Exclusive: DfE pledges more transparency for secretive academies system

Sir David Carter says headteacher boards could follow council model of releasing information after week of Tes revelations about DfE academy secrets

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The Department for Education's academies tsar has pledged to increase the transparency of the committees that help make crucial decisions about schools across England.

News of Sir David Carter's desire for change comes after a series of Tes revelations this week about the secret inner workings of the academies programme that the DfE was only persuaded to disclose after an intervention by the Information Commissioner.

On Tuesday, Tes reported how the DfE had attempted to censor the fact that an academy trust it wanted to take on a primary school had been under investigation by the Education Funding Agency.

On Wednesday, Tes revealed that the DfE had tried to conceal the fact that an education minister had urged an academy trust to expand rapidly, only for its quick growth to be raised as an "issue" two years later.

And yesterday, we outlined how the DfE tried to hide the fact that an unofficial Ofsted inspection that was not designed to hold schools to account was used to justify transferring an academy to a new sponsor.

'We can do more'

Sir David, the National schools commissioner, told Tes he recognised that people were concerned about the transparency of the eight headteacher boards (HTBs) in England, which advise regional schools commissioners (RSCs), but meet in private and do not publish reasons for their decisions.

He said: “I know we can do more. I want to do more and I want to make that a priority as we go through the next round of headteacher board appointments and the elections.”

Elections for the headteacher boards open today.

He suggested a possible way forward could be along the lines suggested by Robert Hill, an education consultant and former Downing Street adviser to Tony Blair.

Last month, he told Tes HTBs could follow the model of local councils, which are legally obliged to publish as much information as possible in committee reports, with sensitive material in an unpublished second section.

“That might be a means by which we move closer to where we want to be,” Carter said.

Academies' transparency

However, the commissioner said his biggest concern was about transparency for the academy trusts who he described as “the direct recipients of RSC decision making”.

He said the feedback from HTBs about why they defer some decisions, or rejects some proposals, gives the trusts “the opportunity to decide whether they can come back and address those issues, or whether it’s absolutely right they leave it and move on”.

He added: “So I think the transparency in terms of the people affected, I am as confident as I can be that we have got that right.

“Of course, you could give me examples where somebody could tell you it’s not true, but my observation is that I’ve seen that working really effectively.”

Pressed about transparency for communities and parents about decisions affecting their schools, he put the onus on schools and academy trusts themselves.

“If the decision is about taking account of wider community opinion before the RSC makes an informed decision about what that school needs to have in terms of its support, I think there’s a role there for the school and the trust to have that conversation with parents,” he said.

He added that the system is getting “stronger and better” at making sure that trusts understand their role of telling the community why they are the best fit for the school.

This is an edited version of an article in the 8 September edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.

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