PAC slates DfE’s handling of academy conversion

Janet Downs's picture

DfE must address major concerns

The Public Accounts Committee’s report into the way the Department for Education (DfE) handled the conversion of schools into academies raises five main concerns.  

Checks have not prevented high-profile academy failures

Although the DfE has tightened up checks on potential academy trusts, this hasn’t prevented collapse of some trusts.  This is both ‘costly to the taxpayer and damaging to children’s education.

Some schools awaiting conversion are facing difficulties and delays

Some schools wanting to convert (or being forced to convert) find it difficult to attract a sponsor or find a multi-academy trust (MAT) willing to accept the school.   This is a problem previously highlighted on this site.   67 schools in sponsored academy pipeline are still without a sponsor after twelve months.   And DfE figures (downloadable here)  show 46 schools which applied to convert in 2016 have not yet been given an opening date.

LAs can face high costs when schools convert

Local authorities (LAs) can face ‘significant costs’ when schools in their area convert.  PAC found the ‘one-off’ cost to the DfE of conversion has been £745m since 2010/11 (this doesn’t appear to include the £1b overspend in early Coalition days which was slated in a 2013 PAC report ).  But this doesn’t represent the full cost to taxpayers.  The amount spent by schools and LAs is ‘unclear’, PAC said.  And LA spending on conversion undermines an LA’s capacity to support its non-academies.

Academy conversion undermines LAs’ ability to fulfil statutory school duties

PAC repeated warnings about how academy conversion can make it more difficult for LAs to perform their statutory duties towards schools.  These warnings have been made before as long ago as 2012 (supply of school places) and 2013 (affect on LA provision for SEND pupils).

DfE oversight of schools (all schools) is patchy and all over the place

The DfE’s arrangements for overseeing all schools are ‘fragmented and incoherent’.  PAC concluded this led to government ‘inefficiency’ and system-wide perplexity.  Fears about fragmentation have been aired before (see Academy Commission report 2013,  essay by former Schools Adjudicator Alan Parker in 2015,   and speech by Chris McShane, then head of Quilley School, Hampshire, to the Education Summit 2015  )  PAC repeats these concerns.

PAC lists recommendations which it feels would address the above anxieties.  Schools Week has summarised them here.  

It remains to be seen whether the DfE takes any notice.

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