William Eichler 17 July 2019

Council chiefs defend record of transparency in maintained schools

Local authority leaders have hit back at a Government suggestion that academies are more transparent and accountable than council schools.

The Department for Education today launched a consultation that proposes applying academy accountability controls to maintained schools.

The DfE argues that academies have ‘strong financial reporting measures in place’, including requirements to publish their annual accounts, declare or seek approval for related party transactions, and report on high pay for executive staff.

‘We know that many local authorities do a good job in overseeing the financial affairs of their schools, but the accountability arrangements typically in place in their schools are not equal to that of academies,’ said the academies minister Lord Agnew.

‘It makes sense for both parents, and the entire education sector, that the financial reporting and accountability measures of academies are extended to local authority maintained schools, ensuring consistency across our entire state funded education system.’

The Local Government Association says that it is ‘wrong’ to suggest that academies are more transparent and accountable than council maintained schools.

‘A key goal of the academy programme was that schools would be subject to less oversight and control, and the Department for Education cannot have effective oversight of spending in more than 7,000 academies,’ said Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board.

‘What we need is greater transparency in how academies are managing their finances and urgent action taken to balance the books where necessary.’

The DfE cites data collected from 2016 to 2018, which shows that a larger percentage of maintained schools in England had an accumulated deficit compared to academy trusts.

However, local authorities in England have been hit with deep funding cuts since 2010 and currently face an overall funding gap of £8bn by 2025.

‘Councils, which have vast experience running – and balancing – large complex budgets, are best placed to oversee the performance and finances of all schools in their area,’ said Cllr Bramble.

‘This would ensure democratic accountability, and give parents the certainty and confidence in knowing that their child’s school is able to deliver the best possible education and support, without risk of financial failure.’

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