DfE inconsistent in tackling underperforming schools, says NAO

The Department for Education (DfE) has failed to consistently tackle underperforming maintained schools and academies despite investing at least £382m annually, said a National Audit Office (NAO) report today. 

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By Sarah.Aston

30 Oct 2014

According to the NAO, the oversight system used by the DfE, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and local authorities, for maintained schools and academies is not achieving value for money having failed to consistently tackle underperformance.

According to the report, although oversight bodies are intervening more often in underperforming schools than in the past, the DfE does not know the costs of different interventions, and has not done enough to understand their effectiveness.

The report also found that the DfE and the EFA do not know enough about school-level governance to identify risks and whilst the Department relies on local authorities to oversee governance arrangements in maintained schools, in line with legislation, it does not know whether they do this — or how well.

The NAO also reported that whilst the DfE relies on sponsors to turn around underperforming schools it does not collect information from sponsors about the type of support they give.

This means, the report outlined, that while some academy sponsors are very successful, the Department does not yet know why others are not.

The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, said: “Despite the system spending over £382m on overseeing schools, the Department does not know enough about what’s going on in them.

“It has created a significant blind-spot for itself when it comes to overseeing school governance, important aspects of schools’ finances, and the ability of schools to keep children safe.

“It does not know how effectively local authorities oversee 17,300 maintained schools, despite having concerns about over 80% of 146 local authorities’ plans for school improvement in 2011.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today: “The Department for Education’s system for overseeing schools is still developing.

“Greater school autonomy needs to be coupled with effective oversight and assurance. The Department has made some improvements but has further to go.”

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