Department still does not seem to be learning lessons from high-profile academy failures
In the rush to convert large numbers of schools to academies, the Department did not pay enough attention to ensuring that its scrutiny of applicants was sufficiently rigorous.
It is now strengthening how it examines prospective academies’ financial viability and sponsors’ ability to improve the schools they are taking on, but these issues should have been addressed much earlier and the changes do not go far enough.
It is particularly worrying that the Department still does not seem to be learning the lessons from high-profile academy failures that have been costly for taxpayers and damaging to children’s education.
Department failing to give a clear sense of direction
The one-off costs to the Department for Education of converting schools to academies have been £745 million since 2010–11, but the full cost of conversion, including spending by schools and local authorities, is unclear.
We are concerned, however, that the Department is failing to give a clear sense of direction for maintained schools, academies, local authorities, pupils and parents.
Its policy for converting schools to academies is unclear, and there is substantial regional variation, not only in the extent to which schools have become academies but also in the quantity and quality of support available to struggling schools.
Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:
"The interests of pupils should be paramount in education but the increasingly incoherent schools system is putting this principle at risk.
Government’s haste in pushing ahead with academisation has come at a cost, with high-profile failures indicating significant weaknesses in its assessment regime.
The DfE accepts it should do better and we expect it to demonstrate it understands the reasons for these failures and will act on the lessons. It must strengthen scrutiny of prospective academies and sponsors.
We are also concerned about how the stated aim of academisation—to drive up educational standards—is panning out in practice.
There is a risk that pupils at poorly performing and smaller schools, less attractive to academy trusts, will be left behind.
Costs associated with conversion can reduce funding available to local authorities to support remaining maintained schools. Academisation can also undermine councils’ ability to provide school places.
Oversight of the sector has become confusingly complex, which can place unnecessary burdens on schools and risks weakening decisions in the conversion process.
Government must meet these challenges and be far clearer about the direction of travel if stakeholders, not least parents and pupils, are to have faith in its approach."