MPs are demanding a proper strategy from the Department of Education to help prevent unforeseen school scandals such as the “Trojan horse” affair in Birmingham.
A damning report on ‘Schools Oversight and Intervention’ by the Public Accounts Committee released today says the DfE’s “light-touch” approach means problems can go undetected in schools until serious damage is done.
It has made seven recommendations which the committee hopes the DfE will implement in order to reduce the likelihood of events such as those in Birmingham last year after concerns were raised about the management of a number of Muslim-majority schools.
The report said that, as in the case of those schools, the DFE relied too heavily on whistleblowers to identify risks.
Concerns that the Department does not know enough about the effectiveness of the sponsors when they are brought in to improve schools as part of the academies programme.
It was noted the DfE had “paused the growth of 18 sponsors because of concerns about performance and they were responsible for the education of almost 100,000 children.”
The committee recommends the DfE obtain independent judgments of sponsor effectiveness and use these to determine which sponsors can grow or intervene in troubled schools.
Committee chair Margaret Hodge said: “Confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the Department, the Education Funding Agency, local authorities and academy sponsors has allowed some schools to fall through gaps in the system, meaning failure can go unnoticed.
“The Department also does not know whether local authorities have the capacity to improve their schools, or what interventions they use and at what cost.”
The other recommendations are for the DfE to clarify it role and that of Regional Schools Commissioners and local authorities and how they will work together to identify failure at an early stage.
It suggests carrying out an audit of school governors and ensure appropriate training, saying “the failure to identify problems with governors at some Birmingham schools highlights just one risk of not knowing enough about governors”.
Ms Hodge said worryingly some local authorities did not understand their safeguarding duties towards academy pupils and it was recommended these were outlined in a document.
She added: “It is likely that some local authorities, because of wider messages on academy autonomy, felt that safeguarding in academies was no longer their responsibility.”
Speaking yesterday in the House of Commons, education secretary Nicky Morgan said: “I am confident that if the events we witnessed in Birmingham were repeated again today they would be identified and dealt with more quickly and in a far more effective way.
“However, let me be clear that there is no room for complacency – both in the specific case of Birmingham, and more generally. We must always remain vigilant. There is no more important responsibility than keeping children safe and giving them the chance of a first-class education that prepares them for life in modern Britain.”