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

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.