ACADEMIES AND FOI
Academy schools, which were introduced by the Labour Government in 2000, are registered charities, accountable to the Charity Commission. The Charity Commission and the DCSF have considered Academy Trusts ‘registerable’ charities – ie the Academy Trust must apply to the Charity Commission to be registered as a charity and listed on the Commission’s Register of Charities.
As the board of governors runs the Academy Trust, they are responsible for ensuring that the Academy Trust observes charity law.Some changes are afoot. Clause 42 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill states that ‘Academy Proprietors’ will now become exempt charities. The definition of academy proprietors is not crystal clear but it appears to mean Academy Trusts. So when the Bill becomes an Act, all Academy Trusts will become what is termed ‘ exempt’ charities. Exempt charities are charities which are prevented from registering with the Charity Commission. Are you still with me? These charities are already regulated or supervised by or are accountable to another body (known as a principal regulator) and, so in order to avoid dual regulation, these charities are not supervised by the Charity Commission ,as well. This move has been supported by the Tories (but not by the Commission). The Commission believes that such exemption damages the Charity brand .So, Academies will no longer have to apply to the Charity Commission to register or seek its permission, for instance, before undertaking certain activities or amending aspects of the governing document, nor will they have to submit an annual report or a copy of the Academy Trust’s annual accounts to the Commission each year.
Significantly Academies are not currently subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. According to the think tank Civitas, in its recent report on Academies, they were not initially exempt from FOI. But this ruling was reversed in 2005, ostensibly in response to a newspaper (The Times Educational Supplement) attempting to access Academies subject results. As Academies are not required by law to produce an account of their GCSE and ‘equivalent’ results broken down by subject, they cannot be demanded. There are currently no other routes to freely access this information. Civitas alleges that there are grounds for suspecting that many Academies are entering pupils for qualifications that are equivalent to GCSEs, therefore securing on the face of it better results and in turn better league table positions. This is known in the trade as ‘gaming’.
The Headmaster of Harrrow School,, Barnaby Lenon said recently that disadvantaged pupils could be misled over the value of “high grades in soft subjects”.
The Government has been consulting over whether or not, by means of a section 5 order, it should extend the Freedom of Information Act to cover Academies. We shall know the Governments decision shortly on this. Academies freedoms are a good thing .But freedom from accountability and transparency is difficult to justify, particularly given that much more taxpayers money is invested in Academy schools than in other state secondary schools.