Category Archives: Free schools



Lawyers Browne Jacobson’s school leaders survey 2013


This survey, by legal firm Browne Jackson, which gives advice to schools, claims to provide a valuable independent barometer of satisfaction with policy, confidence levels and priorities for the future.

Key findings

the introduction of the Pupil Premium has been a resounding success with 72% satisfied with its introduction of which 13% are very satisfied

nearly three quarters of school leaders (72%) are dissatisfied with the Government’s free schools programme

plans by the Government to get tough on disruptive behaviour in the classroom has been met with a chorus of approval with 72% of school leaders satisfied

around seven out of ten school leaders (69%) are dissatisfied with Ofsted and the current inspection regime

two-thirds are dissatisfied with the Government’s policy towards the development of special educational needs provision

investing in the school estate is a high priority with 68% of school leaders looking to build and/or carry out significant capital works

becoming an academy in the next 12 months is a priority for one in three maintained primary schools in England. ( maybe, but doesnt that  conflict with the finding that  72% are  dissatisfied  with Free schools)


Note-About the research

Research for the school leaders survey 2013 was carried out between 30 September and 14 October 2013.

223 school leaders took part in the survey, of which 156 were headteachers. The remainder included CEOs, MDs, Executive Principals, Principals, Executive Headteachers and Deputy Headteachers and Principals. 60% of schools that took part were maintained and 40% academies. Of the total 68% were primary with 32% secondary. Where the results do not add up to 100%, this may be due to computer rounding.

Schools leaders survey report 2013




Michael Gove and David Laws are responding to the concerns over a perceived lack of accountability within the school system- If they are still talking to each other, that is!There have been on-going debates about the need for a third tier. Although chains of schools can offer some accountability, most schools are not part of a chain ,or partnership arrangement. A consensus has developed that central government alone cannot provide effective democratic accountability for the education system. Effective school systems that provide autonomy to schools ,need a robust accountability framework if they are to improve  student outcomes.

Ministers have been working, for nine months apparently, on a joint coalition proposal to improve the monitoring of and intervention in failing institutions. Rumour has it that  it will neither return control to local authorities nor leave it in the department; it is due to be in place by the end of 2014. There should be an announcement on this shortly



Some concerns remain over the expansion of Faith Schools


Faith schools are now an important part of the education landscape and their numbers have increased in recent years.

Recent events in the  Muslim Al-Madinah  Free school in  Derby, judged dysfunctional   by Ofsted, has raised awareness of the number of faith schools that are publicly funded (around a third of all  schools are faith schools) and opened up the debate, again, over whether ‘faith’ schools should, in a secular society, be publicly funded. And, if so, whether the current regulation of these schools and of their admissions policies is sufficiently robust.

Faith schools tend to perform above average. But concerns have been raised over their admissions policies. The highly successful London Oratory (Catholic) school was recently criticised for its admissions policy. Indeed ,there is some research evidence that Faith schools tend to have less FSM  pupils on their books, than the local authority average, which implies some form of selection is taking place.

Lord Baker, the Conservative former Secretary of State for Education and Science who first introduced the National Curriculum, has expressed his disappointment at the increase in the number and diversity of religious schools since 1997.

In a recent interview in The House Magazine, Lord Baker commented that ‘I think the Labour Party in 1997 was very wrong to open up the possibility of having more religious schools. When I was Education Secretary I did not approve any independent religious schools. I went to a Church of England primary school myself and I liked it, it was a very good school. But Church of England primary schools are community schools, rather than church schools, and I believe very strongly that children of all faiths – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist – and atheists should all study together, play together, eat together, go on the bus together. So I’m not in favour of any more faith schools.’


New research from the British Humanist Association (which obviously has a particular agenda to advance) claims to have found ‘ that religious schools, particularly minority religious schools, are the most ethnically segregated.’ The  researchers claim that the majority of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu state-funded schools have no ‘white British’ pupils at all, while the rest have only one or two at most. At the same time, most Jewish state schools have no ‘Asian’ pupils at all. By comparison, the average Muslim, Hindu and Sikh school is situated in an area where a third of the local population is ‘white British’, whereas Jewish schools are in areas where 12 percent is ‘Asian’. The BHA has challenged the Government’s decision to fund such segregated schools, with all of the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools and many of the Jewish schools having opened in the last few years.


These findings, according to the BHA, are based on the most recent available data, namely January 2013 figures for school populations and the 2011 Census for local area populations. Specific findings include:


Out of the five Sikh state schools for which data is available, four have no pupils at all that are classified as ‘white British’, compared to 30 percent of their local populations.

Out of four Hindu state schools, two have no pupils classified as ‘white British’, compared to 45 percent of their local populations.

Out of 15 Muslim state schools, eight have no pupils classified as ‘white British’. On average, over a third of the local populations are ‘white British’. Overall, Muslim schools have on average 34 percentage points fewer ‘white British’ pupils than would be expected for ethnically diverse schools in the areas in which they are located.

Out of 44 Jewish state schools, 29 have no pupils who are classified as having an ‘Asian’, compared to 12 percent of their local populations – with one school having a majority ‘Asian’ population in its immediate vicinity. Jewish schools have on average 13 percentage points fewer ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for ethnically inclusive schools located in their areas.

Out of 1,985 Roman Catholic schools, 245 have no ‘Asian’ pupils. Catholic schools typically have 4.4 percentage points fewer ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for schools located in their areas.

Out of 13,121 schools with no religious character, just 18 have no ‘white British’ pupils. 2,344 have no ‘Asian’ pupils, but less than 1 percent of these schools’ local populations are ‘Asian’. Schools with no religious character have on average 0.8 percentage points more ‘Asian’ pupils than would be expected for schools located in their areas.’


A report by the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (published this week)  says that it is time to reconsider the special status given to religious education (RE) in schools for the past 70 years. It calls for debate on alternatives. The report complains that RE has become effectively marginalised in many schools and will call for a better system. It wants an open discussion on how best to provide good quality RE locally and nationally in the 21st century. One option would be to add the subject to the national curriculum, making it a legal requirement to teach the same approved syllabus. This would provoke protests from faith schools, which are allowed to teach a denominational syllabus agreed by their diocese.  It wants ‘strong, core knowledge of religions and worldviews through varied experiences, approaches and disciplines including investigative teaching and enquiry’.



U Turn or not?


Stephen Twigg,when he was  Shadow Education, managed to tie himself in knots over Free schools, seeking to face two ways at once.

The message he conveyed was  that  he was  uncomfortable with Free schools and that their future, post – election if Labour won , would not be assured .But   given there is a  capacity shortage, he argued, schools should be set up where there is most demand for them, not an unreasonable stance.  Free schools have not always been set up where there is a shortfall in capacity and are disproportionately represented in London.  But he also stressed that no type of school should have a priority, all should be treated equally. As things stand academies and free schools are being actively promoted by the government. There are also presumption arrangements in place that require LAs to seek proposals to establish an academy/free school where they have identified the need for a new school in their area. The LA is responsible for providing the site for the new school and meeting all associated capital and pre-/post-opening costs.

So Twigg was   clearly implying that this favoured treatment  would end under Labour.   However, it should be stressed, that he never threatened the status of existing academies and Free schools, or those in the pipeline.  There are, after all ,some very good free schools operating that have ‘Labour’ stamped all over them. (think School 21)

Tristram Hunt, has replaced , Stephen Twigg ,as Shadow Education Secretary . Hunt’s spokesman told the Times (11 October), in response to rumours that Labour might   clamp down  on Free schools, through building regulations  “…We are very clear on free schools — those that are open and in the pipeline will remain. We will ensure that educational innovators, parents and social entrepreneurs will have a vehicle for opening new schools through ‘parent academies’. To these people, we have a clear message: Labour is on your side.”So, on the face of it, the Free school lobby hasn’t got much to worry about.  (Although clearly the days of setting up schools in areas where there is not significant demand for new capacity are probably already over).  In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, Hunt said he wanted to put “rocket boosters” under the new policy. ”What I am saying is if you want to do that when we are in government we will be on your side. There has been this perception that we would not be, and I want people to be absolutely clear that we are. I am putting rocket boosters on getting behind parents and social entrepreneurs,” he said. “We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority running all the schools – they will not be in charge. ”We will keep those free schools going. We aren’t in the business of taking them down. We have to clear up this question which has dogged Labour education policy since we entered opposition and since Michael Gove began his reforms, as to what we’d do. We just want to say, ‘You are setting up these schools, we are behind you’.”

Crucially, though, Hunt reiterated the point that these schools would only be established where there is a real need. Read this carefully. He said on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday  “We are in favour of enterprise and innovation, but here’s the difference. First of all, it’s going to be in areas of need because we have a school places crisis going on. Secondly, it’s going to have properly qualified teachers in these schools; and thirdly, you’re going to have systems of financial accountability, transparency.”

The latter point is interesting because this could involve more local authority responsibility. Accountability is a major issue for Labour. Hunt believes the recent problems at  al-Madinah highlights one of the central flaws in  the free schools  initiative – that there is minimal oversight.  Schools are directly accountable to the Secretary of State  but some are calling for a ‘third tier’ to aid accountability.

And will the local authority presumption referred to above survive a Labour government?


Government keen on more faith schools but not everyone agrees


This government strongly supports faith schools and would like to see more of them. New faith academies and free schools may admit only half their intake based on faith where they are oversubscribed. But, according to Lord Nash, the Government  ‘remain strongly committed to faith schools, which play a long-established role in our diverse education system. They allow parents to choose a school in line with their faith and they make a significant contribution to educational standards in this country.’

According to the five A* to C statistics, including English and maths, 65% of pupils at Catholic schools achieve five A* to C grades, as opposed to non-faith schools, where the figure is 58%. At level 4 of key stage 2, 85% of pupils at Catholic schools achieve a pass mark, as opposed to 78% for non-faith schools. Church of England schools  achieving five A* to C grades, including in English and maths,  score 62% versus 58%, and at level 4 of key stage 2 they score 82% as opposed to 78%.

A number of new muslim schools are now entering the state  system too.

Some critics are concerned that faith schools could help segregate communities rather than support and  promote social cohesion, despite a clear duty placed on schools to  ‘promote community cohesion’. The government  points out that ‘ All state-funded schools are also required by law to teach a broad and balanced curriculum that promotes the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils, and Ofsted’s inspection framework includes a focus on this’

However the Cantle report of 2001 in the wake of the Bradford/Oldham riots found that communities were developing in parallel with little interaction and criticised the  Governments  policy of encouraging single-faith schools   as it  raised the  possibility of deeper divisions. Northern Irelands segregated school system has also been blamed for embedding and reinforcing division between catholic and protestant communities and helping to fuel the ‘Troubles’.

It is also the case that faith schools have been accused of not taking their share of FSM pupils, often below the respective local authority average, which  helps inflate their academic performance.  There is a significant performance gap between FSM pupils and their peers.



Christodoulou seeks to address some myths

Focus should be on  what happens in the classroom


Daisy Christodoulou,joined the Curriculum Centre, which is part of the ‘Futures Academies’ group (Pimlico Academy etc) as its first Managing Director in August 2012 and was quickly promoted to the role of CEO.

She studied English Literature at Warwick University and trained as an English teacher on the Teach First programme in 2007.  In 2010 she edited a Policy First publication on the importance of ethos and culture in schools.  In 2011-12 Daisy worked at Pimlico Academy on a pioneering knowledge-based curriculum.  Daisy’s book Seven Education Myths: Knowledge and skills in the English Curriculum, was published this month.

Daisy is  the Curriculum Centres  English Language, English Literature, History and Geography lead.

She has spent her twenties teaching in challenging  inner-city comprehensive schools, and much of what she writes in this book is informed by what she experienced in these schools.  Her book is essential reading for anyone in education who wants to fully understand some of the thinking behind the curriculum reforms.She identifies seven myths but there are rather more out there that need to be challenged, a point that Daisy accepts. Daisy is also interested in  the advances in  neuro science and how much more we now understand about how the brain works, and how this might help inform teaching practice in future.

Much of the heated disagreement in education has been over structures. As the introduction points out, ‘both left and right prefer structural solutions to education problems’.  In a certain sense structural reforms are the easy bit (which is why politicians are so keen on them). This book shines the spotlight on what matters most: what actually gets taught in classrooms, and how it gets taught.

Here is an extract from her book about the disconnect between robust evidence and teaching practice  :

‘ After I’d been teaching for three years, I took a year out to do further study. I was shocked to stumble across an entire field of educational and scientific research which completely disproved so many of the theories I’d been taught when training and teaching. I wasn’t just shocked; I was angry. I felt as though I’d been led up the garden path. I had been working furiously for three years, teaching hundreds of lessons, and a whole lot of information which would have made my life a whole lot easier and would have helped my pupils immeasurably had just never been introduced to me. Worse, ideas which had absolutely no evidence backing them up had been presented to me as unquestionable axioms… My central argument is that much of what teachers are taught about education is wrong, and that they are encouraged to teach in ineffective ways’.

Daisy draws from her own experience of the ways in which potentially effective teachers have been made ineffective because they follow too closely the theories they have been taught in  their teacher training . Some of this training peddles not only the wrong ideas about skills and knowledge, but has also served to deprive these potentially good teachers of the knowledge they need to be effective teachers of subject matter. Teachers who are only moderately talented  as teachers can be highly effective if they follow basic  teaching principles and a sound curriculum within a school environment where knowledge builds cumulatively from year to year. Knowledge begets more  knowledge and has a multiplier effect. The ideas of ED Hirsch are much in evidence here . Daisy supports the Core Knowledge approach advocated by Hirsch (Hirsch,  by the way, admires this book and Daisys approach )

Seven Myths in brief

1. Facts prevent understanding

Myth: Facts are inert

Reality: Facts are foundations

2. Teacher-led instruction is passive

Myth: Directed instruction is counterproductive

Reality: Directed instruction is effective

3. The 21st century fundamentally changes everything

Myth: The future economy makes learning facts pointless

Reality: In a knowledge economy, knowledge is a prerequisite for innovation

4. You can just look it up

Myth: The Internet makes memory obsolete

Reality: Long-term memory is crucial for thinking well

5. We should teach transferable skills

Myth: Most skills transfer easily across subject content

Reality: Few skills transfer easily across subjects

6. Projects and activities are the best way to learn

Myth: Physical activity always enhances thinking and remembering

Reality: Physical activity often crowds out thought and memory

7. Knowledge is not indoctrination

Myth: Prescribing knowledge is a right wing ideology

Reality: Sequencing knowledge is crucial for critical thinking skills

Seven Myths in Education is out on Tuesday 18th June on Amazon Kindle, and available via the free Kindle app on iPhones, ipads, Macs, PCs and android smartphones.


 Too many schools letting down gifted children


A landmark Ofsted survey, the most extensive investigation of gifted and talented provision they have ever undertaken, was published on 13 June.

The report The Most Able Students: Are they doing as well as they should in our non-selective secondary schools? -found that thousands of bright children are being let down by England’s non-selective secondary schools. More than a quarter (27%) of previously high-attaining pupils had failed to achieve at least a B grade in both English and maths.

A culture of low expectations meant able pupils were failing to achieve top GCSE grades, Ofsted said in a report.

In 2012, 65% of pupils – 65,000 children – who had achieved Level 5 in maths and English tests at the end of primary school failed to attain A* or A grades in both these subjects at GCSE.

Head teachers said school league tables pushed schools into the middle ground.

Ofsted defines high-achievers as those pupils who achieve a Level 5 in both English and maths in their national curriculum tests, commonly known as Sats.

In 40% of the schools visited by inspectors, the brightest students were not making the progress they were capable of and many had become “used” to performing at lower levels, with parents and teachers accepting this “too readily”, Ofsted said.

Tracking the progress of the most academically gifted was “not used sufficiently well in many schools”, the report added.

Ofsted was critical of mixed-ability classes, saying they often saw “a lack of differentiation, teaching to the middle, and the top pupils not being stretched”.

The report said teaching was “insufficiently focused” for able pupils in Key Stage 3 (aged 11-14) and schools should ensure class work was challenging at this stage so that able pupils could make rapid progress.

Some Key facts

62% of pupils (at non-selective secondary schools) who got Level 5 in their English Sats did not get an A* or A grade in this subject at GCSE in 2012

25% of pupils who got Level 5 in their English Sats failed to get at least a B

53% of students who got Level 5 in their maths Sats did not gain an A* or A grade in this subject at GCSE

22% of pupils who got Level 5 in maths in their Sats failed to get at least a B


Some comprehensive schools did ensure that bright children achieved high grades and applied to top universities by setting high expectations, identifying able children, giving challenging tasks and checking progress. But provision for able children was not good enough in 17 of the 41 schools, Ofsted said.

By way of comparison, 59% of selective state school – grammar school – students who attained level five in both English and maths at the end of their primary school education went on to achieve an A or A* in those subjects at GCSE level in 2012. The figure for students from non-selective schools was 35%. Comparisons with independent schools are not available.

On Thursday, Sir Michael  Wilshaw told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that the statistics were “pretty poor”, adding that children at selective state schools were far more likely to win places at top universities than those who went to non-selective ones.

“We’ve got to make sure that the great majority of youngsters do well and go to the top universities,” he said.

He said school leadership was crucial in improving pupils’ performances, as was creating a culture of scholarship and ensuring that students remained focused on their studies after Key Stage 3.

The findings matched earlier research by the Sutton Trust charity that many state schools in England were failing to advance their pupils towards the most selective universities. Its chairman, Sir Peter Lampl, called the Ofsted report “a wake-up call to ministers”.

“Schools must improve their provision, as Ofsted recommends. But the government should play its part too by providing funding to trial the most effective ways to enable our brightest young people to fulfil their potential.,” Lampl said.

Denise Yates, Chief Executive of the  Potential Plus charity, which supports bright children, said: “We warned the Government in 2010 when it scrapped the gifted and talented programme that this would be the result. Many schools are doing a fantastic job in supporting these children. However we know from experience that busy schools will often only have time to focus on the latest priorities. The needs of the most able children have fallen to the bottom of the political and social agenda and it’s time to put it right to the top again.”

On Advice and Guidance the report said :

‘The schools visited did not always provide early, or effective, careers guidance to students to show, for example, the likely pay progression in ‘top jobs’. The absence of such guidance was compounded by a lack of effective information to increase students’ understanding of grants, loans, and the cost and benefits of attending university. Early and strong support for first-time entrants to university, including financial advice to students and parents, led to more positive outcomes.Some schools showed a lack of up-to-date, in-school intelligence about universities, especially in relation to universities outside their region. Current knowledge of the entry requirements for different courses was weak in some of the schools.However, this was not the picture in all the schools. In a third of those visited, well-qualified, knowledgeable and experienced staff provided high-quality support and guidance.’


The Department for Education (DfE) should:

ensure that parents receive from schools a report each year which communicates whether their children are on track to achieve as well as they should in national tests and examinations

 develop progress measures to identify how well the most able students have progressed from Year 6 through Key Stage 4 to the end of Key Stage 5

 promote the new destination data, which will show what proportion of students in sixth form providers go to university and, particularly, the Russell Group of universities.

Maintained schools and academies should:

 develop their culture and ethos so that the needs of the most able students are championed by school leaders

 help the most able students to flourish and leave school with the best qualifications by providing first-rate opportunities to develop the skills, confidence and attitudes needed to succeed at the best universities

 improve the transfer between primary and secondary schools so that all Year 7 teachers know which students achieved highly, know what aspects of the curriculum the most able students have studied in Year 6, and use this information to plan and teach lessons that build on prior knowledge and skills

 ensure that work continues to be challenging and demanding throughout Key Stage 3 so that the most able students make rapid progress

 ensure that senior leaders evaluate mixed ability teaching so that the most able students are sufficiently challenged and make good progress evaluate the quality of homework set for the most able students to ensure that it is suitably challenging

 give the parents and carers of the most able students better and more frequent information about what their children should achieve and raise their expectations where necessary

 work with families more closely, particularly the families of first generation university applicants and those eligible for free school meals, to overcome any cultural and financial obstacles to university application

 develop more in-house expertise and up-to-date knowledge to support applications to the most prestigious universities, particularly in relation to the knowledge and skills required for undergraduate courses

 publish more widely a list of the university destinations of all their students.

Ofsted will:

 focus more closely in its inspections on the teaching and progress of the most able students, the curriculum available to them, and the information, advice and guidance provided to the most able students

 consider in more detail during inspection how well the pupil premium is used to support the most able students from disadvantaged backgrounds

 report its inspection findings about this group of students more clearly in school inspection, sixth form and college reports.

Note 1

Gifted Phoenix a blog written by an expert in the field sees a role for Free schools in supporting gifted children. Although there is nothing to prevent primary, secondary and all-through free schools from specialising in gifted education, the restriction on selection may be acting as a brake on innovation.

Note 2

Also see Gifted Phoenix analysis of High Attaining Students in the 2012 Secondary School Performance Tables. This post collects and analyses data about the performance of high attaining students at Key Stages 4 and 5 in the 2012 Secondary Performance Tables and Key Stage 5 Tables respectively. It also draws on evidence from the Statistical First Reviews (SFRs) published alongside the tables.

Gifted Phoenix is the social media pseudonym of Tim Dracup a UK-based consultant in – and commentator on – gifted and talented education. You can also follow him on Twitter (@Gifted Phoenix) and on Facebook.



What happens when there are concerns over the financial  management  of an academy?


The recent Public Accounts Select Committee report on Academies financial management proved embarrassing to the government. The report describes a system peppered with overspends and errors, but subject to little oversight. Millions of pounds were wasted on the rapidly growing academies programme because of over-complex and inefficient funding systems, according to the report. Financial mismanagement, of course, is by no means the preserve of academy schools, as recent scandals have shown.

Where a chain or multi-academy trust has failed to address financial weaknesses in its operation, a financial notice to improve can be issued, requiring the trust to take action to address the underlying cause(s) of its financial weaknesses. The financial notice to improve is a set of conditions that the Education Funding Agency (EFA) would require the trust to meet. Ultimately, if a chain or multi academy trust fails to address the financial weaknesses the Secretary of State for Education has intervention powers which are set out in the individual funding agreements, and in the most serious circumstances, include the ability to terminate the funding agreement. The Education Funding Agency has issued two financial notices to improve since May 2010 to academy trusts.

The academies financial handbook sets out the duties and obligations on academy trusts and this  includes personal responsibility  on the academy trusts accounting officer (each trust has to appoint an accounting officer) for  ‘high standards of probity in the management of public funds’.

Source-Hansard 25 April 2013


Committee expresses concerns over poor cost controls and financial oversight


A Public Accounts Committee report on the Academies programme describes a system peppered with overspends and errors, but subject to little oversight.

Millions of pounds were wasted on England’s rapidly growing academies programme because of over-complex and inefficient funding systems, according to the Select Committee report.

It urges the Department for Education to tighten its financial grip on these privately run but state-funded schools.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge, who has gained a reputation for her forthright attacks on government waste,  said inefficient funding systems and poor cost control had driven up the cost of the programme.

“Of the £8.3 billion spent on academies from April 2010 to March 2012, some £1 billion was an additional cost which had to be met by diverting money from other departmental budgets.

“Some of this money had previously been earmarked to support schools struggling with difficult challenges and circumstances. £350 million of the extra £1 billion represented extra expenditure that was never recovered from local authorities.”

A DfE spokesman said the report failed to acknowledge “the significant progress that we have made in improving our systems.

“The academies programme has been a huge success. There are now almost 3,000 academy schools – more than 14 times as many as in May 2010 – with more than two million children now enjoying the benefits that academy status brings. The programme is proven to drive up standards. Sponsored academies are improving far faster than maintained schools.

“We make no apology for the fact that so many schools have opted to convert, and no apology for spending money on a programme that is proven to drive up standards and make long-term school improvements.

“The Department for Education has made significant savings in the last two-and-a-half years and has also set aside significant contingencies, which have been set against the growth in academies.”

He added that the costs of converting academies have already fallen by more than half per academy and that further savings were expected in the future.

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The value for money of the Academies Programme will ultimately depend on its impact on educational performance relative to the investment from the taxpayer. The Department has chosen to expand the Programme rapidly, incurring an additional cost of £1 billion since April 2010. While it is too early to assess the impact of the expansion on school performance, the Department will need to be able to demonstrate whether value for money has been achieved. It has yet to state how it will do so, or when. The Department should set out what outcomes it aims to achieve from the expansion of the Programme, and how and when it will demonstrate whether progress is on track and value for money has been achieved.

2.  Inefficient funding systems and poor cost control have driven up the cost of the Programme. A large part of the £1 billion additional cost since April 2010 has been caused by the excessively complex and inefficient academy funding system which has reportedly led to overpayments and errors in payments to Academies There was around £350 million extra paid to Academies which was not recovered from local authorities. This system does not operate effectively alongside the local authority system, and makes it hard for the Department to prove that academies are not receiving more money than they should. The Department has not yet brought other types of cost growth under control, for example academy insurance. It should report back to us by the end of 2013-14 on how its funding reforms have reduced systemic problems such as the under-recovery of academy costs from local authorities, and on how far it has brought down other additional costs.

3.  We are not yet satisfied that individual academies’ expenditure is sufficiently transparent to parents, local communities or Parliament. Despite some improvements, key information on what academies actually spend is still only available at trust, rather than individual academy, level. This limits the ability of parents to scrutinise how their child’s school is spending its money, and of communities to hold their local school to account. The Department must publish data showing school-level expenditure, including per-pupil costs, and with a level of detail comparable to that available for maintained schools, so that proper judgments can be made and comparisons drawn to assess value for money. The Department should state how it will make robust, line-by-line information on individual academies’ expenditure publicly available in the most cost-effective way.

4.  New governance, compliance and oversight arrangements for academies remain vulnerable to failure. Some serious cases of governance failure and financial impropriety in academies have gone undetected by the Department’s monitoring, raising concerns that central government may be too distant to oversee individual academies effectively. Irregular expenditure by academies and gaps in the oversight framework led the Comptroller and Auditor General to qualify the 2011-12 accounts of the Department and the Young People’s Learning Agency. Academies’ compliance with mandatory monitoring is not good enough, and it is not yet clear how well revised audit arrangements will address these issues in future. The Department and the Education Funding Agency should review the operation of the new audit and oversight regime put in place this year, and assess whether it is reducing risks to regularity, propriety and good governance.

5.  Forthcoming staff cuts at the Department and its agencies may threaten effective oversight as the Programme continues to expand. We are sceptical that the Department has sufficient resources to properly oversee the expanding Programme, especially as schools now joining are less high-performing and may require greater oversight and scrutiny. The Department should review the Programme’s central resource requirements, and the extent to which efficiency savings expected from new IT systems and assurance processes are being realised, and are sufficient to offset the need for further resources.

6.  The Department has still not made completely clear the roles, responsibilities and accountabilities of different organisations across the changing schools system. Roles previously carried out by local authorities around accountability, performance monitoring and intervention are unlikely to be operating consistently and effectively across different localities and academy structures. We are particularly concerned that interventions in failing academies may be delayed if the respective roles of central and local government, as well as academies and academy trusts, are not clear. The Department should clarify and properly communicate the roles and responsibilities of local authorities, academy sponsors, the Education Funding Agency, the Department, the Office of the Schools Commissioner and Ofsted regarding these aspects of the Programme.

Department for Education: Managing the expansion of the Academies Programme – Public Accounts Committee-April 2013


These are telling criticisms. They suggest the need to rethink the scrutiny and oversight of academies, while preserving the principle of school autonomy. Surveys suggest that around a third of converter schools opted for academy status for financial reasons. As part of the Budget Statement 2013, the Government announced that it would conduct ‘a review of school efficiency’. To inform that review, the government said ‘we have launched a call for evidence to learn more about how schools and academies make financial decisions and the techniques that they find particularly useful. We particularly want to hear your experience of how academies make financial decisions and your opinions/ideas of how academies can improve their efficiency.’ This suggests some concerns in government over the financial management in schools (not just academy schools by the way)  and the additional risks that autonomy might bring.  There is an on-going debate on the accountability of autonomous schools and whether or not another tier is required to ensure greater accountability, given the reduced role of local authorities.Academies are directly responsible  of course to the Secretary of State, through individual funding agreements. Critics say that the Secretary of State , along with a slimmed down education department, cannot possibly  hold these schools  properly to account , even with Ofsteds support.



Too early to say?


The new duty on schools to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance only began in September 2012 . The government believes that  it  important that sufficient time is allowed  for the duty to bed in before any firm conclusions  are drawn about the effectiveness of the new arrangements. Lord Nash recently indicated in the Lords (22 April) that ‘We are evaluating the impact of the new duty in a range of formal and informal ways.’

The Government have also commissioned Ofsted to carry out a thematic review of careers guidance, which will report this summer.

In addition, according to Lord Nash,  the government is ‘publishing education destination measures to show the percentage of students progressing to further education or training in a school, further education or sixth form college, apprenticeship, employment or higher education institution. The measures provide us with evidence of how effective schools are in supporting pupils to move successfully into the next phase or their education or into sustainable work, including through the provision of independent careers guidance.’

Ministers and officials meet and correspond regularly with a range of stakeholders on issues relating to the delivery of careers provision in schools, says Lord Nash, which is true, but Ministers are not taking on board what stakeholders and the experts are telling them. No independent report from a reputable source on government reforms to careers advice and guidance in schools has endorsed government policy in this area and international evidence suggests that school based advice  is the least effective (see the research from  Professor Tony Watts and OECD). There are grave concerns  too that  only limited access to face to face advice  is being offered to pupils which may have a negative effect on  the social mobility, access, skills and inclusion agendas. Evidence suggests that the most appropriate form of  advice for  disadvantaged pupils is face to face advice from an independent fully qualified  professional.

The government defends its policy by saying that it trusts in school autonomy. Schools themselves must make these decisions. But schools are not as autonomous as the government would have us believe. The government through its individual funding agreements with academies, for example, prescribes what schools have to do in certain areas . And if schools believe that they are autonomous when it comes to the way they use their extra funding for disadvantaged pupils, through the pupil premium, then they ought to look  very carefully at recent speeches from the schools minister,  David Laws and  Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted.

Lord Nash  is confident that the government has  detailed enough  evidence ‘relating to the effectiveness of school-based careers guidance to  inform future improvements in the quality of provision,’ while concurrently telling us that there is not yet enough evidence  to gauge  whether the new school- based  service has bedded in. You dont need to be a rocket scientist to work out that schools, under budgetary pressure, will go for, the most part, for  the cheapest option, and that is not face to face advice.

It will be particularly interesting to see what Ofsted has to say in its thematic review. However, there are no plans to make a specific graded judgement on the quality of careers guidance in respect of the school inspection framework and the common inspection framework.



Schools meet the costs of careers guidance from their overall budgets. Information on the amount spent by schools on careers guidance is not collected centrally