Morgan tells MPs she opposes running state schools for profit

Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan
Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan
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EDUCATION secretary Nicky Morgan told MPs she does not want to see state schools run for profit, in a shift from her predecessor Michael Gove who had said that it might happen.

Answering questions on academies and free schools Mrs Morgan also warned governing bodies to think carefully about the salaries they pay adding “there are some big numbers out there.”

But she ruled out giving extra powers to Ofsted to inspect academy chains provoking fierce criticism from MPs on the Education Select Committee.

Mr Gove had previously said that “we could move to that situation” when asked whether free schools could be run for profit under a Conservative Government.

He had also said, two years ago, that while some coalition colleagues were sceptical he had an open mind, adding: “I believe that it may be the case that we can augment the quality of state education by extending the range of people involved in its provision.”

But giving evidence yesterday Mrs Morgan said: “ I don’t think I can be any clearer, I don’t think schools should be run for profit.”

However she maintained the Government’s position on Ofsted inspecting academy chains.

Chains are an increasingly important part of the education sector responsible for running academies.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw has repeatedly asked to be given explicit powers to inspect the head offices of academy chains, in the same way the watchdog looks at local council children’s services.

However Mrs Morgan said she was satisfied that Ofsted already has enough powers to inspect these chains, when it looks at their individual schools.

She a said Ofsted has been able to make judgements on chains by doing batch inspections of schools with the same sponsor highlighting recent inspections of academies within E-ACT and Academies Enterprise Trust. She added: “They have the powers. I’m not in the business of producing more legislation to do something that the inspectorate can already do.”

She also said that academy chains have to produce audited accounts and that their finances were responsibility of the Education Funding Agency, an arm of the Department for Education (DfE).

Committee chairman and Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart described the decision as bizarre and said he was struggling to understand the rationale behind it.

He asked Mrs Morgan to write to Sir Michael and the committee explaining the Government’s decision.

The ongoing scandal at the Kings Science Academy in Bradford was also raised by David Ward, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East.

The free school is being investigated by police over alleged fraud. There has also been separate controversy over conflicting version of events over whether the school had a chairman of governors in its first year. The DfE now says the school had no chair in place but it had previously been told wrongly by the school that Alan Lewis, a vice chairman of the Conservative Party had been the chairman.

Mr Lewis has consistently denied ever being the school’s chairman of governors and said records at Companies House prove this.

Mr Ward asked Mrs Morgan whether it was acceptable for a school not to have a chair of governors.

She replied: “It is better to have no chair of governors than a bad chair of governors.”