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'Malpractice isn't just a problem for academies'

Panorama wrongly suggested that financial mismanagement and malpractice are issues for all academies, says Leora Cruddas

Panorama misleading

I watched BBC Panorama’s The Academy Schools Scandal last night with a sinking heart. What happened at Silver Birch Academy Trust is indefensible, but it is important to point out that this was not uncovered by investigative journalism, as the programme suggested. This trust was, in fact, investigated twice by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), and is now being rebrokered into an established and successful trust.

It is, therefore, not the case that there is no oversight in the academy sector. And I’m afraid that problems like the ones discussed are a feature of a very small minority of all types of state schools.

One of the issues highlighted last night was exam malpractice. The programme seemed to suggest that exam malpractice is a feature only of schools in the academy sector. There is no basis for this, as I am sure the Standards and Testing Agency and Ofqual can confirm. Malpractice, unfortunately, affects a very small number of all types of schools.

What worries me most about Panorama is that, once again, it misrepresents the issue under investigation as being endemic to a whole sector. We would not suggest Carillion is typical of all businesses or that Kids Company is typical of all charities. That would be irresponsible.

I would expect the BBC to be held to a higher standard of journalism – and higher standards of integrity to report the issues in the public interest but not to misrepresent the issues as being typical of the whole sector. This is to mislead the public.

Greater transparency in academies sector

I have written before that the greater transparency in the academy sector makes it easier to identify issues. The ESFA investigates and publishes reports into trusts where things have gone wrong. Having all these reports in one place makes the problem look really significant, and makes it look like the problem is located in one part of the education sector – academies.

The greater oversight and transparency in publishing the reports has, ironically, led to the perception that there is a problem in the academy sector.

So the real story last night is not a story about academies – Panorama rightly shone a light on financial mismanagement and exam malpractice. We need to work together to fix these problems. But it doesn’t help us to suggest that these are "scandals" affecting all schools in the academy sector. Or that this is widespread.

There are real issues of professional ethics here – both for our own sector but also for the BBC. I was proud to serve as a commissioner on the Ethical Leadership Commission. It is now more important than ever that we all act with integrity – that we do not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for ourselves, our family or our friends. That we demonstrate the kind of leadership that represents the highest standards of public life in our individual and corporate behaviour.

Leora Cruddas is chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST). She tweets @LeoraCruddas

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