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Lord Agnew's first ministerial appearance at the education committee: 5 things we learned

The academies minister spoke to MPs today about regional schools commissioners, inspectors and academy pay

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The academies minister spoke to MPs today about regional schools commissioners, inspectors and academy pay

Theodore Agnew made his first appearance at the education select committee since being appointed as an education minister in September. Here are five things we learned: 

1. He thinks the cost of the school commissioner programme is 'reasonable' – and will grow

Lord Agnew told MPs today that they were expecting the cost of the regional school commissioners (RSC) network this year to come to around £31million – which is around £4,000 per academy. 

He said: "I feel at the moment that the amount being spent is reasonable."

When challenged on the rising costs, he said: "If it is changing life chances for pupils I think it represents good value for money."

Lord Agnew added that there would be "further growth" with 1,000 academies in the pipeline. "Probably we will see some increase," he said. 

2. He is not concerned about the RSC revolving door 

A number of RSCs have stepped down in the past year to take up a role in the multi-academy trust (MAT) sector.

In April, Tim Coulson, regional schools commissioner for the East of England and north-east London, announced he was departing to become the CEO of the Suffolk-based Samuel Ward Academy Trust.

But Lord Agnew said today: "I am encouraged that we're seeing this movement, because if you take the case of Mr Coulson you now have someone as a CEO of the trust who has deep expertise of the academies programme."

He added: "It is worth remembering that the title of MAT CEO barely existed five years' ago and that is an area of expertise that we need to develop. 

"So if there is this sort of movement then I am personally not worried as long as the proper protections are put in place."

3. He sees the system as working – despite high-profile failings, such as WCAT 

Lord Agnew was asked – in light of the controversies around Wakefield City Academy Trust (WCAT) and Bright Tribe Trust – why the government still believes MATs are the best for school improvement. 

He replied: "The system is working. Now there are always going to be unfortunate examples."

Lord Agnew added: "I have to keep restating that these were some of the most damaged schools in the system. If these problems were so easy to solve, why weren't they solved in the previous Labour government?

"We are not going to solve this problem overnight."

4. Large pay rises for MAT CEOs 'sound unreasonable' to him

Robert Halfon, the chair of the education select committee, referred to a recent Tes article, which cited the fact that Clive Neathey, chief executive of Rosedale Hewens Academy Trust, received a 141 per cent pay rise between 2014-15 and 2015-16.

Lord Agnew said today: “The bald facts that you’ve given me make it sound unreasonable.”

5. He thinks Ofsted inspections of MATs would not be 'helpful'

When asked whether he thought Ofsted should review MATs today, Lord Agnew said: "I don't think that it would be helpful for a complete change to the Ofsted inspection framework."

The minister added: "I just feel at the moment it would cause some confusion in the system and I think for me the first step would be for them to reach out to the chief executive and the chair."

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