Justine Greening has called for greater transparency about the inner workings of the academy system.
The education secretary was responding to concerns about the secrecy surrounding how regional schools commissioners, and the headteacher boards (HTBs) that advise them, make crucial decisions about schools across the country.
“I do want to see more transparency,” she says. “There is more transparency and I think that is a good thing, and I know that’s something that [national schools commissioner] David Carter has been very clear that he wants to see.”
Her comments follow a series of Tes stories that revealed a wealth of information is used to help decide the fate of schools and academies, but which is routinely withheld from the public.
In one cycle of meetings in autumn 2016, the eight HTBs in England received a total of 1,016 pages of documents, but only 32 pages of minutes were published. The minutes listed short “key discussion points”, but did not outline the reasons for decisions (bit.ly/AcademySecrecy).
A Tes analysis of HTB documents from autumn 2015, which the Department for Education originally tried to censor when they were released under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that officials had tried to hide the existence of an investigation into an academy trust that they had wanted to become a school’s sponsor (bit.ly/DfEAcademySecrets); the fact that education minister Lord Nash had urged an academy trust to expand rapidly, only for its quick growth to be raised as an “issue” two years later (bit.ly/DfEAcademySecrets2); and the way an unofficial Ofsted report was used to help justify the rebrokering of an academy (bit.ly/DfEAcademySecrets3).
Fears that the DfE had “something to hide” were also heightened by officials’ decision to stop releasing full sets of HTB documents under FOI because of the resources it would take to remove exempt information (bit.ly/SomethingToHide).
Sir David Carter, the civil servant who oversees the academies system, last week acknowledged concerns about secrecy ahead of the elections for HTBs, and pledged action to improve the situation (bit.ly/CarterTransparency).
“I know we can do more,” he said “I want to make that a priority as we go through the next round of headteacher board appointments and the elections.”