MPs take further evidence on academies and free schools


The House of Commons Education Select Committee has been taking further evidence as part of its ongoing inquiry into academies and free schools. NGA’s Chief executive, Emma Knights gave evidence in the first session along with Lucy Heller (Chief executive of Ark Academy Trust) and John Clarke from Hampshire County Council.
The Committee looked at a number of aspects to the academies programme throughout the session, including academy chains, governance, and the DfE’s capacity to oversee all academies and free schools.
There was significant agreement amongst the witnesses for example that not all academies were alike and that in particular, there were significant differences between stand-alone converters and sponsored academies. The panel also agreed there was a mixed picture in relation to effectiveness of academy chains, much like local authorities, and that a focus on school improvement was more important than school structure.
There was acceptance that the DfE would not be able to monitor all academies and free schools from Whitehall, which was the reason for the creation of Regional School Commissioners. However, the panel made the point that support on the ground working directly with schools needing improvement was more crucial than simply scrutiny by the boards.
This week also saw the release of a leaked document in the Observer on Sunday that seemed to indicate that DfE officials had warned ministers of the “political ramifications of any more free schools being judged inadequate.” This was covered by the next panel before the Select Committee, with Anastasia de Waal, from the right leaning think tank Civitas, commenting that the aim of the free school programme had been about innovation and with this came a greater risk of potential problems that the government should have been honest about to the wider public.
Education Select Committee Academy inquiry evidence – Parliament TV