A good day to bury bad news? 14 academy chains barred from running more schools – revealed on Budget Day
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Thursday 20 March 2014
Fourteen academy chains have been barred from running more schools because of concerns over, among other things, the standards and financial management in the ones they run now, MPs have been told.
The 14 chains, which include the biggest – Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) – are responsible for running about 200 state schools between them.
The news, which emerged on Wednesday, Budget Day, has fuelled claims that the Coalition Government took advantage of the Chancellor’s speech to bury bad news.
It has also reignited the row over whether Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, should be given power to inspect academy chains in the same way that it inspects individual schools and local authorities.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief schools inspector, and David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Schools minister, believe that Ofsted should be empowered to inspect academies, but so far Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has not backed such a move.
AET runs 77 schools and had prompted concerns over its rapid expansion. Another of the chains is E-ACT, which was forced to hand back a third of its 34 schools this year because of poor Ofsted reports.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “My main concern is for the children in those schools they already run – and whether they are getting a decent standard of education.
“It is one thing to say they can’t run any more schools, but what’s happening in the schools already in place?
“These schools are left in no-man’s-land. When you add to this some of the free school fiasco, it is a story of educational failure. The issue has always been a lack of any local control over the schools.”
John Denham, the Labour MP and former Universities minister who had asked how many chains had been barred, added: “It is extraordinary that so many academy chains have been barred from running schools.
“This will fuel attempts to make sure the academy chains are inspected – and not just individual academies.”
He accused the Department for Education of attempting to “bury bad news”, adding: “I put down a number of questions a week last Monday and all bar this one were answered quite quickly.”
The Department for Education rejected his claim, saying it was “way off beam” and that the information had been available to the House on Tuesday. However, Mr Denham said it had not been published in Hansard until Budget Day.
In his response to Mr Denham’s question, Edward Timpson, an education minister, said: “The Government is tough on under-performance wherever it occurs – be it in council-run schools or in academy chains.”
The DfE spokesman added that the 14 academy sponsors that had been barred from taking on new commitments were out of a total of 350.
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