MPs concerned about academies and length of inquiries

Children’s education has been damaged by academy failures and the Government should “raise its game”, according to a committee responsible for overseeing public expenditure.

Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 6:00 am

In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said governance of academy trusts must be strengthened, and that the Department for Education’s (DfE) oversight must be more rigorous.

It also stated that academy trusts are not sufficiently transparent or accountable to parents and communities.

But the Government said it “does not accept” the findings.

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PAC chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “When things go wrong in schools, pupils can be badly affected. We have seen the troubling consequences of poor governance and oversight of academy trusts. Government must raise its game to ensure the failures of the past are not repeated.

“Parents and the wider community are entitled to proper access to transparent information about their local academy schools. They must have confidence that when issues arise, robust measures are in place to deal with them.

“The Government must act to make this happen and, as detailed in our report, we expect the Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to demonstrate they are doing so.”

The report also recommended that within two months of finishing the work, the ESFA should publish the results of its inquiries into concerns about the financial management and governance of academy trusts.

While the ESFA regularly conducts such investigations and reviews, the report states that “the results of these inquiries are not always made public and, where they are published, there can be lengthy delays. For example, the Department took two years to publish the results of its inquiries into concerns about Wakefield City Academies Trust.”

The report continued: “The Department said that its priority had been to complete successfully the transfer of the Wakefield City Academies Trust schools to new trusts; and the ESFA said that it considered that the content of the investigation reports would not necessarily aid the transition of the 21 schools.”

The trust announced in September 2017 that it was seeking new trusts to run its schools.

Reviews of the trust’s financial management were published last November by the DfE, revealing the ESFA had raised “urgent” concerns more than a year before its collapse.

In response to the report, the DfE spokesperson said: “We do not accept the PAC’s negative characterisation of academies, in which standards of education have risen for thousands of pupils. Only last week we saw the real life impact of academies with the Oxbridge offers to children at Harris Westminster, London Academy of Excellence and Brampton Manor Academy.

“The majority of academies are delivering a great education and - as recognised by the PAC - we are taking robust action in the small minority of cases where they are not meeting the high standards expected. Academies are subject to higher levels of accountability and transparency than local authority schools. Academies must publish their annual accounts and this year we added new requirements on related party transactions. We have also taken steps to increase accountability by publishing lists of trusts who do not return accounts on time; and by challenging trusts who pay high executive salaries.”