The Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) plans to repay a £1m loan from the Education and Skills Funding Agency by selling ‘certain’ land at the Goodwin Academy, Kent.
But a decision about the disposal of school playing fields doesn’t appear to have been made yet. Goodwin Academy isn't on the latest list giving names of schools where permission has been granted to dispose of such land.
The Department for Education says:
‘The Department for Education (DfE) maintains very strict controls around the disposal of school playing field land. It is not the government or the DfE that instigates the disposal of school playing fields. It is local authorities, or the academies and maintained schools themselves, that propose to dispose of these, often surplus or unused, fields in order to invest the proceeds in school sport or education.’
TSAT’s latest accounts say the trust will review Goodwin’s ‘physical space and consider the best use of surplus space identified’.
It could be that the certain land earmarked for disposal isn’t a playing field but some other type of land. But if it is part of the school playing fields then ‘Consultation must take place widely prior to making an application’. Then, and only then, can the trust ask for DfE permission to sell the land.
The DfE also says, ‘All proceeds of any sales should be put back into improving sports or educational facilities.’ It’s hard to see how using money raised from the sale of land to repay a debt is improving the sports or educational facilities at Goodwin Academy.
This case highlights the difficulties which can occur when academies in deficit are rebrokered. If the trust taking over the academy agrees to take on all, or part, of the debt, then this becomes a financial burden for the trust. If no trust is willing to take on the burden, then the DfE has to write off the debt.
It could be that selling land to repay a debt incurred by taking on all or part of another academy’s deficit solves both of these difficulties. But this could be breaking the DfE’s own rules about reinvestment of proceeds if the land to be sold is a school playing field. At the present time, the money raised can't be used to repay a debt.