Auditors criticise ‘inconsistent’ school governance checks

29 Oct 14

Central government and local authorities do not tackle underperformance in academies and maintained schools consistently, according to the National Audit Office.

Around £382m is spent each year on school oversight and intervention, but in a report published today, the NAO said neither the Department for Education not the Education Funding Agency know enough about school-level governance to identify risks. The DfE relies on local authorities to oversee governance arrangements in the maintained sector but does not know how well they do it.

In addition, while a ‘fit and proper person’ test applies to governors in new academy trusts, the DfE does not make subsequent checks on them, the watchdog said.

NAO head Amyas Morse said: ‘The Department for Education’s system for overseeing schools is still developing. The department has been clear about the need for schools to improve and nationally education performance has done so.

‘But there are significant gaps in the department’s understanding of what works, and the information it has about some important aspects of school performance is limited.’

The NAO added that the DfE had not clearly articulated some of the roles and responsibilities of external oversight bodies such as the EFA, and there had been confusion about the relative roles of local authorities and academy sponsors.

Commenting on the NAO’s findings, David Simmonds, chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: ‘Councils want to intervene more quickly, but decades of giving schools “greater freedom” and “protecting” them from council interference means that local authorities now have very indirect and bureaucratic ways to tackle poor performance and improve schools.

Councils should have a central role in championing educational excellence in their area and challenging schools that fall short, he added. ‘Ironically, the government and academy chains have more direct power than councils to quickly turn around underperforming schools.’

Responding to the report, a DfE spokeswoman said: ‘There will always be more to do and we are certainly not standing still, but with more children being taught in good or outstanding schools than ever before, the NAO's conclusions are simply not supported by the facts which show the huge progress made thanks to our plan for education.’

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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