SCHOOL academies are here to stay – and Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee appears to accept this in today’s exposé over their governance, funding, transparency and eyewatering salaries commanded by trustees.
However it is also clear, given how increasing number of children are being taught by trusts which fall outside the remit of LEAs, that scrutiny arrangements do, in fact, need to be far more robust.
Self-evident following the collapse of the Wakefield City Academies Trust, the Department for Education and Skills should be monitoring such bodies and intervening before they get into financial difficulty and cause great distress and anxiety to teachers, parents and pupils alike.
Not only are these organisations responsible for the future prospects of students, but they’re still the recipients of significant sums of public money. This means responsibilities. Schools should be run for the benefit of pupils and the local community. Though they need to be well-run and well-managed, they’re not businesses.
It does not end here. They should be submitting – and publishing – accounts, including details of private sources of income and sponsorship, promptly so they can be scrutinised. Delays of up to 18 months, another failing highlighted by the PAC, smack of either a lack of professionalism or potential wrongdoing.
And then there’s the issue of pay – and the 102 trustees paid salaries in excess of £150,000. In two thirds of cases investigated, the Education and Skills Funding Agency – and therefore the public Accounts Committee – is not satisfied with the justification or explanation offered. It’s the most important lesson of all. The more money spent on such roles means less resources for pupils, a point that academy chains – and Ministers – need to grasp if this model is to command greater confidence.