The Department for Education has not demonstrated the effectiveness of the different interventions it and others make in underperforming maintained schools and academies, despite investing at least £382 million annually, according to the National Audit Office.
The NAO finds that the DfE and others, such as the Education Funding Agency and local authorities, have not tackled underperformance consistently. The spending watchdog, therefore, cannot conclude that the oversight system for maintained schools and academies is achieving value for money.
The Department has set the tone from the top by being clear about what constitutes unacceptable educational performance. Nationally, educational performance has improved but a significant number of children still attend underperforming schools. The NAO estimates that, in 2013/14, 1.6 million children (23%) were not attending a school rated as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
The Department and the Education Funding Agency do not know enough about school-level governance to identify risks. The DfE relies on local authorities to oversee governance arrangements in maintained schools, in line with legislation, but does not know whether or how well they do this. The Department has a ‘fit and proper person’ test for governors in new academy trusts but does not subsequently make checks on new governors to prevent risks, such as entryism.
Some academy sponsors are very successful, but the Department does not yet know why others are not. The DfE relies on sponsors to turn around underperforming schools but it does not collect information from sponsors about the type of support they give. Ofsted is unable to inspect sponsors and multi-academy trusts so there is no independent source of information about the quality of their work.
The DfE has not clearly articulated some of the roles and responsibilities of external oversight bodies. There has been confusion about oversight of safeguarding, the responsibilities of academy sponsors, and the role of local authorities in relation to academies.
Oversight bodies are intervening more often in underperforming schools than in the past, but this is not always in line with the DfE’s framework. The DfE does not know the costs of different interventions, and it has not done enough to understand the effectiveness of different interventions.
“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.Greater school autonomy needs to be coupled with effective oversight and assurance. The Department has made some improvements but has further to go.”
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office
Notes for Editors
Children attending schools not rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted (August 2014)
Estimated Departmental spend on oversight and intervention in 2013-14
Sponsored academies created from previously underperforming maintained schools by August 2014
Of schools have not been inspected by Ofsted in the last four years (from September 2010 to August 2014)
Warning notices have been issued to schools by local authorities since September 2010
Interim executive boards have been approved by the Secretary of State since September 2010
Underperforming maintained schools (out of 129) improved their Ofsted rating following formal intervention
Real-terms reduction in average revenue grants provided to sponsors to reopen underperforming secondary schools as academies between 2010-11 and 2013-14
1. The Department for Education is accountable to Parliament for the overall performance of the school system in England, which currently educates almost 7 million children aged 4 to 16 years old, at an annual cost of £40 billion. The system comprises 21,500 state-funded schools. Of these, 17,300 are maintained schools, overseen by local authorities, and 4,200 are academies, directly accountable to the Secretary of State.
2. The Department aims for all schools to give children a high-quality education. Its overall objective is for all children to have the opportunity to attend a school that Ofsted, the independent inspectorate for schools, rates as 'good' or better. To achieve this, the Department expects the leaders of individual schools, along with governors and trustees, to manage resources effectively in an increasingly autonomous school system. The Department also presides over a system of external oversight, which: sets objective measures to monitor school performance; identifies underperformance; and intervenes to tackle underperformance. The Department’s aim is for a school-led system, where schools increasingly support one another to improve.
3. The Department shares responsibility for external oversight with the Education Funding Agency (part of the Department) and 152 local authorities. 470 academy sponsors also currently work with 1,800 academies.
4. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at www.nao.org.uk. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.
5. The National Audit Office scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Amyas Morse, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO, which employs some 820 employees. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively, and with economy. Our studies evaluate the value for money of public spending, nationally and locally. Our recommendations and reports on good practice help government improve public services, and our work led to audited savings of £1.1 billion in 2013.