Public Accounts Committee Produces Damning Report on Academies Programme

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(Local Schools Network press release in response to Public Accounts Committee report, April 23rd)

The Public Accounts Committee today reports that a £1 billion overspend at the Department of Education “has been caused by the excessively complex and inefficient academy funding system”. Despite having a majority of Conservative MPs, the Committee has delivered a report that is highly critical of the government’s flagship academy programme and suggests widespread waste of public funds.

The report notes “£350 million extra paid to Academies which was not recovered from local authorities”, that the Department does not really know whether academies received more money than they should have and that other costs, such as academy insurance, have not been brought under control

Note: The full PAC report is available here and the Press release here

Was this £1 billion overspend worthwhile?

The value for money of the Academies Programme will ultimately depend on its impact on educational performance relative to the investment from the taxpayer, comments the report”. So far the evidence suggests we have not got value for money for that £1 billion overspend.

The MPs pointed out that £400 million had been taken “from funds for intervention in underperforming schools” and put instead into academy conversion. Chris Wormald (Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education) replied: The Government took a very conscious decision that its major school improvement programme was the academies programme.” (p32)

“The government spent the best part of £1 billion not on underperforming schools but on converting schools that were already Good or Outstanding”, explains Henry Stewart, co-founder of the Local Schools Network, who gave evidence to the Committee. “Those schools saw their GCSE results rise in 2011 but in 2012, after conversion and the £1 billion spend, the results actually fell.”

Lack of Accountability

The MPs on the committee were shocked to discover a lack of financial accountability among academies. Academies that are part of chains, for instance, are not required to make public their expenditure at an individual school level. Conservative MP Richard Bacon described this lack of accountability as “mind-blowing” and commented that “they could hide something by taking a little bit from several pots, and the parents would never know at the individual academy level.”

(see p41 of the report for Richard’s frustration with the evidence being provided)

The report makes clear that this must change: “the Department must insist that every Academy Trust provides it with data showing school level expenditure, including per-pupil costs, and with a level of detail comparable to that available for maintained schools. The Department must then publish this data so that proper judgements and comparisons can be made by Parliament and the public.”

The Public Accounts Committee highlights a range of dangers. It finds governance, compliance and oversight arrangements for academies are inadequate and “remain vulnerable to failure”. It is worried that forthcoming staff cuts at the Department for Education “may threaten effective oversight”. And it finds there is confusion about the “roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of different organisations across the changing schools system”. It worries that interventions in failing academies may be delayed because it is unclear what is the role of local government, central government – and the academy or academy trust itself.

“The report highlights the dangers of the new educational landscape”, explains Henry Stewart of Local Schools Network. “Under local authorities the system is transparent and generally robust. The report makes clear that there is nowhere near the same clarity over academies, with many dangers of lack of a lack of accountability and oversight.”

A call for evidence not ideology

“It is time that the government turned to evidence rather than ideology to determine how to improve our schools”, continues Henry. “If it were to look at the evidence of what leads to educational success, such as the remarkable transformation in London, it would find (as Ofsted did) that it has little to do with school structures. Instead it is about effective leadership, collaboration between schools and teacher development. If the government took a fraction of the time and money it has devoted to academies and free schools and spent it on programmes like London Challenge, then we could see a similar improvement across the country.”

 

Henry Stewart’s evidence to the committee is contained within the PAC report.

 

Notes

Converter academies: % achieving 5 GCSE A-C grades including English and Maths

2010: 68.2%
2011: 69.8% (before conversion for 655 of 680 schools)
2012: 69.5% (after conversion)

(A small fall but a £1 billion spend should perhaps have led to a rise)

Ofsted report on London Challenge: http://bit.ly/VLBSTd
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