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Academies unproven, say MPs

Ministers should hold on to pound;5 billion earmarked for their flagship academy programme until they can show it offers value for money, MPs said this week.

The Commons education select committee said creating 200 academies would cost pound;1.6bn more than building ordinary schools, with no evidence that they are more successful.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the committee, said: "Although increased public expenditure on education has been effective in many cases, this should not give the department a carte-blanche to roll out expensive schemes before they have been thoroughly tested."

Raising standards through diversity and choice can be achieved only by rigorously examining what works and what does not, the committee said.

Policies to increase the number of specialist schools, make it easier for secondaries to gain foundation status, and expand popular schools were being implemented without evidence they worked, the report found.

MPs rejected claims that specialist schools raised achievement, saying no properly- controlled trial had been carried out. They said the Government's "startling complacency" over the admissions system meant that the vision of parental choice could prove to be a mirage.

"We are concerned that the balance of power is slipping away from parents choosing schools for their children towards schools as admissions authorities choosing the children they wish to admit."

Too many schools were using "unacceptable" criteria, including selection, aided by ministers' refusal to give schools a legal duty to follow the code of practice.

Allowing more schools independence through foundation status risked creating an admissions "free-for-all", leaving local authorities powerless, the report said.

The improvements promised by foundation status were also doubtful, with a similar system in New Zealand failing to deliver the gains it promised.

MPs could find little evidence to support the policy of allowing popular schools to expand, and they warned that the "fast-track" process could be halted by the slow-moving planning system.

More spending on education was welcome, as were the three-year budgets which allow schools to plan ahead, the committee said.

But MPs said the Government's five-year strategy lacked coherence, telling schools both to seek more independence and to work in partnerships.

A spokesman for the Academy Sponsors Trust said early indications from the academies were positive. "We are confident these will underpin future exam performance," he said. "From the experiences of city technology colleges, we know that independence in the state sector works. We should not allow another generation of children to miss out on educational opportunities such as those offered by academies when we know that the model works."

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