Transparency call on academies

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MPS have warned that the Department for Education needs to be more open and transparent about how academy sponsors are chosen to run schools and improve its monitoring of how academies and free schools operate and spend money.

An Education Select Committee report published today also warns that its not possible yet to say whether academies actually raise standards overall or for poor children.

And it said Ministers need urgently to commission research into the impact the initiative has had on primary school results.

The expansion of the academies programme and the creation of free schools have been at the heart of the coalition Government’s education reforms. The number of academies has risen from just over 200 in 2010 to around 4,200.

Academies are run outside of local council control and have greater freedoms over their spending and curriculum. Under this Government good and outstanding schools have been urged to convert to academy status while those identified as underperforming have become academies run by a new sponsor. The report into academies and free schools says “it is currently impossible to draw firm conclusions about whether academies are a positive force for change”.

“What can be said is that, however measured, the overall state of schools has improved during the course of the academisation programme,” it adds.

It says that the academies scheme has led to more competition, challenged council-run schools to improve and given local authorities an incentive to intervene quicker to deal with failing schools.

Figures show that more primary schools than secondaries now have academy status – 2,299 compared to 1,884.

But academies make up a larger proportion of secondary schools, 60 per cent of secondaries now have academy status compared to 13 per cent of primaries. The report also says that while some chains – those running groups of academies – have been very effective in raising standards, others achieve worse results than other similar schools.

The committee has welcomed Education Secretary Nicky Morgan saying Ofsted can examine the work of academy chains. But it also calls on the DfE to publish results for each academy chain.

It says that greater transparency is also needed about how sponsors are chosen to take over schools which become academies and says the DfE needs to improve its monitoring of academies to ensure these schools are abiding by the terms of their funding agreements.

Committee chairman Graham Stuart, Conservative MP for Beverley and Holderness, said: “Current evidence does not prove that academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children.”

Mrs Morgan said academies and free schools had played a vital role in raising standards “by promoting new ideas and approaches, and helping to drive up standards in other local schools as a result”. However, Tristram Hunt, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: “The cross-party group of MPs has issued a damning verdict on this Government’s school improvement strategy. The report finds that under David Cameron there is no convincing evidence that schools policy has delivered improvements for children in England.”

Kevin Courtney, the National Union of Teacher’s deputy general secretary, said: “This is an utterly damning report which shows that children’s education is being run in an incoherent and unaccountable fashion.”