Children’s education being ‘damaged’ by academy failures, MPs warn

'When things go wrong in schools, pupils can be badly affected'

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 23 January 2019 01:09 GMT
MPs have called on the government to have a more rigorous oversight over academies
MPs have called on the government to have a more rigorous oversight over academies (iStock)

Children’s education has been damaged by “costly” academy failures, a parliamentary watchdog has concluded.

The government’s oversight and intervention of academy chains must be more “rigorous” to prevent any more serious failures from happening again, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has said.

A PAC report adds that academy trusts are still not sufficiently transparent or accountable to parents – despite evidence showing that some academy chains have misused public money.

Academy chains are responsible for educating nearly half of all children in state schools in England - and when things go wrong pupils can be “badly affected”, the chair of the PAC has warned.

The report highlights the failings at the controversial Bright Tribe Trust, which allegedly received government funds for building and fire safety work which was left unfinished or not done at all.

Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, which was run by Bright Tribe, had windows that did not shut, or were bolted shut because they were not safe, and flooded playing fields, the report says.

Parents were forced to send Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to the trust to find out what was happening at the school, and there was no process for complaining about the academy trust.

The report adds that it is “shocking” that the former head of controversial Durand Academy is entitled to a lump sum payment of £850,000 despite a “catastrophic failure” of governance.

The government should strengthen the sanctions regime for academy trustees and leaders to deter, punish and prevent malpractice, the MPs say.

Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC, said: "When things go wrong in schools, pupils can be badly affected. We have seen the troubling consequences of poor governance and oversight of academy trusts. Government must raise its game to ensure the failures of the past are not repeated.”

She added: "Parents and the wider community are entitled to proper access to transparent information about their local academy schools. They must have confidence that when issues arise, robust measures are in place to deal with them.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said the “damning” report highlights how parents, staff and communities are being “ignored or side-lined” by academy trusts.

He added: “The academies programme has drastically reduced transparency and accountability of schools, with parents having little say or access to information about how academies are run.

“Oversight and intervention is sorely lacking at the Department for Education (DfE), too. Scandals such as Whitehaven Academy are a direct consequence of government failures to act.”

The report also highlights that nearly one in four schools have still not come forward with the information the DfE needs regarding asbestos in school buildings.

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A DfE spokesperson said: “We do not accept the PAC’s negative characterisation of academies, in which standards of education have risen for thousands of pupils.

"Only last week we saw the real life impact of academies with the Oxbridge offers to children at Harris Westminster , London Academy of Excellence and Brampton Manor Academy.

“The majority of academies are delivering a great education and - as recognised by the PAC - we are taking robust action in the small minority of cases where they are not meeting the high standards expected.

"Academies are subject to higher levels of accountability and transparency than local authority schools. Academies must publish their annual accounts and this year we added new requirements on related party transactions.

"We have also taken steps to increase accountability by publishing lists of trusts who do not return accounts on time; and by challenging trusts who pay high executive salaries.”

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