Children's education has been damaged by academy failures according to an influential committee of MPs which called for less secrecy and tougher sanctions against serious failings.
A Public Accounts Committee report, published today, says academy trusts do not make enough information available for parents and local communities.
It cites the experiences of parents from Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria who were concerned about the poor state of buildings, and improvement work which they believed had been funded but not done.
They had to resort to freedom of information requests to its sponsor Bright Tribe to find out what was happening at the school.
The MPs say that information in academy trusts’ financial accounts “does not show sufficient detail about individual schools”.
They call for a new requirement for “academy trusts to make available financial information at school level and to be transparent about governance and decision-making at all levels of the trust”.
The report also says that while academy trusts must have complaints procedures, the DfE “could not confirm that the arrangements for complaints were always applied in all academy trusts”.
It says that by September 2019 all academy trust should have published complaints procedures that include a named individual to whom parents can escalate concerns.
It also calls for the DfE to make it clear by March 2019 the name and contact details of who parents should contact if an academy trust has not addressed their concerns properly.
The committee also complains about a lack of transparency in the DfE.
It says that while the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) conducts regular investigations into academy trusts’ financial management, the results are not always published, or can be published only after “lengthy delays”.
It says the ESFA should publish the results of such inquiries “within two months of completing the work”.
The DfE said it did not accept the PAC’s “negative characterisation of academies”.
A spokeperson added: “The majority of academies are delivering a great education and – as recognised by the PAC – we are taking robust action in the small minority of cases where they are not meeting the high standards expected.
“Academies are subject to higher levels of accountability and transparency than local authority schools.
“Academies must publish their annual accounts and this year we added new requirements on related party transactions.
“We have also taken steps to increase accountability by publishing lists of trusts who do not return accounts on time; and by challenging trusts who pay high executive salaries.”