Latest Public Sector News


DfE lacks effective insight into schools – PAC

There are ‘significant gaps’ in the Department for Education’s (DfE’s)  knowledge of performance in individual schools,  and its ‘light touch’ approach means that problems in some schools can go undetected until serious damage has been done, MPs have warned. 

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee  (PAC) added that while the Department has created more academies as autonomous institutions to raise educational standards, at least 1.6 million children are being educated in schools in England that are less than ‘good’. 

Across England there are 21,500 state-funded schools, of which 17,000 are maintained schools overseen by local authorities, and 4,500 are academies directly accountable to the secretary of state. 

However, the MPs say that DfE presides over a ‘complex’ and ‘confused’ system of external oversight, sharing responsibility for oversight with the Education Funding Agency (which is part of the Department) and 152 local authorities. 

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the PAC, said: “The DfE has focused on increasing schools’ autonomy but it has done so without a proper strategy for overseeing the system. Its light touch approach means that problems in some schools can go undetected until serious damage has been done. 

“Confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the Department, the Education Funding Agency, local authorities and academy sponsors has allowed some schools to fall through gaps in the system, meaning failure can go unnoticed.” 

It was noted that of the schools rated ‘inadequate’ in 2012-13, 36% had previously been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, and there are still 1.6 million children being educated in schools in England that are less than ‘good’. 

MPs also claim that the DfE’s ‘narrow set of indicators’ means that it has not spotted important failures until too late and is over-reliant on whistleblowers. They add that schools can change very quickly, but Ofsted does not currently inspect ‘good’ schools for up to five years and ‘outstanding’ schools are exempt from routine inspection. 

Hodge said: “Whistleblowers were involved recently in Birmingham, where two of the schools at the centre of the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations had been rated ‘outstanding’ and were therefore exempt from routine inspection.” 

PAC added that the failure of the Department and the local authority to identify problems with governors at some Birmingham schools highlights just one risk of not knowing enough about governors. 

But the DfE says the report did not reflect the ‘real’ picture in England’s schools. The latest report also comes a day after education secretary Nicky Morgan told Parliament: “I am confident that if the events we witnessed in Birmingham were repeated again, they would be identified and dealt with more quickly and far more effectively. 

“However, let me be clear that there is no room for complacency either in the specific case of Birmingham or more generally. We must always remain vigilant.” 

PAC has recommended that the DfE should develop leading indicators to fill the gaps in its information on governance, efficiency and safeguarding; and clarify its own role, and the roles of Regional Schools Commissioners, local authorities and the Agency on how they share information and identify failure at an earlier stage.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “Barely a day seems to go by without another influential body producing a report that is critical of the DfE and its flagship education policy, the academies and free school programme. 

“The findings of the PAC in today’s report are frankly scandalous. That the Department for Education is ‘guilty’ of lacking a strategic oversight of school autonomy, and has insufficient independent assessments of the effectiveness of academy sponsors in place is unacceptable.” 

However, the DfE claims it has intervened in more than 1,000 schools over the past four years, pairing them up with excellent sponsors to give pupils the best chances. 

“That compares with the years and even decades of neglect many schools suffered under local authority control,” a DfE spokesperson said. “There are 41 local authority schools that have been in special measures for more than 18 months, compared to just nine academies. In fact, 54 local authorities have never issued any warning notices to schools that are letting pupils down, whereas we do not hesitate to take swift action on underperformance.” 

(Image: c. Stefan Rousseau)

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


public sector executive tv

more videos >

last word

Prevention: Investing for the future

Prevention: Investing for the future

Rob Whiteman, CEO at the Chartered Institute of Public Finance (CIPFA), discusses the benefits of long-term preventative investment. Rising demand, reducing resource – this has been the r more > more last word articles >

public sector focus

View all News


Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >
How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

19/06/2019How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues t... more >


Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need ... more >