The recent Green Paper, sets out proposals to increase selection in the maintained sector. It aims, through increasing selection, to make more good school places available, improving choice , driving up attainment which in turn will improve social mobility. It proposes that those independent schools with charity status, either set up, or sponsor, a state school. But that’s not all. Ministers want an increase in the number of bursaries available and, also, suggest other measures, which are listed, that schools ought   to be undertaking   more of, to deliver public benefit.  (One wonders how much time they will have left for their core business.)  If schools don’t jump through the hoops, they may have to forfeit their charitable status. While acknowledging that many independent schools are small, and that most members of the ISC are currently involved in some form of partnership arrangement or activity, (87% of ISC schools are ‘in mutually beneficial partnerships with state schools and local communities, sharing expertise, best practice and facilities to the benefit of children in all the schools involved’) the government insists that while this is good, as far as it goes, it is simply  not enough.

The assumption, on the government’s part, is that that because most of these selective  schools achieve good results then they can help non-selective  state schools achieve better results driving up attainment which will have a transformative effect across the maintained sector, delivering more good places. Maybe they can. But evidence suggests that this assumption is, at the very least, debateable. It does not necessarily follow that a good selective school will  ensure that any non-selective school it runs will be good or  outstanding particularly if they take on schools in the most disadvantaged areas, which are often the most challenging .  Rather obviously it’s a different context, and a different challenge.

There is also  a belief in the sector that the government has an unnecessarily narrow and overly prescriptive view of what public benefit looks like.

Unsurprisingly, the government’s threats, combined with the accompanying possible sanctions, have not gone down well with the independent sector. If you want transformative outcomes, from any institution, as a rule, it’s probably not a good opening gambit to threaten them. Incentivise them, yes. Threaten them, no. This Green paper is heavy on sticks, light on carrots.

The Independent sector is used to being a whipping boy for Labour governments. But for a Conservative government to attack them in this way, well, it’s almost unprecedented (mind you it’s also attacking the business community so the sector shouldn’t feel totally alone on that score) and arguably counter-productive. The sector argues that both in scale and scope there are many on-going, effective partnership   arrangements that help deliver public benefit between the sectors, although rarely are these given publicity by the media, or indeed historically at least  by the DFE.  The sector also complains that many of its attempts to forge relationships with the maintained sector are rebuffed.

It does accept, though, that more could be done by some schools, with the requisite capacity, to work more closely with the maintained sector to bridge the divide and to improve outcomes, crucially, through partnership working and active collaboration.

A new organisation has been formed, with the support of the ISC and DFE- ‘The Schools Together Group’ chaired by Christina Astin (Kings School Canterbury) It  held its inaugural meeting last week in Westminster. Lord Nash, the education Minister was among the speakers.  The Groups mission statement is’ Harnessing the power of partnerships for the benefit of children’

It has three aims:

to highlight the projects and partnerships which currently exist between independent schools and maintained schools or community groups

to provide a selection of case studies and best practice guides which add more detail about specific types of existing projects and partnerships so that others interested in setting up similar activities have the support they need

to encourage and enable more collaboration between schools and within local communities by putting people in touch

The official launch was timely. With the Green Paper pushing the sector to do more, here   was proof positive that the sector had got this message, without any prompting,  some time ago, with over 1400 projects and cross sector partnerships, already up and running.(see web site)

The audience, from the outset, was reminded of Frederick Douglass’ dictum  ‘ It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men’.

It seems to be accepted, at least at one level, by the government, that the basis of a good, self-improving school system is effective partnership working, although that message is all but lost in the Green paper.  Lord Nash, however, for his part, understands the value of collaboration and partnership working based on his own  experience with Multi Academy Trusts. At this meeting he accepted that there were many good partnerships between the sectors but reminded the audience that social mobility was not improving and much more needed to be done.

Social mobility is a difficult, stubborn issue, of course, which won’t go away. Sadly, it seems to be getting worse, at least if you look at the latest Social Mobility Commission report.  That concludes that, if anything, the rungs of the mobility ladder are getting further apart.  Intractable problems, though, rarely have simple solutions. And the Green paper proposals, which are designed apparently to ease social mobility, look very unlikely in the view of the Social Mobility Commission at least, to do any such thing. (Indeed, they might make matters worse) The Minister, while understanding concerns being expressed about the Green Paper, said that the government wants more from the sector, but added that it genuinely welcomes feedback on its proposals and is in listening mode. We shall see. (the autumn statements allocation of  capital funding for grammar schools expansion suggests to some   that the governments mind is made up, before the consultation has closed)

Deborah Leek Bailey, who chaired the launch, claimed that there was a massive appetite in the independent sector for more engagement with the state sector. There is much scope for working across the sectors, in particular, in Primary schools where much subject specific work is  already being done to enrich the curriculum-in science, languages, maths, technology Latin and in particular  the minority subjects. This all looks promising.

Martin Robinson whose book the Trivium has influenced approaches in the state and independent sectors, particularly in promoting the liberal arts,  believes that the independent sector can offer support in two main areas -Culture and Curriculum. He added though that this has to be two way, and involve reciprocity mutual support and respect. In many areas, the curriculum is being narrowed. He singled out Art History, Classics and Latin as areas where support could be given. On the Cultural side independent schools are often strong in Sports, Arts, Drama and Music, Debates, Cadets, Conferences and so on. He mentioned the idea of ‘Uber’ teachers (not to be confused with taxis or Nietzsche for that matter), excellent specialist  teachers who can move  between sectors  and give support where required . There is much more scope for bringing together staff from both sectors, professional voices to start conversations, to bridge the sector divide, on a sustained basis.

The work of Newhams London Academy of Excellence was mentioned several times as a very successful model for cross sector partnerships (Sixth Form) which has a   higher success rate at getting pupils into Oxbridge than many independent schools.

Jonathan Taylor mentioned mutual learning and respect as important and geography(ie location) could be too, it was  certainly important  in  the York partnership,  He said that there has to be an operational steering group and don’t forget a  paid co-ordinator for partnerships if you are serious about wanting results.

Alex Galvin, senior education lead SSAT, outlined her organisations approach (the largest state school network) and gave some pointers on partnership working and collaboration. SSAT is experienced at helping to facilitate partnership working, of putting potential partners in touch with each other, acting as a facilitator ensuring that partnerships become   a community of shared practice and research. For partnerships to be successful there is a role for brokerage.  You can’t impose partnerships on schools. They must be based on trust. There is scope too for introducing schools to new partners they don’t   already know. Partnerships must have a clear aim and purpose, of course. And the right partner has got to be chosen for the right purpose. And, the same message repeated time and again at this meeting, the   benefits must be seen be going both ways. Good partnerships mean   you are raising attainment together, with dignity.

The Headteacher of Kingsland Community School, Newham, Joan Deslandes has worked closely with Richard Cairns of Brighton College, following their chance meeting in China.  Big things can come from these small conversations, between professionals. She said that partnerships must be integral to the school development plan. Her partnership with Brighton College has resulted, amongst other things, she says, in her school in a disadvantaged area, having some of the best science teaching and results in London,


What are the key messages from this meeting?

Take a look at the web site – there is an awful lot happening that you don’t know about on partnerships with information/case studies that could help you forge your own partnerships.

The state sector is quite often reluctant to engage and may need incentives

Professional to professional contact and engagement, can break down barriers. From small beginnings, good partnerships can grow

Effective partnerships must be organised professionally and have a clear purpose and objectives, but also depth. It’s not just about the Heads.  At their core often is a community of shared good practice   and research.

To be sustainable the relationship must be reciprocal, with a clear understanding of the mutual benefits that can be gained, by all parties, based on trust and respect.

These partnerships, if well-structured and run, can offer a diversity of shared activities and outcomes which can significantly enrich the curriculum offer, particularly but not exclusively at Primary schools, as well as offering potentially big cultural dividends.

The Green paper is a deep worry to many in  the sector, partly because of its tone-based  seemingly on threats and potential sanctions but also its apparent  lack of acknowledgement for the importance of partnerships (rather than simply bi-lateral relationships) and specifically for the real progress being made in partnership development between the sectors .(surely if you are involved in a partnership this  could be as  good as running or sponsoring a school in terms of delivering  public  benefit )

Those attending were urged to contribute to the Green Paper Consultation

Schools Together is supported and maintained by the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in collaboration with the Department for Education and the Independent/State Schools Partnership (ISSP). It is chaired by Christina Astin with a Steering Committee Tom Arbuthnott (Eton College) Sarah Butterworth(Highgate School) Harry Chapman (Kings College Wimbledon)



Sir Michael Wishaw said at a Sutton Trust conference recently   that independent schools should lose charitable status if they did not sponsor an academy. A bit harsh.

Having upset the FE sector, then heads of  Multi Academy Trusts  and now the independent sector one wonders who might be next in Sir Michaels cross hairs, as he heads towards the end of his term as chief inspector.

Most independent schools, of course, are modest in size and intake with few assets, so one assumes that Wilshaw is talking about the big ones with large endowment funds and big intakes. . If so, he should have made this a little clearer.

Of course its not up to  Wilshaw, nor indeed Alan Milburn ,who is now the social mobility guru,  to tell schools what they should be doing. Milburn is on record as saying he wants independent schools to lose their charitable status, so is hardly a disinterested adviser.   Its up to governors/trustees  of course  to decide how  they spend their money to fulfill their  charity purposes and deliver public benefit. Sponsoring an academy is a complex challenge which needs great expertise and resources that few independent schools actually  have. They normally  have to deal with largely compliant pupils who want to learn  ,with supportive parents,  sadly , unlike rather too many state schools.  State school teachers often  have to wrestle with daily challenges that would place many independent school teachers well out of their comfort zones.

There are significant reputational risks involved  with supporting an academy . So,  Heads and governors need to give serious consideration to these before making a decision on academy sponsorship.

Under Sir Anthony Seldon, Wellington College took on an academy near Tidworth. Sir Anthony did more than any other Head to persuade independent schools to support academies and to bridge the unacceptable divide between the independent and maintained sectors.  In this he had an ally in the form of Lord Adonis. Wellington College remains committed long term to its academy. But it hasn’t been easy.  Although the school now has a ‘Good’  Ofsted rating   it  has found the project challenging- starting strongly, dipping, then continuing on an improving trend (although exam results fail to capture the real transformation underway in the Wellington academy with the support of the mother school).  Dulwich College is another school to take on an academy but gave up, and with brutal candour admitted that  it was  not very good at it,despite being one of the top performers in the independent sector.

Eton College  sponsors Holyport College, a free school which opened  in 2014. Eton gave the new school money for an all-weather sports pitch, new furniture for its boarding houses, cast-off music technology equipment, a piano and a minibus — as well as providing   specialist teacher support. Bradfield College, sponsors nearby Theale Green School ‘ helping with  its  improvement plan. Yet results to date have been far from encouraging. Last year Ofsted inspectors judged Theale Green, ‘requiring improvement’.The London Academy of Excellence, though  a Stratford-based sixth-form college which is sponsored by a host of private schools including Eton, Brighton and Highgate, encouragingly , recently announced that eight of its pupils had been offered places at Oxbridge

If schools are to become more involved given the trajectory of government policy they would probably have to be part of a multi academy trust now which brings its own  particular challenges, for a singleton independent.

The fact is that schools that have charity status can satisfy the public benefit criteria in different ways.  Its not just about academy support, or indeed bursaries.

Around 97 per cent of all independent schools do engage in partnerships and many independent schools are engaged in major long-term projects to raise aspirations in their local community. It is clear to most in both sectors that collaboration between the state sector and the independent sector can have major mutual benefits and independent schools can be forces for good in terms of social mobility.

There are many  ways in which effective collaboration can take place. Some of the strongest and biggest schools have, of course singly or in partnership with others, sponsored academies. Many schools continue to grow their provision of means-tested Assisted Places. Almost all schools can do something in terms of partnership which can enrich the experience and raise the aspirations of pupils. There are facility shares, teacher swaps, help from specialist teachers, shared professional development, sports fixtures  art, music , joint theatre projects, joint research , masterclasses, Sunday schools,   shared cadet forces, holiday clubs, holiday revision  and so on.  There are now many flourishing independent state school partnerships, which are all well established and very successful, each offering a myriad of opportunities and benefits to all the schools concerned. The Department for Education is sufficiently  impressed with the effectiveness of these partnerships and it has committed £176,000 to nurturing new projects, awarding seed money to 18 schools to encourage them to set up new ways of working with local schools.

A big question remains though. If the most successful multi-academy trusts are very careful now about what schools they take on because of the reputational risks involved ,and they are experienced at running state schools,  one has to ask how many more private schools will want to risk their reputations by being associated with a state academy with less than outstanding exam results?   There are  clearly merits in  supporting academies and frankly it’s a much better option than awarding a few bursaries ,with much  less  return,  and with fewer beneficiaries   but there is as yet little evidence that the independent sector has grasped this baton and is  running  with it.  My guess is that with accelerated academisation there will be more academy support from the independent sector, but not much more.

Meanwhile, the sector will  continue to be attacked  from various quarters because it is seen as  a soft target. at a time when the politicians are wrestling, fairly ineffectively it has to be said ,  with promoting equity ,social justice and social mobility. Improvements in this area need a cross cutting  collaborative  strategy involving schools, FE colleges, Universities,  the third sector, employers,   the professions, careers advisers, parents et al.   One thing is for sure, displacement attacks on the private sector will not make this complex agenda any more easy to  deliver.



Is bureaucracy killing autonomy?


Spare a thought for academies and  multi-academy trusts. The idea behind academies is that they are autonomous, freed from local control  and stifling bureaucracy. They have been given new freedoms, over the curriculum,  over admissions (though limited), over term times , over the day to day running of their schools   and  over how they spend their resources.  Heads and governors could and should be more responsive to the needs of their students, New creative and   innovative approaches to learning would be fomented, along with new and better learning opportunities offered to their students. But the reality turns out to be a bit  different. The head of one of the largest academy chains stopped me mid-sentence the other day when I was talking about academy freedoms. He asked what freedoms?  We don’t have  real freedoms, it’s a myth, he claimed.  The governments recent intervention over the  Ebacc is given as one example of the government preaching one thing,   freedom over the curriculum, and doing another ,telling schools what they should do on the curriculum front. So bureaucratic has the system become, a combination of the accountability framework in the form of Ofsted, and the  new  Regional  School Commissioners  combined with central government continuous  interventions and guidance ,  that  those in charge of academies and MATs spend   much  (even most) of their time managing these relationships rather than being focused enough  on  other vital  matters internal to the  respective schools or chains.

Joe Nutt, a consultant, was engaged as an adviser to one of the country’s largest Academy chains, TKAT, on their planning for expansion from 11 schools in 2012 to a proposed 75 in 2015. In his recent written evidence to the Education Select Committee Nutt  gave some insight into pressures faced by MATs. In the words of a board member,  whom  he  interviewed, the relationship between the trust and the department  (DFE) was “classically dysfunctional”. He estimated that the CEO was spending 7/10 her time managing that relationship. As someone whose career had been outside education, he found the situation “unbelievable” He asked Nutt “What on earth is going on?”

Regional Schools Commissioners were invented because of concerns over unaccountability. Academies are directly responsible to the Secretary of State and there was a need, it was argued, for a middle tier to provide an additional layer of accountability.

However,  Nutt notes real  differences in thinking between business and education, differences which lie at the heart of why efforts at performance managing schools by RSCs remains problematic. Nutt identified an urgent need to improve the quality of the chains relationships with both Ofsted and the respective  RSC.

Nutt  also suggests that the government could consider a new way of thinking about measuring the quality of teaching. He writes  ‘At present many teachers regard such measurements as externally imposed, peripheral to their real work and divorced from the children they teach. I would argue that measuring and understanding the quality of their teaching should be self-imposed, routine, at the heart of their practice and directly linked to children’s learning.’  Part of the problem, of course (now widely acknowledged,) has been Ofsted inspectors inconsistency, and therefore the unpredictability built into the system, putting additional pressures on all schools not just academies (a problem that is hopefully now being addressed).

As for the relationships between MATs, Ofsted, RSCs and DFE there appears to be a growing rather than diminishing problem.  MATS may not be keen to go public on the extent of these problems but they are there  . The local bureaucracy represented by the local authority seems to have been replaced by another multi-layered bureaucracy leaving many MATs feeling under siege, with limited freedoms, fearful of the next intervention, and without being able  to exercise  the real autonomy,  to improve outcomes ,that they were originally  promised. Food for thought.





What is their impact?

Often insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions

In many developing countries private schools are offering education to some of the poorest children, apparently filling  significant gaps in state provision.

A  DFID paper, published this month, presents a rigorous review of evidence on the role and impact of private schools on education for school-aged children in developing countries. It was produced by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers and advisers with expertise in education, economics, international development and political economy from the University of Birmingham, Institute of Education, Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the EFA Global Monitoring Report.

The focus of the review is on private school delivery of education to poorer sections of societies, including those private schools that are identified as low-fee private  schools (LFPs)

Findings related to’ improved learning outcomes are supported by moderate strength  evidence indicating a positive contribution of private schools to better learning outcomes  and strong evidence that better teaching practices are more likely to lead to improved  learning outcomes.’

With regard to’ improved quality, although a strong body of evidence was found to support  the assumption that private schools have better teaching, other assumptions relating to  quality had less conclusive findings.

There is moderate evidence that ‘Private school pupils achieve better learning outcomes when compared with state schools. However, there is ambiguity about the size of the  true private school effect. In addition many children may not be achieving basic competencies even in private schools.’

Underpinning the idea that private schools drive up quality are the concepts of market competition, choice and accountability. Moderate strength evidence was found to support the notion that perceived quality of education is a key factor for parents when choosing private schools and that this choice is informed,  albeit through informal social networks and general perceptions of private schools rather  than more systematic information or direct observation of schools. However, when it comes to investigating how parents exercise this choice, the evidence is scarce. The little evidence there is indicates that users participate in and influence decision making but  there was no evidence that parents actually exit private schools due to quality concerns’. Similarly there was a very small body of literature relating to market competition and this evidence was particularly inconsistent with concerns being raised that competition can deplete state school quality with better-off pupils exiting state schools. This insufficient evidence poses a challenge to the often claimed assertions that higher accountability in private schools and market competition drives up quality across the education system.’ There was moderate strength evidence showing that governments were often found to have a lack of knowledge, capacity and legitimacy to implement effective policies for collaboration and regulation of the private schools sector.

Findings relating to whether private schools lead to improved efficiency were also  inconclusive. There was insufficient (although mainly negative) evidence on whether   private schools are financially sustainable. However, there was moderate strength evidence that the cost of education delivery was lower in private schools than in state  schools. These lower costs were often clearly related to lower teacher salaries which  raises some questions and concerns about the working conditions of private school teachers which needs investigating further.’

Finally, findings relating to improved equity and access were overwhelmingly negative  and neutral, but mainly weak. There were moderate strength findings that girls are usually  less likely to attend private schools, although this finding was context specific. There is a  small body of evidence consistently showing that attending private school is more  expensive for users than attending state school in terms of school fees and meeting the  more hidden costs of uniforms and books, etc

‘The evidence on whether private schools complement state provision was very thin. Examples were found of both private schools filling gaps where there are fewer government schools, and private schools operating where there is an adequate supply of government schools but where they are performing poorly. This indicates a potential blurred boundary around whether private schools complement or compete with state provision.’

Some overarching critical gaps in the evidence base were identified. These were:

There is a lack of data on the true extent and diverse nature of private schools.

The existing evidence is geographically heavily weighted to South Asia with a much more limited African focus. No material was found on conflict-affected or fragile states.

Few studies focus exclusively on middle and secondary schools or on peri -urban Areas.

No research was found on the effect of international companies or chains of private

Types of research designs are limited with a paucity of longitudinal research, in depth ethnographic research, and comparative work

Few studies offer a political economy analysis of private schooling.


The role and impact of private schools in developing countries: a rigorous review of the evidence – Laura Day Ashley ,Claire Mcloughlin, Monazza Aslam, Jakob Engel ,Joseph Wales, Shenila Rawal -April 2014




UP 24% in 5 years

The cost of sending a child to private school in the UK has risen by 24 per cent in the past five years, according to a new survey commissioned by Lloyds Bank .

The survey  found some concerns among parents that they will not be able to afford the cost of tuition in coming years.  However, the vast majority of those polled said their final decision about which school to send their child to was not ­motivated by cost. One wonders for how long this will continue.

The FT recently pointed out that a private school education is soaring out of the reach of the professional classes whose income is not even remotely keeping pace with the rise in fees. These striving, financially stressed parents are now dubbed ‘cling-ons’.  It is estimated that sending two children to a private school from the age of 4 to 18 currently costs an average of £610,000. One example, given by the FT, by no means untypical it seems, is Alleyn’s School in Dulwich, a co-educational private day  school, where  day fees shot up 49 per cent in real terms in the years between 2003 and 2013. Day schools are less expensive than boarding schools, and last year there was a fall in the number of pupils attending boarding schools.

Even the top 1 per cent of earners – among the group the FT has named the über-middles, composed of people such as doctors, lawyers and bankers – have seen only a 9 per cent rise over the decade, opening up a big gap between the increases in school fees and in their own earnings. Many parents are now seeking  ingenious ways of  alleviating the burden of fee payments using various tax efficient payment schemes, often with the help of schools.

Tatler the up market style magazine, which targets middle class, aspirational readers, is now highlighting good state schools as the financial pressures take their toll on its readers.

The main pressure on fees comes from teachers pay and pensions in the independent sector.  There will always be demand for private education, and places in the best schools can always be filled by pupils from abroad. But most schools seek a balanced intake and don’t want to be filled exclusively with pupils from abroad. However, if UK parents are finding it harder and harder to raise the fees, it seems likely that over the longer term families who have for generations sent their children to private schools will look to the state sector, and the independent sector will find it harder to entice UK born children through their doors. Currently around 7% of children go to private school, although in London  its closer to 12% ,and 18 % pupils over the age of 16 are  privately educated.


1 Overseas pupils made  up 5.1% of the total ISC pupil population in

2 One payment scheme to ease the burden   sees parents paying  their children’s school fees upfront as a lump sum — anything from a term to several years’ worth  The school will take the money and invest it in low-risk investments. Any profit the school makes is tax-free because of their charitable status (ie they have to have charitable status to benefit from this scheme). The school then splits the benefit with the parents. Those parents are given what the schools class as a discount based on the profit the school makes from the investment. And the school keeps whatever is left over.


Private schools converting to academy status

Hardly a stampede


Lord Adonis who launched the Academies programme was always keen to encourage greater links between fee paying schools and academies and to encourage conversions of fee paying schools to academy status.

These conversions though,  from the private to the maintained sector ,remain rare. This may be partly because the financial incentives  to do so are less appealing than they used to be.

Just  14 former fee paying schools have converted to academy status over the past three academic years, 11 becoming free schools. They are funded on the same basis as other academies and equivalent to other local authority schools in the area.

Most of these schools received the standard project development grant of £25,000 given to mainstream schools to support them with the costs of conversion, although four received more.

All grants agreed since May 2010 are significantly smaller than the level of grants paid to independent schools moving into the state sector prior to May 2010. Between 2007 and 2010, project development grants given to converting independent schools ranged from £620,000 to as high as £1.7 million. In some cases, the Department for Education has also agreed to fund the existing debts of predecessor schools by securing a charge against the assets such as land and buildings. Consistent with the approach under the previous Government, some projects have also been provided with a contribution towards capital funding for the creation of new places.

Lord Adonis  memorably said that he would like the independent sectors DNA to be transferred into maintained schools. Its a great sound bite but the most successful independent schools are highly selective, have motivated and well educated parents, in support ,and can easily  get rid of coasting teachers.  Factors that do not apply to most state schools. In addition academies are still subject to interventions from outsiders unheard of in the independent sector.


Can Academy Trusts award contracts to companies in which their Trustees have a stake ?Yes but no profit


All academy trusts are required to openly procure any externally sourced services, including those related to their trustees.

When a business controlled by or belonging to a trustee bids for a contract the academy trust must consider if that service is the most appropriate for the academy and offers the best value for money. If the academy trust decides to award the contract to the trustee-related service, that business must deliver its services at cost, with no element of profit.

 There have been some questions raised in the media suggesting that academies might have lax financial accountability.  There is  little  evidence though that suggests  that academies have an easier  financial accountability regime than maintained schools. There have always been cases in the  maintained sector of financial irregularities.   They still remain across all  schools, rare. Indeed the government argues that in terms of financial accountability because academies  effectively wear three hats- as companies, charities and public bodies- their financial accountability is more robust than in maintained schools. Academy trusts are constituted as companies limited by guarantee, so are subject to the full rigour of the Companies Act. This means that, unlike maintained schools, academies are required to file independently audited accounts.

But it is clear that, despite all  this, a few of  those running  academy schools  have a rather  self-serving mind set when it comes to  using their autonomous status. Contracts should be put out to open tender, best value must be the lodestar.  And its probably not  best practice to employ family and friends in the school(s) you are running even if  the recruitment process is transparent.    The government must be careful that the academies/free school brand is not undermined in the same way that the Charter school  brand  in the States  has been ,where  some excellent schools and chains have co-existed with others that have failed  to measure up both in terms of business  practice and student outcomes.