The Department for Education’s rebuttal of criticism levelled against multi-academy trusts is a “grotesque parody”, a union has said.
The NEU teaching union said the government should “hang its head in shame” over its claim that there is not a “gap” in holding multi-academy trusts (MATs) to account for their performance.
This morning the House of Commons education committee published the government’s responses to four reports published by the committee, including one on MATs.
Responding to the committee’s criticism that there is a “gap in assessing MATs, which neither Ofsted nor regional school commissioners presently fulfil”, the government acknowledged there had to be a system of “clear accountability that includes MATs being held to account at all levels”.
However, the DfE said it set “clear expectations, standards and requirements” – which it held trusts accountable for – and did “not accept that there is a gap in assessing the quality of MATs’ education provision”.
'Hang its head in shame'
Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU, said that in the light of recent controversies involving MATs, the government should “hang its head in shame at this response”.
“To claim that MATs are held accountable at all levels and that the DfE holds trusts to account and intervenes swiftly when problems arise is a grotesque parody of the real situation,” he said.
Mr Courtney pointed to the collapse of Wakefield City Academy Trust (WCAT) and the recent controversies which have engulfed Bright Tribe Trust.
“The parents of children in the 21 schools in WCAT know only too well that there was no accountability within that academy trust and that the RSCs missed every warning sign that things were going wrong.
“Staff at Whitehaven Academy, run by Bright Tribe, wrote an open letter to their MP, the RSC and the prime minister a year ago pleading for the school to be removed from the trust. Yet neither the RSC, nor any of her team, have visited the school in the last year.”
DfE MATs response
A confidential report written by the interim chief executive of WCAT concluded that the trust grew “far too quickly”.
However, in its response to the education committee, the DfE said it was “focused on growing the system with care” and that MATs would “only take on a new school when there is strong evidence they can give them the support they need”.
The DfE also said that if parents and pupils felt their “voices are not being heard” there were “clear and appropriate channels for them to raise their concerns on gov.uk”.
Responding to the committee’s comment that there was not enough evidence to tell whether MATs are more successful than councils at running schools, the DfE said “this is not a competition between different types of providers”.
In response to a claim that the government should do more to help “untouchable schools” which cannot find a sponsor, the DfE said: “while some schools present challenges, it is unhelpful to label them as ‘untouchable’ and does a disservice to the children and communities they serve.”
However, the government did concede there was “more we might do” to make clear differences in governance and accountability when schools become academies – another factor which has been blamed for the bad feeling which has accompanied the collapse of WCAT.