At a recent session of the Liaison Committee, the parliamentary committee at which chairs of all select committees are given the chance to quiz the Prime Minister, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge put some pithy questions to the PM about value for money and accountability with increasing private and voluntary sector involvement in public services. The exchange is recorded here
(at about 16:30) and goes something like this:
Hodge: How do you follow the public pound with so much private sector involvement?"
PM: Literally to follow it. The citizen should be able to choose between services on the basis of much better published information about outcomes and making sure the tax payer can follow his or her pound through the system.
Hodge: Take the case of academies . How do we know they provide value for money?
PM: People can increasingly see the funding per pupil that goes into the school and if we are successful in introducing a more national funding formula for schools that will be even clearer. 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.
The main problem with this answer is that Mr Cameron has got his facts wrong. Parents, and the wider community, can't see how much money per pupil is going into academies because his government refuses to publish this information. Let's take on very high profile example - Mossbourne Academy in the London Borough of Hackney. Mossbourne has certainly performed impressively since it was opened just under ten years ago but we can't see what, if any, impact differential funding may have had on the outcomes of the pupils. Information about the schools 2011 GCSE results was published here
in the government's new all singing all dancing performance tables. All the information is present and correct apart from the table showing income and expenditure per pupil which is now published with the performance data for all maintained schools . So if you look at two of Mossbourne's neighbouring schools, Stoke Newington School
and Haggerston School
, that information is presented transparently(at the bottom of each set of tables between Pupil Absence and School Workforce figures) as the PM suggests. Or take another part of the country like the West Midlands. The Ormiston Sandwell Community Academy
is compared with two local maintained schools here
. I have chosen these areas at random but parents and teachers might want to check similar information in their areas . I believe they will find that the same issues arise - a very basic lack of accountability about funding in the case of both sponsored and converter academies. Here is an example of one high profile early converter, the Tollbar Academy
My colleague Henry Stewart's recent analysis of the 2011 GCSE results of English secondary schools
, has received widespread coverage including a page lead in the Observer newspaper
. It revealed that the performance of academies is no better than maintained schools on a range of different indicators. However if we want to make a really valid comparison on school performance, and follow the public pound, as Mr Cameron is urging us to do,surely we should be able to see how the funding per pupil compares? The PM should get his facts right and Mrs Hodge should continue to press him on this issue.