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Government response to education committee report on academies and free schools: the wills and won’ts

The Department for Education has published its response to the education committee’s report on academies and free schools.

In many cases, the department claims it already has processes in place to meet the committee’s recommendations.

But here’s a list of what the department says it is and isn’t going to do differently in response to the report.


What they WILL do…


1. Allow Ofsted to “inspect” multi-academy trusts (MATs)

The committee’s report says there are “highly variable” levels of success between MATs and recommends publication of aggregated results for each academy ‘chain’.

The DfE were proactive on this, previously issuing guidance on how MATs will be “inspected” (without really being inspected) in January.

It has also just launched (on Friday) a consultation on “measuring the performance of schools within academy chains and local authorities”.

They refer to this consultation in today’s response…

“We … commit to publishing both a consultation document on this proposed methodology and the accompanying performance data at KS4 for medium and large chains and LAs before the end of the Parliament. This consultation will invite comments as to the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed methodology.”


2. Publish advice on “what makes a good sponsor”

“We welcome the Committee’s interest in the research on effective chains. We are extending our analysis of what a good sponsor looks like, building on work completed in 2014. Our updated project covers more chains than last year (over 150 chains). We will be making the full findings available later in the spring to RSCs and through our newsletter to sponsors.”

Will the public get this information? So far, it’s unclear.


3. Analyse the relationship between academy status and outcomes at KS1 and KS2.

“We agree with the Committee that it is important to continue to analyse how well academy status works in the primary phase. To carry out such analysis requires a large enough number of primary academies to have been open long enough to have a reasonable time series of results which can be analysed. We are only now reaching such a position, and will be undertaking this analysis in 2015.”

Note the lack of month.



What they WILL NOT do…


1. Admit it’s too early to tell if academies are working.

The committee warned that current evidence did not allow it to draw “firm conclusions on whether academies are a positive force for change” and that it was “too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”.

The Department for Education disagrees…

We are absolutely clear about the impact that academies and free schools have had on children’s achievement in these schools. Recent results show the impact the academies and free schools programmes have had. The first wave of primary sponsored academies that opened by September 2012 has seen the proportion of pupils achieving level four or above in reading, writing and maths increase by nine percentage points since opening. This is double the rate of improvement seen across all schools.

“Academies and free schools also perform well against the new tougher Ofsted framework. They are more likely to retain an ‘outstanding’ rating, and they are more likely to improve from ‘good’ to ‘outstanding’. The great majority of free schools are performing well. 68% of those free schools inspected were rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted under its tougher new inspection framework.”


2. Give maintained schools the same freedoms over curriculum currently enjoyed by academies.

“Academies have demonstrated innovation through their curriculum freedoms. All schools can become academies, and can make the most of the wide range of benefits that autonomy brings, providing they are a strong school or have a strong sponsor who will help them to make a success of it.”


3. Give Ofsted a role in grading “innovation”

“Ofsted’s remit is to report on the quality and effectiveness of the education being provided for all pupils in a school, and inspectors may report examples of effective innovation contributing to outcomes and attainment of pupils. This innovation, however, is only relevant if it is making a difference to standards.”


4. Commit to increasing the number of regional schools commissioners (RSCs)

Despite a recommendation from the committee that the government “review and increase the number of schools commissioners”, the DfE doesn’t seem keen to promise anything of the sort, even if the department is happy to once again tell us how well RSCs are doing…

“We welcome the Committee’s views on RSCs. Early indications are that the RSCs and their headteacher boards are performing extremely well. We expect the role of RSCs to develop in response to the evolution of the academies and free schools programmes.”

Summary: RSCs are really good, but we won’t commit to appointing more.


5. Change the way transparency is ensured at the Education Funding Agency (EFA)

“The EFA’s monitoring process is effective because it involves significant independent scrutiny. This involves securing assurance by external auditors; running an internal assurance programme to review audited academy trust accounts, auditor management letters, accounts returns, budget forecast returns, and financial management and governance returns; and investigating and intervening where it is apparent that there is a risk to public funds.

“These arrangements are underpinned through extensive discussions and joint working with academy representatives and with their auditors to develop and publish regular advice and guidance.”

6. Make collaboration between converter academies and other schools a condition of funding

“Academies are increasingly choosing to collaborate, and we will continue to encourage and support them to do this through policy development, funding and other incentives. It would, however, be disproportionate to renegotiate all existing funding agreements to make this a requirement. It would also be wrong to create a system of school inspection that penalises heads who have chosen to focus their efforts on improving their school.”

So that’s that then.

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