Did the Public Accounts Committee 2011 report conclude that academies had been a resounding success?
Yes, but only up to a point. In 2011, the Public Accounts Committee endorsed academy conversion as a means of raising achievement. However, closer scrutiny shows that the Public Accounts Committee had missed the downside to the academies programme given in the previously published evidence it consulted. The Committee looked at the Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General HC288 Session 2010-2011. This turns out to be National Audit Office (NAO) report discussed here which makes it clear that not all academies were raising results. Even where improvements had been made there had not been a similar improvement in the results of disadvantaged pupils who were the very children that academies had been set up to help.
The Committee also took evidence from ARK and ULT academy chains. ARK has had success with its academies but, as the NAO noted, this success was not uniform across all academies. ULT had been banned by the Labour government from sponsoring any more academies because some of their established ones had been judged by Ofsted to be inadequate. The Coalition Government lifted the ban and allowed ULT to take control of the Emmanuel group of academies in a move welcomed by Mr Gove. An ex-Principal of one of the Emmanuel academies, John Burn, OBE, would later condemn this takeover in his evidence to the Education Bill Committee. Mr Burn said that ULT was “not properly accountable to its own schools, their leaders and their communities.”
The Committee’s conclusion that the academies programme had raised achievement can only be upheld by a selective reading of the NAO report. However, the Committee did not wholeheartedly endorse the academies programme. It had reservations about “potential financial and governance instability”. The Committee recommended a “strong framework with which academies must comply to ensure probity and effective governance” because many academies were not complying with the guidance then in place.