Academy accounts and performance, the report of the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), wa released today (23 Jan):

This report provides deeply uncomfortable reading for Damian Hinds.

The report lays bare the many ways in which parents, staff and local communities are being ignored or side-lined by academy trusts. It highlights the need for Ofsted to report on the impact of funding cuts on the quality of education in schools.

Alarmingly, the report also points to the Department for Education’s failure to provide assurances on the management of asbestos in schools.

The academies programme has drastically reduced transparency and accountability of schools, with parents having little say or access to information about how academies are run.

The DfE is unable to confirm that ‘appropriate’ arrangements for complaints are in place in all academy trusts. On top of which, Regional Schools Commissioners are not responsive to parents and are failing to intervene even when alerted to serious problems.

This is completely unacceptable, and flies in the face of assurances back in 2014 that RSCs would provide oversight and scrutiny. Eyewatering sums of taxpayers’ money have been spent getting us to this sorry place.

Oversight and intervention is sorely lacking at the DfE, too. Scandals such as Whitehaven Academy are a direct consequence of Government failures to act. And delays in investigating Wakefield City Academies Trust are a clear sign that the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is not fit for purpose. From executive pay packets to related party transactions, they are failing to prevent abuse.

This report is absolutely damning for both the DfE and the ESFA. One senses a growing irritation in the PAC that the DfE is not responding to their demands for greater transparency for academies.

The problem for the DfE and the ESFA is that they have neither the resources nor the legal means to achieve greater transparency because of the haste and inadequacies of Michael Gove’s 2010 Academies Act.

This absolutely damning report shows the need to restore local accountability and democratic governance to all schools. The NEU believes this can best be done by ensuring that all schools are overseen by local authorities.

We agree with the PAC’s recommendation that, whilst academy trusts still exist they should be required to make available financial information at school level; that there should be sanctions with teeth to deter, punish and prevent malpractice among academy trustees; that all academy trusts must publish complaints procedures with named individuals to whom parents can escalate concerns; and that the Department and ESFA should publish reports into trust abuses in a timely and transparent manner.

These are all demands that the NEU has been making for some time. We would further add that related party transactions should be banned once and for all. No trustee should be allowed to profit from their involvement in running state schools.

We agree with PAC that Ofsted should examine and report on whether the quality of education and the outcomes schools achieve are being adversely affected by the need to make savings.

It beggars belief that the HMCI told the PAC that Ofsted inspectors were not seeing an impact of funding cuts on educational standards.

They cannot possibly have been asking the right questions. Our members tell us that teachers and support staff are being cut, the curriculum is being narrowed, there are insufficient resources in schools and, most alarmingly, that the education of children with SEND is being disproportionately impacted by funding shortfalls.

The NEU also shares PAC’s concerns about asbestos management in schools. Failure to provide the DfE with information about management of asbestos in schools is putting lives at risk. 

These delays show that academy trusts and local authorities who bear overall responsibility for health and safety in schools are not facing up to their legal responsibilities.

Figures from the Department for Education analysing the performance of sponsored academies confirms that, almost a decade after the drive for all schools in England to become academies began, there is no evidence to justify the millions of pounds spent on this flawed flagship Conservative education policy, nor the disruption that forced academisation has wrought on school communities. It is laughable, therefore, that Damian Hinds is calling for more schools to become academies.

This analysis shows there is substantial variation in performance of secondary-sponsored academies and that while some perform well, there are some schools with results well below national average performance, even in the groups that have been academies for more than seven years. A similar mixed picture is also seen among sponsored primary academies.

Numerous reports, including today’s damning assessment from the Public Accounts Committee, show that the academies programme is seriously failing.  It is time for the Secretary of State to admit that he is presiding over a flawed initiative which has damaged a generation of children and young people and wreaked havoc on our education system.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union

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