Earlier this year I wrote this post
about the Prime Minister's claim to Margaret Hodge, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, that academy funding was as transparent as funding for maintained schools. Mrs Hodge, also a member of the House of Commons Liaison Committee which interrogates the PM from time to time, had asked how it was possible to "follow the public pound" in academy schools.
Mr Cameron replied: "The parent/teacher /local community knows how much follows the pupil into the school and can then see the results. We need to see how much money going into the schools and the results coming out. This will produce results for very transparent amounts of money that are going in."
Actually he got his facts wrong, because academy funding wasn't available at the time, nor did it form part of last year's performance tables for schools, which showed funding per pupil for all maintained schools, but I subsequently learned that the PM had written to Mrs Hodge to say that this would be rectified.
This still hasn't happened. Checking the performance tables for my own local community, I was both very proud to see that Gospel Oak
, where my children were at school, has performed extremely well this year with over 90% of children getting level 4 in English and Maths, in a school with over 40% of the pupils eligible for FSM and over 50% of the pupils eligible for the pupil premium (eligible for FSM in the last 6 years).
It was also interesting to be able to see how much money per pupil goes into the school and how much is spent. So I thought I would have a look at a few of the early primary converter academy schools to see how their funding compared. The most obvious one being Cuckoo Hall Academy
, regularly drooled over in public by both Mr Twigg and Mr Gove. One article by Mr Gove here
,first published in the Evening Standard, was considered such a fine piece of journalism that it was republished on the DFE website.
It is an provocative article for several reasons - firstly it makes disparaging comments about two founders of this site, myself and Melissa Benn, claiming that people like us (opponents of his policies) tend to be "well connected media types from London's most privileged circles" and implying that we were far removed from those well known crusaders for poor children, the founders of free schools, including Patricia Sowter, the head teacher of Cuckoo Hall Academy.
Now the Cuckoo Hall Academy is clearly an excellent school, but it actually has fewer children eligible for Free School Meals than Gospel Oak, where I was chair of governors for ten years. Like the PM , Mr Gove needs to do more homework. I did ask the Evening Standard for a right of reply at the time, but they refused.
And that isn't the only piece of misinformation peddled by the DFE in relation to the Cuckoo Hall Academy
. Mr Gove's article, and the school's website appear to suggest that the school was in special measures when Ms Sowter took over. In fact this isn't true. The school came out of special measures in 1999
, she started at the school in 2002 and in 2001 Ofsted
said Cuckoo Hall was a very effective school and could come out of special measures thanks to the leadership of her predecessor.
And its performance in 2012, according to the DFE tables published this week, is almost identical to that of Gospel Oak, an LA community school which which was also performed very poorly in the 1990s. So more proof that it isn't necessary to be an academy to improve. In our case, good leadership, governance, teaching , supportive parents and a good local authority did the trick.
However there is one important difference - apart from the fact that no one from the government writes articles about our schools. The per pupil income and expenditure of the Cuckoo Hall academy is not plain to see in the way it is for Gospel Oak or any other maintained school. Nor does it appear to be for the other primary converter academies. See here
for another primary converter, the Green Lane Primary Academy in Leeds, which also appears to be performing less well than both Cuckoo Hall and Gospel Oak with far fewer children on FSM.
On the Cuckoo Hall page of the DFE tables, the schools Annual Report and Financial Statements are included, although these would be barely comprehensible to the average parent wanting to make a quick comparison. The Green Lane Academy doesn't even include this information.
Much is being made of the wonder of academy status but as Henry Stewart has proved repeatedly on this site, most recently in his post
yesterday, the data provided by the government doesn't support these claims. And without much clearer evidence about their funding so , as the Prime Minister said, parents can see how much money follows the pupil into the school, and then compare the results, it is even more difficult to judge both their effectiveness AND whether they are a good use of the public pound.