MPs have taken aim at the academies sector in a damning report that demands big changes to the government’s accountability regimes.
The parliamentary public accounts committee has made a series of recommendations for the government and academy trusts in order to boost transparency and accessibility of information.
Here are the main recommendations.
1. Make trusts provide school-level financial info
The report found that trusts are not doing enough to help parents and communities understand what is happening at individual schools, and criticised the fact that academy accounts only take into account the trust as whole.
As such, the committee has recommended that the Education and Skills Funding Agency includes in the 2019 Academies Financial Handbook a requirement for trusts to publish school-level data and increase transparency at all levels.
Trusts should also be more transparent about governance and decision making, the report said.
The recommendation is quite controversial, as academy supporters will argue their finances are already much more transparent than schools in the council sector.
2. Improve the annual academies report
The DfE has been publishing an annual academy sector annual report and accounts for a number of years now, but the committee has warned it’s not working for everyone.
The committee found the DfE’s annual report on the sector was “not adequately meeting the needs of users” and should do more to explain the “financial sustainability of the academies sector as a whole” with more detailed analysis of different trends. The report said the DfE should write to the committee by March to set out what work it has done in this area.
The next report should also include analysis of the performance of different-sized and located trusts, and trends in trusts’ in-year deficits.
3. Make trusts publish complaints procedure and have a ‘named individual’
The report warned that it is not always clear whom parents can turn to if they need to escalate concerns about the running of academies and their trusts.
MPs found the DfE was unable to confirm that “appropriate arrangements for complaints are in place in all academy trusts”
In response, the committee says all academy trusts should have a published complaints procedure, which should include a named individual within the trust for parents to take their concerns to.
4. Appoint a DfE staffer to deal with parents’ complaints
The government needs to have a named employee to whom parents can turn if their concerns haven’t been addressed, and the name of this individual should be “clear and accessible”.
The committee wants this change to be put in place by March.
5. Strengthen sanctions against trustees
The committee’s report found the DfE does not have an “effective regime” to sanction those responsible for serious failings at academy trusts.
MPs also warned there is nothing to stop those involved in malpractice from acting as trustees or governors elsewhere. Schools Week has previously raised a discrepancy between the action taken against headteachers compared to trustees.
The PAC wants the DfE to write to its members by March with a plan to strengthen its sanctions regime to deal with malpractice, as well as details of any sanctions imposed to date.
6. Publish academy finance reports within two months
The report criticised the Education and Skills Funding Agency for not being “sufficiently transparent” about inquiries into academy trusts, as the results are not always made public, or are subject to lengthy delays.
To rectify this, the ESFA should have to publish the results of financial management and governance reviews into academy trusts within two months of completing the work.
This is another issue regularly highlighted by Schools Week – for instance, we’re still waiting for publication of the investigation into the collapsed Lilac Sky Schools trust.
7. Reveal the results of the Bright Tribe probe by March
There has been some ambiguity over when the findings of the ongoing investigations into the doomed trust will be published.
At a committee hearing in November, Bright Tribe’s interim chief executive Angela Barry said the investigations would be concluded by Christmas 2018, but would not commit to whether the reports or subsequent action would be “made public in a timely way”.
The committee wants the ESFA to write to its members by March with the outcomes of the investigations.
8. Ofsted should report on impact of funding cuts
This was the subject of a lot of debate last year, after Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, told MPs the inspectorate had no evidence that cuts were causing the curriculum to narrow. In November, Ofsted confirmed it would research the impact of funding changes on schools.
The report said the DfE “still does not understand the impact of funding pressures” and Ofsted’s current framework is not “not designed to capture the effects of curriculum narrowing”.
To solve this issue, Ofsted should report on whether funding cuts are impacting the quality of education or pupil outcomes in their inspection reports.
9. Name and shame schools that shun asbestos survey
Nearly a quarter of schools have not provided information in a landmark survey about how asbestos is being managed, despite the DfE extending the deadline three times.
In March, the DfE should “name and shame” any schools which have not responded to the asbestos survey by the February deadline, the PAC said.