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Dfe lacks oversight into failing schools, MPs claim

Posted on: Friday, January 30th, 2015

There is a lack of oversight and effective procedure in many schools, particularly those which are troubled, a group of MPs have claimed.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) claimed that the Department for Education (DfE) lacks basic knowledge about the performance in individual schools.

It also claimed the DfE is neglecting to measure how effective its interventions are in helping to overhaul troubled schools.

The report stated that failures in troubled schools were spotted too late, and does not keep track of the progress of schools.

Furthermore, the report claimed that for areas such as safeguarding, financial integrity and governance the DfE was "over-reliant on whistleblowers".

It noted that educational performance in schools could change very quickly, and criticised Ofsted for not inspecting outstanding schools at all, while good schools are inspected once every five years. 

This is despite the fact that both Ofsted and the National Association of Head Teachers consider more regular inspections of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools are necessary to maintain high standards. 

Its figures showed that of the schools rated ‘inadequate’ in 2012/13, 36 per cent had previously been rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’.

The report urged the DfE to fill the gaps in its information on governance, efficiency and safeguarding and integrate them with any policy aimed at identifying failing schools.

Commenting on the research, Margaret Hodge, chair of the House of Commons’ public accounts committee, said: "The Department for Education 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.”

The report also claimed that the DfE's lack of oversight into failing schools can help to disguise further issues which remain undetected until further damage is done.

The PAC has urged the government to set clear and explicit expectations for Regional Schools Commissioners to ensure they are more effective in utilising their knowledge of schools in their area and the relationship they have with their local authorities.

Furthermore, the report said that schools should carry out a regular audit of the skills of local governors and ensure they get the appropriate training.

However, a DfE spokesperson claimed that they have already made great strides in improving the performance of local schools.

"We have already 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," the spokesperson said.

The report comes just days after the House of Commons’ education committee produced a report which criticised the Department for Education’s oversight of academies.

It also called upon the Education Funding Agency, the section of the DfE that oversees academy finances, to have a heavier focus on financial accountability.