School oversight and intervention - Public Accounts Committee Contents


The Department for Education (the Department) has had a clear focus on improving standards in schools. It has created more academies as autonomous institutions based on the view that this is the best way to raise educational standards. Nonetheless there are still 1.6 million children being educated in schools in England that are less than 'good'. The Department takes a light touch approach to school oversight, and is reluctant to collect enough information to be effective at identifying and responding to risks to school performance. In particular, early action to prevent decline or continuing poor performance in schools is happening rarely. The Department emphasises performance as measured by exam results and Ofsted inspections. But it relies heavily on whistleblowers to identify significant risks of failure, such as in safeguarding arrangements, financial integrity or governance. Local authorities also have a role in intervening when schools fail, but the Department does not know enough about local authorities' oversight activities. The Department does not know whether they have the capacity to improve their schools; or what interventions they use and at what cost. In addition, the Department does not know enough about the effectiveness of the sponsors who are supposed to improve schools through the Academies Programme. Research by the Sutton Trust and evidence from Ofsted suggests performance of sponsors is variable. Some have expanded too fast and a significant number are failing to improve standards in their schools. Over several years, we have recommended that the Department improve the way it supports and regulates the autonomous schools system. We hope that the Department will now respond to our recommendations more fully in order to reduce the likelihood of further unforeseen school scandals, like the 'Trojan horse' affair in Birmingham.

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Prepared 30 January 2015