Education committee make a series of recommendations to address concerns over governance, transparency and oversight
A parliamentary inquiry into the coalition’s education reforms has called on the government to stop exaggerating the success of academies and to be more open about how it runs the programme, reports The Guardian Online. The report by the cross-party education select committee said that although it was clear that academisation led to greater competition which helped drive improvement in schools, there was not yet proof that academies raised standards either for disadvantaged children or overall.
It made a series of recommendations to address concerns about conflicts of interest in governance, lack of transparency, inadequate oversight and the dangers of rapid conversion of secondary schools. And in response to a long-running battle between the Department for Education and Ofsted, it called for Ofsted to be given full powers to inspect academy chains. The publication of the report coincided with a hearing by the public accounts select committee that highlighted the complex arrangements surrounding academies. MPs questioned the headteacher of an academy in south London, who at one point was accused of running a dating agency using an address on the school site.
Sir Greg Martin, head of the Durand academy in Southwell, has been at the forefront of a long-running battle to open a Durand state boarding school in Midhurst, West Sussex. He denied the dating agency allegation, saying it was something he had set up with a few friends but that he was no longer a director. He also faced questions about his earnings, alleged to be more than £400,000, made up of his head’s salary plus income from a firm called GMG, which runs the London Horizons leisure facilities on the Stockwell school site.
Academies and free schools are free from local council control and deal directly with Whitehall, with freedom over areas such as the curriculum and teachers’ pay. Launching the education committee report, Graham Stuart, the Tory MP for Beverley and Holderness and chair of the committee, said: “It’s still too early to know how much the academies programme has helped raise standards. What we can say is that, however measured, the overall state of schools has improved during the course of the programme.
“Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children. It is clear though that academisation has led to greater competition, challenging many maintained schools to improve and incentivising local authorities to develop speedier and more effective interventions in underperforming schools. “Going forward, the DfE should be less defensive and more open about its implementation of the academies programme, producing a range of clearer and deeper information about the performance of academy schools, chains and sponsors.”
The report further urged the DfE to be far more transparent about how and where it decided to fund new free schools. And it called for urgent research to assess the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools. More primary schools than secondaries have academy status – 2,299 compared with 1,884 – but currently 60% of secondaries have academy status compared to 13% of primaries.
Among other recommendations, the report calls on the government to: • Provide clear information on the process and criteria by which academy sponsors are matched with schools, and the process by which funding agreements are reviewed and renewed. • Reduce the length of funding agreements for academies and create a mechanism for schools to be able to leave academy chains where appropriate. • Separate the regulatory and funding roles of the Education Funding Agency to “restore public confidence in the academies process”. • Require all academies and chains to publish the salary and other remunerations of senior leaders in their annual accounts. • Extend the same curricular freedoms already given to academies to all maintained schools. • Increase the number of regional schools commissioners to deliver better local oversight. The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, said: “This report recognises our plan is delivering what parents want – more chance than ever to send their child to a good local school. As a result of our plan, we have a million more pupils in good or outstanding schools compared to 2010, 100,000 more six-year-olds able to read thanks to our focus on phonics, and an increase of 60% in the proportion of pupils studying core academic subjects at GCSE. “Academies and free schools have played a vital role in this transformation by promoting new ideas and approaches, and helping to drive up standards in other local schools as a result.” Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “This report makes essential reading. It exposes the truth of the matter: this coalition government’s obsession with school structures has not transformed educational standards. “Academy status is no magic potion to transform schools. In pursing academy conversion the coalition government has neglected interventions which are known and have been proved to work. Too many schools are isolated and unable to learn best practice from one another. Regional schools commissioners, recruited to secure more academy conversions, are pursuing a goal which is worthless in terms of improving the quality of education for pupils.” She continued: “The education select committee is right to align itself with the public accounts committee’s criticism of the Education Funding Agency. Academy finances need to be clear, transparent and accessible to all. This is, lest we forget, taxpayers’ money which must be spent on pupils’ education. Conflicts of interest abound in academy trusts.” Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “This is an utterly damning report which shows that children’s education is being run in an incoherent and unaccountable fashion.
“Evidence to the committee’s inquiry suggests that the pressure to expand the academies programme rapidly, and the associated need to identify an increasing number of sponsors, has led to inadequate vetting by the DfE of potential sponsors prior to authorisation. This is a scandalous revelation. Those parents whose schools have been forcibly converted to academies, often against their wishes and those of the staff, will rightly question just whose interests the government has been pursuing in the last five years. “Whichever government comes into power after the next general election should stop throwing taxpayers’ money at this failed experiment and return all state-funded schools back to the oversight of local authorities.”