So far I have had responses from ARK and Harris, both of which bear out the DfE’s explanation.
ARK said, in an email to me on March 20th 2014:
‘All schools within our network are leased from the relevant local authorities, with one exception. The exception is Burlington Danes Academy, in Hammersmith and Fulham, which is leased from the Burlington Danes Trust. The land was transferred to the trust by the local authority prior to the school becoming an ARK school.’
Harris said, in an email to me on 24th March 2014:
‘We have 27 open Free Schools and Academies. Of these only 5 have sites which are owned rather than leased. All of these except one are owned because the schools which became Academies owned their sites before conversion as Foundation Schools, so these sites were already out of LA control before conversion to an academy. The fifth one is a Free School which we have opened on a site we already owned. When an Academy Trust owns a site the DFE build into Funding Agreements restrictions that no disposal of the site can take place without Secretary of State agreement and this is registered as a notice on the registration of the site at Land Registry.’
I shall add more information as and when it seems useful!
[Note: Much of the original content of this first post seemed more useful in the ‘About’ section, so that I can update the overview as I find out more. So I’ve moved it there.]