Academy failures on funds damaging education

The Public Accounts Committee has warned that there has been a succession of high-profile academy failures that have been costly to the taxpayer and damaging to children’s education.

A new report by MPs finds that some academy trusts have misused public money through related-party transactions and paying excessive salaries, with the group’s report saying that the failures of governance and oversight at Durand Academy Trust and Bright Tribe Trust cannot be allowed to happen again. This means that the Department for Education’s oversight and intervention needs to be more rigorous.

Academy trusts are now responsible for educating nearly half of all children in state-funded schools in England, but they are not sufficiently transparent or accountable to parents and local communities. The Education and Skills Funding Agency is trying to control executive pay and related party transactions, but these actions are as yet unproven and in isolation will not prevent abuse.

Despite the funding pressures the education sector is facing, the Public Accounts Committee argues that neither Ofsted nor the Education and Skills Funding Agency is assessing the impact of these pressures on the quality of education and the outcomes schools achieve.

Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “When things go wrong in schools, pupils can be badly affected. We have seen the troubling consequences of poor governance and oversight of academy trusts. Government must raise its game to ensure the failures of the past are not repeated.

“Parents and the wider community are entitled to proper access to transparent information about their local academy schools. They must have confidence that when issues arise, robust measures are in place to deal with them. The government must act to make this happen and, as detailed in our Report, we expect the Department for Education and Education and Skills Funding Agency to demonstrate they are doing so.”

Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “This damning report raises serious questions around academy financial governance and will be hugely concerning to parents and teachers across the country. The findings reinforce our call for councils to be allowed to step in and oversee failing academy finances, as they do with council-maintained schools that face financial challenges. It is now clear that the Department for Education does not have effective oversight of spending in more than 7,000 academies.

“Councils, which have vast experience running large budgets, are best placed to do this. Not only would this ensure democratic accountability, it would give parents the certainty and confidence in knowing that their child’s school is able to deliver the best possible education and support, without risk of financial failure.”