DfE's new "school" comparison tool throws up big issues about transparency

Francis Gilbert's picture
The new school comparison tool on the Department for Education's website is a pretty useful tool; it gives parents a chance to easily compare schools in a variety of ways. You can compare results, spend-per-pupil, Ofsted reports and so forth.

One thing it most obviously illustrates is that there is no spending data for academies -- and presumably won't be for free schools too. I think the "spend-per-pupil information" section is very useful because you can see how much schools are spending on their teaching staff, supply staff, catering and so on and compare with other schools who've released this data. I am all for parents asking schools about this issue; if it's obvious that a school is spending comparatively little on teaching staff compared with administration then perhaps questions need to be asked. But clearly this can't be done in the case of academies.
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Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 13/09/2011 - 19:31

Yes it's a fair point. Do DfE have plans to collect and publish this data? They should under open government principles.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 09:34

Academy Trusts are no longer required to submit their annual reports to the Charity Commission for publication as they are “exempt charities”. The accounts can be obtained from Companies House but there is no obligation for Academy Trusts to make them public. The government advises Academy Trusts to “publish such documents on their own websites as an alternative method of making them publicly available. For some Academy Trusts this requirement is a condition of their funding agreement.”

So Academy Trusts are only “advised” to publish the documents, and “some”, but not all, will have this built into their funding agreement.


Academies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act which means there will be a legal right for any person to make a request to an Academy for access to information held by the Academy.


If there is no legal obligation for academies to publish this information, then it follows that there is no legal obligation on the government to do so. The new comparison tool, therefore, will be of no use to anyone wishing to discover how academies, and presumably free schools, spend their money

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 10:19

Is there a hidden message in the 74-page government document setting out details of Academies’ Accounts? The model annual report and financial statements are for a fictitious Academy Trust in Coketown.

Coketown features in Dickens’s “Hard Times”, the polluted industrial town described as “Fact, fact, fact… The M’Choakumchild school was all fact, and the school of design was all fact, and the relations between master and man were all fact, and everything was fact between the lying-in hospital and the cemetery, and what you couldn’t state in figures, or show to be purchasable in the cheapest market and saleable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.”

The model documents fall short of naming Gradgrind, Bounderby and Bitzer as Trustees of Coketown Academy Trust, but the auditor is named as “Dolittle Mawper LLP” and the bankers as “Natland PLC, 2 Lloyd Mews, Coketown”. Is the latter a veiled reference to NatWest (subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland) and Lloyds TSB, two banks who were bailed out by taxpayers? Perhaps this is a hidden warning that many Academy Trusts are likely to go the same way and need similar bailing out.

botzarelli's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 13:19

Interesting set of literary references! I think it is probably more a case of a DfE civil servant having a bit of fun and perhaps a little joke at the expense of a less literary manager.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 16:09

That's hilarious about the fictitious Academy Trust in Coketown. I've taught Hard Times for A Level; it's still a very relevant text, Dickens at his brilliant best.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 17:19

“Hard Times” received much negative criticism on publication. Macauley described the book as having “One or two passages of exquisite pathos and the rest sullen Socialism.” G K Chesterton, in his 1907 introduction to “Hard Times,” said Macauley’s criticism was unfair “but it exactly shows how the book struck those people who were mad on political liberty and dead about everything else.”

As well as concealing a tongue-in-cheek warning about government policy, perhaps the author of this document is also alerting readers to the nature of this government. "Mad on political liberty and dead about everything else" together with dollops of "oiling" sums them up quite well, I think.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 16/09/2011 - 16:38

"Hard data can only be useful if integrated with the 'softer' findings from Ofsted", "Does not show the most recent Ofsted rating", "Link to the full [Ofsted] report is not easy to find,", "Gaping holes in the data". These are a few of the comments about the GoveCompare school comparison database in this week's TES.


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