World at One discusses critical PAC report on academies - well worth listening to

Janet Downs's picture

Following the publication of the Public Accounts Committee report criticising Department for Education (DfE) oversight of academies, BBC World at One devoted a sizeable section of today's programme to the issue.

Laura McInerney, contributing editor for Schools Week, Guardian columnist and Freedom of Information warrior, explained the role of academy trustees.  She also described why there's a problem with related-party transactions and why questions can arise about how academy assets had been used when trusts fold.  She wanted the DfE to set a cap on CEO and executive pay in academy trusts or introduce a scale.

This was followed by a debate between Mary Bousted, joint secretary of the National Education Union, and Mark Lehain, newly-appointed head of the New Schools Network, the taxpayer funded charity which supports free school bids.  

Bousted expressed concern that the DfE could do nothing about the level of CEO or executive pay in academy trusts.   She cited an unnamed academy trust with very few academies where the principal had received a pay rise of tens of thousands of pounds but the teachers in the academies complained there was insufficient money for photocopying and they were having to buy resources with their own money.

Mark Lehain said academies programme had given freedom for 'those on the front line' to best decide how to spend their money (forgetting that it's not those at the chalkface who make this decision but academy trustees).  He said investigations into CEO pay should be on a case-by-case basis and cited Harris Federation as a multi-academy trust where the highly-paid CEO (nearly half-a-million) merited the salary because of the high performance of Harris academies.

Bousted countered this by saying there had been concerns about 'off-rolling' in Harris academies whereby pupils likely to reduce overall exam results were taken off roll.

Lehain said half of England's schools are now academies (not true, latest DfE stats, downloadable here,  say 65% of England's schools are still non-academies).   He agreed that academies needed to be transparent - they must not only do the right thing but be seen to be doing so.  He had no objection to the PAC suggestion that related-party transactions be agreed with the Education and Skills Funding Agency'

*The discussion can be heard on Listen Again, about 19 minutes into the programme.  

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Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 30/03/2018 - 16:53

It has taken more than two decades, but at last the BBC is taking a critical look at Academies and finding plenty to be concerned about.

The new alliance between ATL and the NUT should also help keep up the pressure to expose to public scrutiny what the mainstream media have up to now ignored. Thanks to Janet there is is plenty of detailed information available on LSN to feed the struggle.

janee's picture
Fri, 30/03/2018 - 17:10

Mary Bousted made the points extremely well and, for once, she was allowed to make the case.  Mark Lehain didn't really do anything other than giving the choice argument again.  Glad she mentioned the Harris offrolling case.  Funnily enough the original piece of research on this seems to have disappeared and only the press reports on it remain.  Does anyone know where it went?


Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 31/03/2018 - 09:59

janee - EducationDataLab did the original research which concluded  'pupils leaving can have a very flattering impact on the league table results of a school...'  But a footnote now says:

'We’ve taken a decision not to publish the reweighted league tables which we have produced, and to name individual schools, as in individual cases there may be circumstances which lie behind large leaver numbers and reweighting impacts which alone are not clear from the data.'

But, as you say, press releases after the research publication (Jan/Feb 2017) specifically mention Harris.   

Harris said the number of pupils leaving their academies was due to geography - London had higher mobility than other areas.  But Mary Bousted, writing in  TES, for example, said:

'This may, indeed, be the explanation for the declining roles at Harris academies. But questions remain because Education Datalab is not the first to raise the issue of Harris academies shrinking pupil roles as the pupils approach their GCSE exams in year 11.'

'In February 2014 Sylvia McNamara, the director for learning, school improvement and inclusion for Croydon Council, wrote to Peter Lauener, the chief executive of the Education Funding Agency, expressing her concern that while the majority of the schools in Croydon showed little or no change in cohort size, the Harris academies in Croydon were losing large numbers of pupils.'



Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 31/03/2018 - 10:17

janee - I've found research (published 2016) which shows pupil mobility  in London is indeed higher that in the rest of England.   The report points out 'there is considerable variation between London boroughs' (these are not named although there is a map).  However, pupil mobility in London falls during secondary school.  In primary school (including reception), the average pupil mobility rate is 6.5%.  In secondary school, this drops to 3.3%.   

Geography, then, may cause high pupil mobility in Harris secondary academies.  But EducationDataLab found this worked in Harris's favour.  What we need to know is whether Harris's pupil mobility at secondary level is higher than the London average of 3.3%.  And Croydon, remember, complained that more pupils left their academy in Croydon than in other Croydon schools.

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