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MPs ‘sceptical’ of Government oversight of academies

The academies scheme has been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for wasting millions of pounds on over-complex and inefficient funding systems.

The number of academies increased from 200 in April 2010 to 2,886 in March 2012, with extra costs often met out of existing budgets, including £95m from a fund previously earmarked for underperforming schools.

The committee said it was difficult to see how much funding the academies are receiving, and oversight systems had not kept pace with the numbers of new academies. The DfE needs to address value-for-money, MPs said, and warned there is too little public information about finances at an individual academy level.

Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: “Of the £8.3bn spent on academies from April 2010 to March 2012, some £1bn was an additional cost which had to be met by diverting money from other departmental budgets.

“Some of this money had previously been earmarked to support schools struggling with difficult challenges and circumstances. £350m of the extra £1bn represented extra expenditure that was never recovered from local authorities.”

The report states: “We are sceptical that the department has sufficient resources to properly oversee the expanding programme, especially as schools now joining are less high-performing and may require greater oversight and scrutiny.”

A DfE spokesman said: “The academies programme has been a huge success. There are now almost 3,000 academy schools – more than 14 times as many as in May 2010 – with more than two million children now enjoying the benefits that academy status brings. The programme is proven to drive up standards. Sponsored academies are improving far faster than maintained schools.

“We make no apology for the fact that so many schools have opted to convert, and no apology for spending money on a programme that is proven to drive up standards and make long-term school improvements.

“The Department for Education has made significant savings in the last two-and-a-half years and has also set aside significant contingencies, which have been set against the growth in academies.”

Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “It’s hard to know which is worse, the lack of financial transparency in academies or the Government's failure to check for and identify instances of misuse of funds.

“We are appalled by the gung-ho attitude of ministers to ensuring value for money for children, parents, schools and tax-payers: they don't know whether the academies programme is value-for-money and have no plans to find out.”

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