DfE tops ‘departments of concern’ list in watchdog’s end-of-year report

academy SEND review

The Department for Education tops a “departments of concern” list in the end-of-year report by the chair of the government’s powerful public accounts committee.

Meg Hillier, chair of the government’s spending watchdog, highlighted the continuing financial strain on the sector, which she suggested both the DfE and Ofsted had neglected, a “lack of grip” over the academies system, and a failure to improve children’s social care.

The PAC chair’s annual report, published today, states the DfE “tops my departments of concern”.

Speaking to Schools Week, Hillier said: “It’s a worry. Schools are being very squeezed, and we think there could be an impact on children’s education. But neither Ofsted or the DfE are willing to take up the baton.”

The report flags Hillier’s personal perspective on the issues to watch across Whitehall departments, and is informed by the work of the committee over the year.

When asked to grade the DfE on its performance across the period, Hillier said she would give it a “D or an E”. “They are trying, but they are hampered by the ministers.”

The Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch added she now wants the department to acknowledge the funding problems and provide “some actual clarity and honest about these numbers”.

She said there is “obfuscation” from MPs over the “more money than ever before” being spent on schools, adding it was “financially liberate” to use that term.

Hillier said accountability and transparency in schools was very poor, adding how parents at the Whitehaven Academy had to put in freedom of information requests just to get basic information from the trust that run the school, Bright Tribe.

“How ridiculous, just to get information from a school. Governing body minutes should be published and available to everyone. This isn’t just academies, either.

“We fund our public services, we have a right to know more.”

A PAC report published in January, from its inquiry into academy accounts and performance, found that high-profile academy failures had ‘damaged’ children’s education.

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


  1. The DfE shows a worrying level of incompetence when it comes to keeping track of ‘charges’ in favour of the education secretary. These charges, listed at Companies House, are supposed to protect taxpayer investment in school property where the freehold is held by academy trusts.
    I tried to find out what happened to the unsatisfied part of a charge held by the now defunct Isle of Portland Aldridge Community Academy Trust but the DfE told me it didn’t hold the information.
    It is unacceptable that the DfE appears not to have a record of a charge where the education secretary is the ‘chargor’.
    In a puzzling twist, the DfE asked transparency website WhatDoTheyKnow to remove its response to my FoI request.

    • Mark Watson

      Not exactly a “puzzling twist” though was it?
      By the looks of it, the DfE originally sent you a response that included personal data – the names of some junior staff.
      This was clearly a mistake, and presumably had absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the substance of the response addressing the questions you’d asked.
      When DfE provided WhatDoTheyKnow with exactly the same document, but with the names redacted, this was substituted for the original one.
      Not exactly a conspiracy worth of Mulder and Scully …