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.