Academies are damaging children’s education while allowing bosses to cream off huge amounts of money, according to a parliamentary report.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said “a succession of high-profile academy failures have been costly and damaging to children’s education”.
But wrecking schools is paying off for the bosses. Former head of south London’s Durand Academy Sir Greg Martin received a payout of £850,000—what the PAC called a “shocking reward for failure”.
Despite a “catastrophic failure of governance” Durand Educatonal Trust had a “considerable liability” to Martin.
This is because Martin owned the firm contracted to manage accommodation and leisure facilities on the school site. The PAC heard that the lump sum was “potentially worth £1.8 million” but was cut to £850,000 following an inquiry.
And academies continue to pay bosses huge salaries.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency wrote to academies paying high salaries asking them to justify the payments. Just a quarter reduced the salaries in response.
The PAC said parents are forced to fight for information about their children’s schools.
At Whitehaven academy, parents had to submit a Freedom of Information request to find out why funded maintenance projects hadn’t been carried out. They described windows that didn’t shut, others that were bolted shut because they were unsafe, and flooded playing fields.
One parent said she received detailed information on how money in the school was spent before it became an academy. But under the Bright Tribe trust the finance report was “half a sheet of A4”.
The report heard that Bright Tribe had “removed local governance” and created a more remote governing body. A high turnover of people meant parents never knew who to speak to.
On top of this, nearly a quarter of all schools have failed to provide information on the extent and control of asbestos in school buildings. The Department for Education’s (DfE) only response has been to extend the deadline for doing so.
Education secretary Damian Hinds’ reaction to the report was to call for more of the same. “I want more schools to become an academy and enjoy the enormous benefits it provides to schools, staff and pupils,” he said.
Joint general secretary of the NEU union Kevin Courtney said the report provides “deeply uncomfortable reading” for Tory education secretary Hinds.
“The report lays bare the many ways in which parents, staff and local communities are being ignored or sidelined by academy trusts,” he said. “Eyewatering sums of taxpayers’ money have been spent getting us to this sorry place.”
Around 7,500 academy schools in England teach around 3.8 million children—just under half the total in state-funded schools. The Tories want more of them because they are not run by local authorities, and so open up education to private firms.
The DfE handed £20 billion to academy trusts in 2017-18—while slashing funding for state-run schools.
The report said the DfE has failed to stop abuse of funds and “failures of governance”. It has “few sanctions to penalise those involved in malpractice”. It can ban people from teaching or being governors but this is “very unusual”.
And there is nothing to stop anyone who has been banned from acting as trustees or governors elsewhere. Banned individuals can also set up “businesses that could trade with education and training providers”.
The PAC says the DfE should toughen up its rules to make academies more accountable and stop fat cat salaries.