ms Blower said huge amounts of taxpayers' money was being spent by Mr Gove's department on "engineering" academy conversions.

She said the practice contrasted with schools elsewhere which were struggling to improve crumbling buildings or to employ sufficient numbers of qualified teachers to assist special needs education.

"Mr Gove is not the secretary of state for free schools and academies, but all schools."

The brokers were called in to the group of Lancashire schools, according the local council, after the performance of the county's schools was described as "failing" by Mr Gove.

The Education Secretary made similar comments that were directed at state schools in North Yorkshire, Staffordshire and East Sussex.

Helen Denton, Lancashire's executive director for children and young people, recently wrote to Mr Gove that his criticism of "middle-of-the road" performance was misplaced. She refuted the charges of "failing" schools and quoted official statistics on above-national-average ratings.

Ms Denton also told headteachers that they had no legal requirement "to meet DfE officials to discuss academies or any other issues if the governors of the school are not minded to."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT, said his members in the region and throughout England had been "incredibly suspicious" of the motives of the academy brokers.

"My feeling is that if you do not want to opt for academy status, that is a good enough answer in itself."

A spokeswoman for the DfE said: "It is utter nonsense that there is anything underhand about this funding. Schools which are becoming academies are entitled to grants and legal fees to support the improvements needed. Details are available on our website."

Money matters: Letter of complaint

This is a letter from a NAHT official in Lancashire to Gail Banks, the line manager of DfE academy about complaining about "brokers" operating in the county:

Dear Gail Banks,

Yesterday I received a report from a member of a Lancashire Schools' cluster where... one of your brokers, offered £40,000 to each school in the cluster if they formed an academy trust.

Today, I received another report from a Diocesan meeting where he offered the same £40,000 per school to became an academy plus £25,000 on top for the legal fees on changing ownership of the land/buildings...

The fact that Lancashire has currently only four primary schools out of 484 who opted voluntarily for academy status... surely proves that Lancashire schools do not wish to change their status, or even if they did they do not need someone leaning on them [offer- ing them financial incentives] to do so.

Tony Roberts

Lancashire NAHT Branch Secretary

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

School Administrator

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Long term SIMS School Administr...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week