Education ministers employ a ‘light touch’ when overseeing schools

Lack of clear guidelines means there are insufficient interventions in schools with major problems


Today’s PAC report on school oversight and intervention depicts a system plagued by lack of clear information.

The report finds that many schools are declining or failing to improve. Of the schools rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted in 2012/13, 36 per cent had previously been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding, and there are still 1.6 million children attending schools that are less than ‘good’.

The Department of Education has been worryingly slow to act on its findings. In 2013, 179 open academies met the criteria for formal intervention, but the Department only sent a warning notice to 15. These were schools who, based on exam results and Ofsted rating, met the government’s definition of ‘failure’.

PAC accuse the Department of taking a ‘light touch approach’ to school oversight, and say it does not collect enough information to do its job effectively, including information about the capacity of local authorities to make improvements.

The report also finds that the Department does not know enough about the sponsors of the Academy programme; some sponsors have been allowed to expand too fast and ‘a significant number’ are failing to improve their schools.

Responding to the findings, the shadow Education secretary Tristram Hunt said:

“David Cameron’s schools policy is harming the life chances of young people, as schools are exposed to undue influence and falling standards are left to go unchecked.

“The events in schools in Birmingham reveal the weakness in government policy and the failure to prevent radical agendas playing out in our schools.

“Instead of taking decisive action to prevent a repeat, ministers have ruled out tough action.

“Labour will introduce tough oversight of schools, with new directors of Schools Standards at local level. They will keep a check on all state schools to prevent the sort of incidents that we saw in Birmingham schools and ensure that underperformance is spotted early and challenged so that standards are raised across the country.”

Meanwhile, Christine Blower of the NUT said:

“That the Department for Education is ‘guilty’ of lacking a strategic oversight of school autonomy, and has insufficient independent assessments of the effectiveness of academy sponsors in place is unacceptable.

“It makes a mockery of the policies it has so relentlessly pursued in the last five years at the expense of pupils, parents, teachers and school leaders.”

The PAC recommend that more research is needed into the most effective ways of intervening, and create independent measures to regulate Academy sponsors.

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