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The select committee confirms it: academies are a failed experiment

The select committee confirms it: academies are a failed experiment

After five years of Coalition education policies that have wrecked the education landscape, a report by the Education Select Committee, Academies and free schools has finally concluded what the NUT has been saying all along – that academy status does not result in raised standards, that schools work best in collaboration with others not in isolation, that sponsors and proposers of academies and free schools have not been properly vetted before being allowed to run taxpayer funded schools, and that the whole system lacks transparency, oversight and is open to fraud, abuse and mismanagement.

The report into academies and free schools by the Education Select Committee  is utterly damning. What it portrays is an  education system in total disarray with little or no accountability or coherence.

It has always been clear to the NUT that the creation of academies and free schools was about creating a market in education, not about school improvement. In this we have been proved correct.

Evidence to the Committee’s inquiry suggests that the pressure to expand the academies programme rapidly, and the associated need to identify an increasing number of sponsors, has led to inadequate vetting by the DfE of potential sponsors prior to authorisation.” This is a scandalous revelation. Those parents whose schools have been forcibly converted to academies, often against their wishes and those of the staff, will rightly question just whose interests the Government has been pursuing in the last five years.

The Select committee’s  conclusion that the system for approving free schools lacks transparency and that their intake and impact on neighbouring schools should be assessed and monitored has been obvious from the start. They also question the lack of openness  regarding the process and criteria by which academy sponsors are authorised and matched with schools and that this information should be clearly set out and be in the public domain. Again it is astounding that for so long the Government has been allowed to get away with this totally unprofessional approach. It is hardly surprising given the lack of overall scrutiny that so many  problems within academies and free schools  have arisen.   The conclusion here can only be that the Coalition Government has been playing fast and loose with children’s schooling.

Academy chains and free schools performance as we know varies enormously  with, according to the Sutton Trust, a majority of chains failing to provide standards of education on a par with maintained schools. It is to be hoped that the Education Committees recommendation that the DfE monitor and publish data relating to their performance and publish the results broken down by school and trust is heeded.  Nicky Morgan’s letter to academy chains last week did not go far enough since while chains will be inspected, they will not receive an Ofsted judgment under her proposals., This should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

We welcome the recommendation that all chains should publish within their annual accounts the salary and other remuneration of senior leaders within bands. However, as NUT deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney argued in his evidence to the Select Committee, in the interests of transparency we also want each individual school within an academy trust to publish its accounts (currently accounts are published at the trust level). The fact that academies and free schools  have been allowed to be so secretive speaks volumes. There should be no question that public money be accounted for and inconceivable that a Government should not insist on such. Furthermore, as Kevin also told the Select Committee, so-called “related party transactions” in which trust directors can win contracts for other companies they are involved with must be outlawed immediately. No one running a state school should be allowed to make money from so doing.

Where the NUT differs with the Education Select Committee’s conclusions is over the future role of local authorities. The NUT is clear that the role of democratic oversight of state funded schools is better exercised by local authorities, rather than by an expanded role for Regional School Commissioners. Local authorities are directly accountable to voters and can provide local mechanisms for parents who are dissatisfied with aspects of their child’s schooling and provide appropriate school improvement support at local level. They are best placed to encourage school collaboration and to secure sufficient pupil places.

While parents and carers across England are worrying about whether their child will have a place in their local school, schools desperately in need of rebuilding and renovation have been neglected and young people have lost the support of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the Government has been squandering money on an ideological programme for which there is simply no evidence.

Whichever Government comes into power after the next General Election should stop throwing taxpayers’ money at this failed experiment and return all state funded schools back to the oversight of local authorities.