Appendix: Government Response |
Education systems across the globe have been shifting
power and responsibility to leaders of education. The academies
programme gives schools greater autonomy and opportunity to innovate,
within a strong framework of accountability. We have expanded
and opened the programme to 'good' or 'outstanding' schools to
enjoy the benefits of autonomy, and have set about the task of
turning around primary schools. There is a huge demand from teachers
and governors to run their own schools, and continuing enthusiasm
from parents, teachers, and local community groups to create free
The appetite for academy status has been apparent
right across the country, and we now have academies in all local
authorities, with the exception of the City of London and the
Isles of Scilly. Since 2010, over 3,000 schools have chosen to
become academies and 255 free schools have opened. 62% of pupils
now attend a secondary academy or free school, and over one million
more young people attend a 'good' or 'outstanding' school than
Whilst the academies programme offers opportunities
for schools to embrace autonomy, we are equally seeing the effectiveness
of tackling failure by matching a school with a strong sponsor.
Since September 2010, 1,172 sponsored academies have opened, transforming
hundreds of underperforming schools. Across the country we are
seeing how the efforts of academies to raise standards are having
a positive impact on other schools in the local area, and we want
this to continue.
Recent results show the impact we have had. The first
wave of primary sponsored academies that opened by September 2012
has seen the proportion of pupils achieving level 4 or above in
reading, writing and maths increase by nine percentage points
since opening, double the rate of improvement across all schools.
Academies and free schools also perform well against the new tougher
Ofsted framework. Academies are more likely to retain an 'outstanding'
rating and they are more likely to improve from 'good' to 'outstanding'.
The great majority of free schools are performing well. 68% of
those free schools inspected were rated 'good' or 'outstanding'
by Ofsted under its tougher new inspection framework.
But we are not complacent. Some academies are not
performing as they should, and that is one of the reasons why
I have appointed eight Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) to
take targeted local action. They are advised and challenged by
Headteacher Boards (elected academy heads and experienced professional
leaders), bringing sector expertise and local knowledge into the
management of the system. RSCs will intervene to tackle failure.
I welcome the Committee's report into our academy
and free schools programmes, and its findings that they may be
making a positive difference. This response sets out our commitment
to continue the development of these programmes and to fully acknowledge
the Committee's recommendations.
Nicky Morgan MP
Recommendations and Department for Education response
EVIDENCE OF EFFECT OF ACADEMY STATUS ON STANDARDS
AND CLOSING THE GAP
The evidence indicates that there is a complex
relationship between attainment, autonomy, collaboration and accountability.
PISA research does not support a straightforward relationship
between attainment and the academy model of autonomous schools
but it suggests that, together with other factors (including notably
strong accountability), autonomy can work in the interests of
raising attainment. There is less evidence of the impact of autonomy
on closing the gap. The OECD is also clear that decision-making
must also be delegated to the appropriate level if school-leaders
and teachers are to be able to apply their professional skills
to gain the best results. (Paragraph 61)
Current evidence does not allow us to draw firm
conclusions on whether academies are a positive force for change.
According to the research that we have seen, it is too early to
judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged
children. This is partly a matter of timing. We should be cautious
about reading across from evidence about pre-2010 academies to
other academies established since then. What can be said is that,
however measured, the overall state of schools has improved during
the course of the academisation programme. The competitive effect
upon the maintained sector of the academy model may have incentivised
local authorities to develop speedier and more effective intervention
in their underperforming schools. (Paragraph 63)
Our approach to expanding the academies programme
and establishing free schools is based on precisely the evidence
cited by the Committee: the importance of devolving decision-making
to school leaders, and coupling that with clear accountability.
We are absolutely clear about the impact that academies and free
schools have had on children's achievement in these schools. Recent
results show the impact the academies and free schools programmes
have had. The first wave of primary sponsored academies that opened
by September 2012 has seen the proportion of pupils achieving
level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths increase by nine
percentage points since opening. This is double the rate of improvement
seen across all schools.
Academies and free schools also perform well against
the new tougher Ofsted framework. They are more likely to retain
an 'outstanding' rating, and they are more likely to improve from
'good' to 'outstanding'. The great majority of free schools are
performing well. 68% of those free schools inspected were rated
'good' or 'outstanding' by Ofsted under its tougher new inspection
Some chains, such as Harris, have proved very
effective at raising attainment, while others achieve worse outcomes
than comparable mainstream schools. What is clear is that the
picture is highly variable across the country and in the case
of sponsored academies, across chains. More information is needed
on individual groupings. (Paragraph 64)
We recommend that the progress and results
of each Multi Academy Trust (of more than three academies) be
published on a chain by chain basis as well as by individual academy.
We recommend that the DfE analyse and monitor
the performance and other data relating to academy chains, and
publish the results broken down by school and trust, in the interests
of transparency and accountability. (Paragraph 155)
We agree with the Committee that it is important
to provide more information about the performance of academy chains.
We have agreed with Her Majesty's Chief Inspector how Ofsted will
undertake inspections of academies in multi-academy trusts (MATs).
As well as identifying any concerns, this approach will provide
useful information about which MATs are the most effective and
In addition, we are exploring how we can publish
more data about the performance of chains. Published performance
tables data already
provides information on all schools so that users can examine
the performance of academies in a chain, but we want to make this
even easier by enabling users to search for information by sponsor.
We have also been working with academy chains and
local authorities (LAs) to develop a more sophisticated and robust
methodology which will make new comparative data on performance
at chain and LA level available. We therefore commit to publishing
both a consultation document on this proposed methodology and
the accompanying performance data at KS4 for medium and large
chains and LAs before the end of the Parliament. This consultation
will invite comments as to the strengths and weaknesses of the
The majority of academy freedoms are available
to all schools. One of the few that is not availablebut
equally one of the most widely used and importantis the
freedom to vary the curriculum (whilst still being required to
offer a broad and balanced curriculum to all pupils). (Paragraph
We recommend that curriculum freedoms be made
available to all schools. (Paragraph 67)
The reformed national curriculum sets out only the
essential knowledge that children should acquire, leaving teachers
to decide how to teach this most effectively. In addition, our
reformed GCSEs and A levels set the same high standards as the
new national curriculum, and will provide a common benchmark of
performance for all schools.
Academies have demonstrated innovation through their
All schools can become academies, and can make the most of the
wide range of benefits that autonomy brings, providing they are
a strong school or have a strong sponsor who will help them to
make a success of it.
The limited use of their freedoms by academies
suggests that more needs to be done to encourage them to innovate
and explore the opportunities open to them. We note the inclusion
of 'use of academy freedoms' in the Ofsted inspection framework,
but consider that a box-ticking exercise could be misdirected.
We recommend that Ofsted look for evidence
of effective innovation rather than name-checking use of specific
freedoms. (Paragraph 69)
Ofsted's remit is to report on the quality and effectiveness
of the education being provided for all pupils in a school, and
inspectors may report examples of effective innovation contributing
to outcomes and attainment of pupils. This innovation, however,
is only relevant if it is making a difference to standards.
The agreed approach for Ofsted of batching together
academies in a MAT that are due to be inspected provides a useful
opportunity for MATs to demonstrate where they are adopting innovative
approaches to supporting their academies and contributing to improvement.
The department has conducted and published research
into how academies are innovating, which has shown that the majority
are voluntarily using their freedoms to innovate and improve.
79% of academies had changed or planned to change their curriculum;
90% had procured or planned to procure services previously provided
by the LA; and 84% were now linking pay to performance. Two-thirds
of those surveyed believed these changes had improved attainment.
The department's 'What good looks like' research in 2014 also
showed that chains are innovating to deliver efficiencies for
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) also has
a remit to examine best practice of innovation in schools and
academies and identifies and shares information on where effective
OVERSIGHT AND MONITORING
The evidence to our inquiry supports the need
for a middle tier between Whitehall and individual schools. The
Regional Schools Commissioners are intended to fill that gap,
but their role is still evolving. There are differing views, including
amongst postholders themselves, as to how the functions of RSCs
will develop. We recommend that the Government clarify what that
role is and how it will develop in the near future. (Paragraph
The RSC regions are too large as currently devised.
We do not believe that an increase in staff numbers, as envisaged
by the Secretary of State, would allow the RSC offices to be sufficiently
in touch with local information, given the number of schools potentially
involved. The number of Regional Schools Commissioners will need
to increase from the current eight if they are to perform an effective
oversight role for the academies in each region, and even more
so if they are to be extended to cover maintained schools as well.
We recommend that the Government review and
increase the number of schools commissioners. (Paragraph 100)
Local authorities cannot embrace their new role
in education without a clear and unambiguous codification of their
role and responsibilities. These should include the championing
of the interests of local children, families and employers in
ensuring high quality, accessible local provision, rather than
championing the schools themselves. (Paragraph 101)
As local authorities adjust to their new role,
the Department should also adjust and ensure that local authorities
can play a constructive role in challenging all schools, including
academies, to be effective. If local authorities perceive themselves
to be marginalised and ignored, they will not fulfil their role
in holding schools to account. (Paragraph 102)
We recommend that the DfE, as a matter of urgency,
clarify the respective roles of local authorities and RSCs in
relation to academies. (Paragraph 103)
We welcome the Committee's views on Regional Schools
Commissioners (RSCs). Early indications are that the RSCs and
their Headteacher Boards are performing extremely well. We expect
the role of RSCs to develop in response to the evolution of the
academies and free schools programmes.
RSCs exercise the Secretary of State's responsibilities
for the educational performance of academies, including free schools,
university technical colleges and studio schools. They have improved
our oversight and intervention in academies by providing local
intelligence and increased sector expertise to make speedy, informed
and decisive interventions.
The department has set out the respective roles and
responsibilities of RSCs, LAs and the Education Funding Agency
(EFA) in the revised Accountability System Statement
and the Schools Causing Concern guidance,
both published on 20 January. RSCs are responsible for tackling
academy and free school underperformance, approving new academy
conversions, managing the sponsor market in their region, and
approving changes to open academies where approval is needed by
ministers (for example changes to MAT structures). In relation
to free schools, they advise on free school approvals, which projects
will go through to the pre-opening stage, and which will move
to a funding agreement with the Secretary of State.
LAs are encouraged to report any concerns about the
educational performance of an academy in their area to the relevant
The voice of parents can be marginalised in
some academies. We recommend that the DfE work with academies
and local authorities to ensure parents know how they can make
representations and that these are meaningfully heard. (Paragraph
We also recommend that the Education Funding
Agency and the Regional Schools Commissioners establish protocols
so that parental complaints are dealt with effectively and information
from the process is shared between the authorities. (Paragraph
The department has clearly established and publicised
channels for parental complaints
in academies. If parents have issues concerning academies, it
is important that these are carefully considered by the academy.
We will continue to work with academies to ensure that they are
clear on this expectation that they listen to parental concerns
and investigate them properly, in line with their statutory obligations.
If a parent is dissatisfied with the way an academy
has handled their complaint, they can redirect it to the EFA to
assess it using their complaints handling process. The EFA investigates
whether the academy has a rigorous procedure for managing complaints
and whether it handled it appropriately.
RSCs do not have a formal role in investigations
into complaints. If an RSC receives an academy complaint or becomes
aware of an issue, they will ensure it is passed to the EFA for
Many witnesses have complained about the lack
of transparency at the EFA. We recommend that the DfE and EFA
further enhance the transparency and accountability of the monitoring
process to ensure that academies comply with the terms of their
funding agreement. (Paragraph 106)
Public confidence in the academy process is
undermined by having the EFA as both regulator and funder. We
recommend that its regulatory and funding roles be split and that
the DfE carry out a review about how that can best be achieved.
The EFA's responsibility for both regulatory and
funding roles is in line with a government-wide approach to managing
public money, as set out by HM Treasury,
which requires Accounting Officers to ensure regularity, propriety
and value for money. The EFA is responsible for the allocation
of over £56 billion of public money for the education of
children and young people. It is appropriate for it to hold the
regulatory role for this funding as the guidance states that it,
through the office of its accounting officer, has a responsibility
to oversee governance of the public funds it has been allocated
and to use its resources efficiently, economically and effectively,
avoiding waste and extravagance.
The Accountability System Statement
also sets out the department's responsibilities to Parliament
for the proper stewardship of resources and confirms the role
of an additional accounting officer for the EFA to manage the
public funds allocated to the agency. For academies there is a
clear chain of accountability from each academy trust, which has
its own accounting officer, through the EFA to the Department
for Education Permanent Secretary as the accounting officer for
the department. In addition, the EFA is required to adhere to
a Framework Agreement for Executive Agencies, which 'provides
for the Accounting Officer of the Department as sponsor to exercise
meaningful oversight of the EFA'.
The EFA's monitoring process is effective because
it involves significant independent scrutiny. This involves securing
assurance by external auditors; running an internal assurance
programme to review audited academy trust accounts, auditor management
letters, accounts returns, budget forecast returns, and financial
management and governance returns; and investigating and intervening
where it is apparent that there is a risk to public funds. These
arrangements are underpinned through extensive discussions and
joint working with academy representatives and with their auditors
to develop and publish regular advice and guidance.
Academy trusts are required to:
· prepare an annual report and financial
statements each year;
· have these accounts audited by an independent
· file these accounts with the Companies
Registrar, as required under the Companies Act 2006; and
· arrange an independent review of regularity
and include a report on regularity as part of the accounts.
We agree with the Committee that it is important
that the accountability system is transparent, and on 20 January
we set out the respective roles and responsibilities of the department,
RSCs, LAs and the EFA in the revised Accountability System Statement.
This sets out that:
"The Secretary of State, via the EFA, holds
Academy Trusts (ATs) to account in respect of compliance with
the terms of their Funding Agreement, including ensuring financial
propriety and value for money. Funding Agreements stipulate that
ATs must abide by the requirements of the Academies Financial
Handbook (AFH), published by the EFA. This Handbook contains information
on the duties and obligations of ATs arising from the Funding
Agreement and sets out the financial management and audit requirements
for academies. In addition, the model Funding Agreement states
clearly that the AT must apply 'financial and other controls which
conform to the requirements both of propriety and of good financial
COLLABORATION AND PARTNERSHIP IN A SCHOOL-LED SYSTEM
Collaboration is essential in a self-improving
school system in order to provide challenge, support and economies
of scale. Harnessing the effectiveness of partnerships to raise
school performance is particularly important where schools are
autonomous. More needs to be done to encourage collaboration and
ensure that it happens. We recommend that Ofsted include evidence
of collaboration in its inspection criteria and that a school
must demonstrate effective partnership with another school in
order to be judged 'outstanding'. (Paragraph 120)
Evidence to the inquiry suggests that collaboration
is much more likely to occur and be effective if it is brokered
by a third party, such as a trust or local authority. Effective
brokering of collaboration between schools must be planned and
considered, to ensure that the partnership is advantageous to
both parties, rather than cumbersome, and real rather than cosmetic.
We have heard evidence that local authorities
can be effective at brokering school partnerships. We recommend
that the Government set out how it will incentivise the spread
of this best practice, including through Ofsted. The codification
we have recommended of the responsibilities of local authorities
with regard to academies should include their role in ensuring
effective collaboration between all schools. (Paragraph 122)
We recommend that the DfE strengthen its monitoring
of the collaboration of converter academies with other schools.
We also recommend that the Secretary of State seek to renegotiate
all existing funding agreements to introduce a requirement for
collaboration for school improvement purposes and that all future
agreements include this requirement (Paragraph 123).
We agree with the Committee about the positive impact
collaboration has on school improvement. Academies are increasingly
choosing to collaborate, and almost three-quarters of academies
that opened since September 2013 have joined a chain.
58% of all academies and free schools are now in a formal chain.
We actively encourage 'good' and 'outstanding' academies
to become sponsors of failing schools to drive improvement. Academies
are embracing this opportunity and we now have 400 sponsors that
are converter academies. We will continue to encourage more converters
to take this step. In many cases we are now brokering sponsored
academy solutions for failing schools that bring them into established
Academies are increasingly choosing to collaborate,
and we will continue to encourage and support them to do this
through policy development, funding and other incentives. It would,
however, be disproportionate to renegotiate all existing funding
agreements to make this a requirement. It would also be wrong
to create a system of school inspection that penalises heads who
have chosen to focus their efforts on improving their school.
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's stated view on this is that "there
are some schools which have got to "outstanding", the
headteacher has struggled to get it there, but it hasn't got the
capacity to support other schools. It would be unfair not to give
it that "outstanding" rating if it deserved it."
The department's Schools Causing Concern guidance,
which sets out the roles and responsibilities for the department
and LAs for tackling underperformance, also encourages LAs to
facilitate fora where all local schools, including academies,
can compare data, hold each other to account, and discuss school-to-school
The department's 'What good looks like' research
also highlights characteristics of effective collaboration. We
will promote these characteristics with LAs and sponsors to demonstrate
the benefits of collaboration.
SPONSORSHIP AND REGULATION OF ACADEMY CHAINS
The DfE has begun looking at what makes chains
effective but more needs to be done and the results of this work
need to be better disseminated. We recommend that the DfE build
on its existing analysis of the characteristics of academy chains
by examining best practice and the operation of effective chains,
in order to inform the active promotion of best practice across
all Multi Academy Trusts. (Paragraph 154)
We welcome the Committee's interest in the research
on effective chains. We are extending our analysis of what a good
sponsor looks like, building on work completed in 2014. Our updated
project covers more chains than last year (over 150 chains). We
will be making the full findings available later in the spring
to RSCs and through our newsletter to sponsors.
Greater transparency is also needed regarding
the process and criteria by which sponsors are authorised and
matched with schools. This information should be clearly set out
and be in the public domain. The process of authorisation and
approval has improved but could still be sharpened. Greater transparency
over DfE decision-making will help in encouraging new sponsors
to come forward and to understand what will be required of them.
We recommend that the Government outline the process and criteria
by which sponsors are authorised and matched with schools. (Paragraph
RSCs decide whether to approve proposed new academy
sponsors, as part of their wider responsibility for managing their
regional sponsor markets. Information on the sponsor application
is online at www.gov.uk.This
states that to be successful, a sponsor needs to show:
· evidence of achieving lasting educational
· strong planning, including, where necessary,
realistic regional growth plans;
· evidence of financial expertise; and
· clear governance structures and lines
Strong external challenge and support of an academy
sponsor is the best way to improve underperforming schools. That
is why we encourage the governing bodies of all underperforming
schools to move towards sponsored academy status. Brokerage discussions
are sensitive to the circumstances of the school, but in all cases
we will seek to discuss with the governing body the challenges
in the school, the benefits of becoming a sponsored academy, and
agree the process for moving forward. We take account of all views
including any alternative solutions or alternative academy sponsor
options. RSCs are responsible for recommending to ministers which
sponsor should take on an under-performing school. We also take
account of evidence from Ofsted, the situation at the school and
the school's performance history before taking a decision.
Conflicts of interests in trusts are a real
issue, as shown by the cases which have come to light so far,
and they are magnified in the public eye by the latent potential
for the misuse, apparent or actual, of public money. It is essential
that academy trustees act as trustees and on the Nolan principles
of conduct in public life. We acknowledge that the DfE has responded
and strengthened the system but we believe that the Department
should go further. We recommend that the DfE take further steps
to strengthen the regulations for governance in academy trusts
and that the EFA revise its guidance on at cost transactions to
make expectations of academies clearer. (Paragraph 157)
The department has set out in the Governors Handbook
clear expectations of governors, and their responsibilities in
regulations and guidance, including the need for appropriate training.
Oversight of the quality of governance in maintained schools is
an LA role, and advice is provided in the revised Schools Causing
The Ofsted inspection regime maintains a strong focus on the quality
of governance for all schools. It is the appropriate means of
assessing the capability and capacity of governors to a frequency
proportionate to the overall performance of the school.
Oversight of academies' governance is the responsibility
of the EFA, which scrutinises academy trusts' annual governance
statements which form part of their published audited annual accounts.
The EFA has strengthened its monitoring of governance changes
in academies, and the department has taken clear new powers to
bar those involved in academy governance found to be unsuitable.
The roles and responsibilities of governors and trustees are clearly
set out in the AFH, and if there is a breach, the EFA will consider
whether intervention is necessary. The trust must also be able
to demonstrate the accounting officer is a fit and suitable person
for the role as set out in the AFH.
The EFA has a thorough approach to 'at-cost' transactions.
The disclosure of related party transactions is standard accounting
practice for charitable companies, and is designed to promote
transparency and avoid conflicts of interest. Academies therefore
place much more information into the public domain about such
transactions than LA-maintained schools, who do not publish individual
In November 2014, the EFA published a report on related
party transactions, following its review of academies' annual
accounts, and provided within it examples of acceptable and unacceptable
transactions to drive best practice. It also provided guidance
to academy external auditors that emphasises the scrutiny of related
party transactions as part of their assessment. Where academies
breach the related party transactions rules the EFA has stressed
that it may issue a financial notice to improve, and may stop
them from entering into such transactions for the duration of
the notice without approval.
The EFA's scrutiny showed that the vast majority
of related party transactions are established for sound business
reasons, and are properly managed and disclosed. The EFA requires
related party transactions to be "at cost" only, with
no profit allowed. This means that individuals and organisations
with significant influence over an academy trust, including the
trust's members, trustees and sponsors cannot use their position
for personal gain. For 2014 to 2015, to reduce bureaucracy, the
EFA has introduced a 'de minimis' limit of £2,500 for this
policy, but transactions above that limit must still be at cost.
The EFA has prepared a sample 'pro forma'
to help academies and their auditors confirm that related party
transactions are 'at cost'.
Our evidence suggests that the oversight of
chains needs to be improved in several areas. We recommend that
the accountability and monitoring system for chains, and the criteria
used to 'pause' their expansion, be made more transparent and
open. The DfE should publish the process and criteria that will
be used in reviewing and renewing academy funding agreements.
Our strong accountability regime allows us to tackle
underperformance in academies and free schools swiftly. If academies
are underperforming, the RSC will discuss measures for improvement.
When an academy, sponsor or chain does not take appropriate action,
the RSC, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, can intervene
by bringing in additional expertise; challenging the trust to
make changes to the leadership team; or issuing pre-warning notices
and warning notices. RSCs may also look to change trust, bringing
in another sponsor. In the most serious cases the Secretary of
State may decide to close an academy.
We agree with the Committee that it is important
that the process for monitoring the growth of sponsors is transparent,
and the department will write to all sponsors to confirm this
information. As part of this accountability regime, RSCs monitor
the progress and growth of all academy sponsors, and discuss with
them their capacity, including plans for growth. RSCs agree what
would be an appropriate limit on growth, reflecting their capacity,
and this becomes a guideline for working together to find solutions
for failing schools.
A 'pause' is imposed if there are:
· serious financial concerns and the EFA
has issued a financial notice to improve;
· serious concerns about the leadership
or governance of the sponsor, including where there are due diligence
issues with sponsors or trust senior management; and/or
· serious unresolved concerns with educational
impact, which could include a combination of the department or
RSC having issued pre-warning notices, the department or RSC considering
academy closure, and/or where, following support from the department,
the sponsor has failed to act rapidly.
In instances where a sponsor is officially directed
to 'pause', a letter will be sent setting out the exact reasons.
RSCs contact them to agree a case-specific action plan which addresses
these issues. The 'pause' becomes effective from the moment the
letter has been issued, and the RSC expects 'paused' sponsors
to notify all open academies of their situation. The implications
of being on the 'paused sponsor' list are:
· No brokerage of sponsored academies and
· The pausing and re-brokerage of all pipeline
· The sponsor must work with the department
to agree an action plan which addresses the issues with the sponsor's
'Paused' sponsors are assessed against a plan agreed
with the RSC, and continued presence on the list is monitored
by the department.
Lessons should be learned from the US experience
of charter schools with regard to oversight arrangements. We recommend
that the Government reconsider the appropriate length of funding
agreements, with a view to reducing it to five years, and publish
its assessment. (Paragraph 159)
The department takes a detailed interest in international
comparisons when formulating and implementing policy, including,
but not limited to, the United States and Charter Schools using
their freedoms to raise standards. The US and other experiences
demonstrate that the speed of our intervention is most important
to ensure the effective management of the academy system. The
revised funding agreement allows us to intervene swiftly where
we identify educational underperformance, safeguarding, finance
or governance issues. In cases of failure we will find a new sponsor
or where appropriate close the school. Rather than waiting for
an agreement to end, whether that is five years or seven years,
we are able to take swift action.
We recommend that the DfE create a mechanism
for schools to be able to leave academy chains where the relationship
is no longer appropriate. (Paragraph 160)
Where an academy needs to leave a chain in order
to improve its performance, the department will consider intervening.
Where schools are not underperforming, the department will generally
facilitate a move where there is mutual consent. We are very aware
that we need to be mindful of the impact that one academy leaving
a MAT can have on the other academies in the MAT. It is for these
reasons that schools cannot unilaterally elect to leave a MAT.
We are considering further how we might support schools that wish
to leave a MAT where it is in its and the MAT's best interest.
We also recommend that the DfE develop a failure
regime for chains, as in the Netherlands, and publish a protocol
for dealing with the failure of a large chain as well as how individual
schools will be treated when a chain indicates that it can no
longer run them. (Paragraph 161)
We agree with the Committee's recommendation to investigate
the experience of the Netherlands, and seek to build the learning
from their experience into the academies and free schools programmes.
The department already has a failure regime in place, but the
experience of the Netherlands may help us to develop this further.
We closely monitor the performance of sponsor-led
trusts using performance data, Ofsted ratings and financial data,
and have introduced a system for pausing sponsors where we have
serious concerns. RSCs and their Headteacher Boards have improved
oversight of and intervention in academies using local intelligence,
performance information, and financial data to make speedy and
decisive interventions. The department is also continuing to increase
its understanding of what makes a good sponsor, sharing this across
The current system of focused inspections of groups
of academies in a chain has also shown itself capable of providing
information about sponsors or other MATs that has supported firm
action on sponsors where needed. This oversight enables us to
more quickly identify if a chain is at risk of failure.
If an academy chain is underperforming we will contact
them to discuss measures for improvement. When a sponsor or chain
does not take appropriate action, the RSC can intervene, and may
move academies from the trust to another sponsor.
We have listened carefully to the arguments put
forward by the DfE against inspections of chains by Ofsted but
we remain unconvinced. We believe that an Ofsted inspection judgement
for each academy chain would improve Multi Academy Trusts in the
same way as it has schools and local authorities. We also believe
that, given the failure of some high profile academy chains, the
grading of academy chains and corresponding report information
would help Regional Schools Commissioners monitor chain performance,
and would give parents important information about the academy
chain that stands behind their school. (Paragraph 162)
We recommend that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector
of Schools be given the powers he has called for in respect of
inspecting academy chains. (Paragraph 163)
We believe that the most appropriate way to ensure
that MATs are properly held to account for their performance is
to build on Ofsted's approach to focused inspections of MATs,
and to clarify any areas of uncertainty. We have written to Her
Majesty's Chief Inspector to set out this approach.
We recommend that all academies and chains
publish in their annual accounts the salary and other remunerations
of senior leaders within bands. (Paragraph 164)
We agree with the Committee's recommendation, and
this is already the case. Charity Commission rules for preparing
accounts mean that academies have to disclose in their accounts
the number of employees whose pay exceeds £60,000, in £10,000
bandings. Where academy staff are also trustees, their pay and
other benefits must be disclosed regardless of value. As a minimum,
this will generally include the principal in a single academy
trust, and the chief executive in an academy chain. The EFA sets
out these requirements in the Academies Accounts Direction.
If trusts do not comply, this will generally lead to a qualification
by the auditors.
EFFECTIVE STRUCTURES FOR PRIMARY SCHOOLS
We have sought but not found convincing evidence
of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools.
We recommend that the DfE commission, as a matter of urgency,
research into the relationship between academy status and outcomes
at KS1 and KS2 so that sponsors and RSCs can be clear which models
and characteristics are most strongly correlated with improved
performance. (Paragraph 173)
We have set about the task of maximising the potential
of primary schools, and recent KS2 results show the impact we
have had at primary level. The first wave of primary sponsored
academies that opened in September 2012 has seen the proportion
of pupils achieving level 4 or above in reading, writing and maths
increase by nine percentage points since opening. That is double
the rate of improvement across all schools (four percentage points).
We also know that primary converter academies also do better against
the new tougher Ofsted inspection framework. Department analysis
(2014) shows that
primary converters are more likely to retain their 'outstanding'
rating, and are more likely to improve from 'good' to 'outstanding'
than LA-maintained schools.
We agree with the Committee that it is important
to continue to analyse how well academy status works in the primary
phase. To carry out such analysis requires a large enough number
of primary academies to have been open long enough to have a reasonable
time series of results which can be analysed. We are only now
reaching such a position, and will be undertaking this analysis
We also believe that the development and use of evidence
should be increasingly driven and owned by the research community,
sector bodies and practitioners. In support of this principle
we have published a suite of priority and question papers
covering our key areas of work. Amongst our research priorities
we have asked 'What motivates primary schools to become academies?'
and 'What are the key elements for them to achieve and sustain
long term improvement and viability?'
The primary sector benefits most from collaborative
structures, whether these are facilitated by academy status or
otherwise. We reiterate the recommendation in our report on school
partnerships and collaboration that the additional funding available
to schools through the Primary Chains Grant be extended to primary
schools forming maintained federations, as well as Multi Academy
Trusts. Such funding is particularly important to encourage collaboration
between small schools in rural areas.
We agree with the Committee that it is important
for primary schools to collaborate. The Primary Chain Grant was
introduced to support schools choosing to form a MAT because of
the benefits that collective academy status and shared autonomy
can bring. This includes economies of scale, particularly in back-office
functions; sharing and developing excellent staff to help meet
teacher recruitment needs; and sharing development of middle leaders,
which can boost leadership capacity across the MAT.
68% of primary academies and free schools are now
in a chain. We will continue to seek ways to encourage and support
primaries to collaborate with other schools, through policy development,
funding, and other incentives.
CREATION OF FREE SCHOOLS
Free schools are a flagship policy of the Government,
designed to allow experimentation, but it appears that the policy
has been altered so that these schools are also intended to meet
basic need for places. The DfE needs to be clear and transparent
about how the competition for free school funding is decided and
the relative weight it gives to each of innovation, basic need,
deprivation and parental demand, and to publish the number and
type of applications it receives, from whom and the criteria it
uses to make decisions on applications. We also recommend that
the Government examine carefully any applications for free schools
in areas where there are surplus places and a large proportion
of existing schools which are good or outstanding. (Paragraph
Our established guidance
states clearly that the free schools programme is responsive to
the need for pupil places; the need for an alternative to low-quality
local provision; and local demand for new provision (including
innovative and distinctive models). Applicants must demonstrate
both demand from parents and a need for the school in terms of
the sufficiency and/or quality of existing school places. Applications
that demonstrate that there is a significant shortage of places
in an area will be scored more highly.
The department published a research report
in September 2014 which found that free schools are bringing new
ideas and approaches to our school system: two-thirds offer an
alternative to the national curriculum in some or all subjects;
around half have an extended school day; and a similar proportion
operate different term dates and lengths to other schools in the
area. The majority of headteachers interviewed said they believe
that using such opportunities to innovate is important for them
in delivering the vision they have for their school. Around 50%
of open free schools serve the 30% most deprived wards.
Free schools are unlikely to be more than a
small part of the strategic plan to create more school places
where they are most needed. This does not remove the imperative
to ensure that the body with overall responsibility for place
planning in an area is aware of plans to establish new schools
which will affect their calculations. We recommend that the DfE
ensure that local authorities are informed of any proposal to
open a free school in their area. (Paragraph 189)
This is already part of our assessment process. We
communicate with LAs at three specific points during the process
of opening a free school. First, LAs are told about any free school
applications that are listed for interview and we reflect upon
any comments they have when making recommendations on which applications
to approve into pre-opening. Second, when a project is approved
into the pre-opening stage we inform the relevant LA. And third,
during pre-opening, LAs are consulted on the impact that the proposed
school will have on other educational establishments in the area,
ahead of entering into a funding agreement.
The DfE publishes impact assessments on how
it is predicted that free schools will affect schools in their
area but similar information is not published to assess what has
happened after the school has been established. We recommend that
the DfE collect and publish statistical information on the intake
of free schools, and monitor the effect of newly created schools
on the intake and attainment of neighbouring schools. (Paragraph
We agree with Ofsted that it is too early to
draw conclusions on the quality of education provided by free
schools or their broader system impact. (Paragraph 191)
Details about the intakes of free schools and all
other schools, including those located nearby to free schools,
are published in the annual school census. Attainment data are
found within the department performance tables. We already assess
the likely impact of free schools on existing provision. During
the assessment process, we consider the quality and popularity
of existing schools, and before the Secretary of State enters
into a funding agreement with a free school trust, the department
must assess the likely impact of opening the free school on other
local schools. As part of this LAs are consulted on the impact
that the proposed school will have on other educational establishments
in the area.
We know from international evidence that school autonomy
(in tandem with accountability) can improve performance, and just
a few years after the first free schools were established 68%
of those inspected have been graded as either 'good' or 'outstanding'
by Ofsted. The department's research report
from September 2014 found that free schools are not working in
isolation: they are collaborating with and supporting other local
schools, helping to fulfil the government's vision of a self-improving,
school-led system. Eight out of ten free schools already formally
collaborate with other schools, or plan to do so. This collaboration
takes many forms from allowing use of the school's facilities
by others to allowing specialist subject teachers to teach in
other local schools.
Three-quarters of the headteachers who took part
in the research project believe their school has contributed to
a rise in the quality of local education generally because of
the way they are working with other schools and competing in places,
thereby challenging others to improve. Free schools are still
relatively new, and this report is an early contribution to understanding
how they are working. We plan further work on how specific approaches
benefit pupils, and to support the sharing of best practice to
encourage further school-led improvements in the education system.
FUTURE SCHOOLS LANDSCAPE AND IMPLEMENTATION OF EDUCATION
There have been major shifts in the structure
of schools in England over the last four years but it is salutary
to remember that, despite all the attention paid to academies
and free schools, of the 21,500 state-funded schools in England,
17,300 are maintained schools and 4,200 are academies as at August
2014. It is not the case that the system will inevitably achieve
full academisation, although for secondary schools that is already
the dominant model and the direction of travel is strongly indicated.
We call on the Government to spell out its vision for the future
of schools in England, including the structures and underpinning
principles that it envisages will be in place in five to ten years'
time. (Paragraph 204)
Building on our successes since 2010, we expect to
see the continuing expansion and success of the academies and
free schools programmes into the next Parliament and beyond. We
are confident that many more schools will take the opportunities
and freedoms that academy status provides. Our underpinning principles
will continue to be autonomy for school leaders to run their schools
free from bureaucratic control, accompanied by sharp and effective
accountability. We will set out more detailed plans early in the
The oversight and intervention systems for
English state schools differ according to whether they have academy
or maintained status. Both major political parties have suggested
that all state schools may be brought under a single regime in
the future. Any future government should consider whether the
existing dual system is beneficial in encouraging the development
of more effective and earlier challenge to and remedies for underperformance.
We have a range of mechanisms for intervening in
underperforming schools. The Education and Inspections Act 2006
and the statutory Schools Causing Concern guidance
set out the legislative requirements for intervening in maintained
schools that are "causing concern". The intervention
framework for academies is set out in the funding agreement for
each academy. Both regimes are based on the same triggers - an
'inadequate' Ofsted judgement; unacceptably low standards of pupil
performance; a serious breakdown in the way the school is managed
or governed; or a threat to the safety of pupils or staff at the
school. It is for LAs to take action in relation to maintained
schools, and for the department and the EFA in relation to academies.
It will be for a future government to consider any further changes.
For the new architecture to work most effectively
not only must individual academy performance be publicly transparent
but academy chains themselves must be as fully scrutinised as
local authorities. The DfE, in particular, needs to be far more
open about the implementation of the academies programme and how
it assesses and monitors schools and chains. This includes funding
and regulation by the EFA. Rather than seeing every request for
information as an attack on the policy, the DfE has much to gain
from transparency and clarity over its processes. (Paragraph 206)
We agree with the Committee that it is important
that the system for assessing and monitoring schools and chains
is transparent. As set out earlier in this response, we have now
set out the respective roles and responsibilities of the department,
RSCs, LAs and the EFA in the revised Accountability System Statement.
In addition, the department publishes all pre-warning notices
and warning notices for academies online.
The EFA also publishes all financial notices to improve online.
We have also set out in this response that we are
committed to publishing a consultation document on a proposed
methodology which will make new comparative data on performance
at chain and LA level available. We see the value of transparency,
and it is in this spirit that we are seeking views on how we might
approach this new measure.
The process of conversion to academy status
has been exceptionally fast by international standards. We recommend
that the DfE review the lessons of the wholescale conversion of
the secondary sector to inform any future expansion. (Paragraph
The department continually reviews the progress and
performance of the academy and free schools programmes and we
take swift action where it is required. We have always developed
our approach in light of lessons learned through every stage of
the programme and we will continue to do so. The introduction
of RSCs in 2014 is a clear example of us responding to an emerging
need to bring local intelligence and oversight to the programmes.
2 www.gov.uk/school-performance-tables Back
MAT of two or more, or sponsor with two or more academies. Back
Are free schools using innovative approaches? www.gov.uk/government/publications/innovative-thinking-within-free-schools Back
Are free schools using innovative approaches? www.gov.uk/government/publications/innovative-thinking-within-free-schools Back