DfE warned over academy spending

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The Department for Education (DfE) has yet to establish effective financial accountability in academies operating in chains, MPs have said.

Parliament’s Committee of Public Accounts (CPA) has said that the DfE “must insist that every academy trust provides it with data showing school-level expenditure”.

A report by the committee into the DfE’s management of the expansion of the academies programme was published on Tuesday (April 23). It states: “The Department has incurred significant costs from the complex and inefficient system it has used for funding the academies programme and its oversight of academies has had to play catch-up with the rapid growth in academy numbers.”

It said the DfE and the Education Funding Agency need to “increase their grip on the risks to public money” as more schools become academies. There are now more than 2,300 academies open across England.

Last year, the National Audit Office revealed that of the £8.3 billion spent on academies between April 2010 and March 2012, around £1 billion was additional costs which had not been budgeted for. 

The CPA said this week that some of this money had been earmarked to support struggling schools, while £350 million of it was never recovered from local authorities.

The report says the DfE must ensure that “accountabilities, roles and responsibilities are clear, and that it has robust mechanisms for identifying and tackling academic or financial failure in academies”.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge said it was too early to judge whether the expenditure on academies constitutes value for money. 

However, she added: “What concerns us is the lack of clarity over how, or when, the Department intends to assess progress and the failure to ensure transparent school-by-school data to allow us and the public to judge value for money.

“The funding system for academies has not operated effectively alongside the local authority system and has made it hard for the Department to prove that academies are not receiving more money than they should. The Department must publish detailed data showing school-level expenditure, including costs per pupil, so that proper comparisons can be made with the data for maintained schools.

“We have already seen some instances where public money has not been used appropriately. We have also commented before on the failure of too many academies to produce audited accounts on time. These signs make proper monitoring of the programme vital. We are sceptical that the Department is up to the job as cuts are made to its staff and those of its agencies.”


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