Skip to main content

Academies and Free Schools

Volume 573: debated on Monday 6 January 2014

The Department monitors schools through scrutiny of performance data and Ofsted reports. All free schools are visited by an education adviser in the first and fourth term of opening. Concerns are investigated immediately. It is for an academy trust to ensure that appropriate action is taken to bring about rapid improvement. If it does not, we use the intervention powers in the funding agreement.

The recent action taken on Al-Madinah and the Discovery New School by Lord Nash, the Under-Secretary of State, followed his setting out in detail the requirements those schools had to follow in order to turn themselves around and required his personal supervision of those schools. What role will school commissioners have in future to ensure that we no longer have Ministers trying to run schools from a desk in Whitehall?

Inevitably, we inherited a situation in which funding agreements were the principal method of ensuring that both academies and free schools acted in conformity with the principles that all of us would expect. We are not intending to abandon the principle that it should be for Ministers to sign and, if necessary, revisit funding agreements, but a new system of regional schools commissioners working to the Office of the Schools Commissioner can ensure that we have the local intelligence that we need in order to respond more quickly, and that there is a greater number of high-quality sponsors to help drive school improvement.

Fulwood academy in Preston had a recent Ofsted report that stated that pupil achievement, quality of teaching and leadership and management were inadequate. The head teacher Richard Smyth has received extra funding for free school meals, disabled pupils and special educational needs. Why should that man remain in post when he has been at the school for three years and is himself inadequate?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to those concerns about the principal. I am aware that there are concerns more broadly about Fulwood academy, and I will write to him about what we propose to do.

The key point is how swiftly responses are made to those schools that are failing. Does the Secretary of State agree that the important thing is leadership and management, and that includes the role of governing bodies, which should contain fully skilled governors to do the job?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am grateful to him for his work not just on the Education Committee but more broadly in making it clear that we need to recruit an even stronger cadre of school governors. I pay tribute to the many thousands of superb school governors that we have in place at the moment, but we need to attract more people, particularly from business, to take on that role in what is an increasingly autonomous school system.

The Secretary of State said to the Education Committee that he would consider publishing the list of failing free schools and saying whether they had been approved against the advice of officials. Will he give us that list now?

I was asked earlier by the shadow Secretary of State whether I would specifically refer to the three schools that have, understandably, been brought to the attention of the public because of their difficulties. I made it clear to him, as I am happy to make it clear to the hon. Gentleman, that in all of those cases, the advice from officials was clear that the school should open.