School academy trusts are not sufficiently transparent or accountable to parents and local communities, a committee of MPs has warned.
The Public Accounts Committee said there had been “a succession of high-profile academy failures”, such as those at Durand Academy and Bright Tribe Trust.
Academies now educate nearly half of all children in state schools in England and such failings were costly to the taxpayer and damaging to children’s education, the report said.
The committee heard evidence that while academy trusts have to file audited annual accounts with Companies House, this information is general and limited to each trust as a whole rather than giving detail about individual schools.
To prevent such failings being repeated there was a need for stronger governance at academy trusts and more rigorous oversight from the Department for Education, the report said.
Anntoinette Bramble (Lab), chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, described the report as “damning” and said it raised serious questions about academy financial governance: “The findings reinforce our call for councils to be allowed to step in and oversee failing academy finances, as they do with council-maintained schools that face financial challenges. It is now clear that the Department for Education does not have effective oversight of spending in more than 7,000 academies.”
She added: “Councils, which have vast experience running large budgets, are best placed to do this. Not only would this ensure democratic accountability, it would give parents the certainty and confidence in knowing that their child’s school is able to deliver the best possible education and support, without risk of financial failure.”
The PAC was also alarmed at the lack of data the department was receiving from councils and academy trusts in relation to asbestos at school buildings.
“We remain seriously concerned about the department’s lack of information and assurance about asbestos in school buildings – as we first reported in April 2017,” the report stated. “The department launched its ‘asbestos management assurance’ process on 1 March 2018 to collect data on how asbestos in schools is being managed, and to provide assurance that academy trusts and local authorities are complying with their legal duties.”
The department had initially asked schools to respond by the end of May 2018 before extending the deadline three more times to February 2019. The PAC recommended that in March the department should “name and shame” those schools that did not meet the February deadline.