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Academies (Financial Management)

Volume 591: debated on Monday 19 January 2015

3. What recent representations she has received on the financial management of academies; and if she will make a statement. (907035)

The financial accountability system for academies is more rigorous than for maintained schools, and my Department has recently received audited financial statements from academy trusts for the period to 31 August 2014. Within financial statements, trusts must set out how they have managed their finances throughout the year. Financial statements are subject to independent scrutiny by auditors. My staff are reviewing financial statements to determine whether there are any issues that we need to investigate.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. I hope you have many in the Chair.

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but will she commit to including financial information in the performance data relating to academies—a commitment that her predecessor failed to honour—so that we can make accurate comparisons with all schools?

The financial statements are both audited and published, and of course academies, as companies, are also subject to Companies House reporting, as well as to working with the Education Funding Agency. It is therefore clear that academies’ financial statements are already open for scrutiny, and the Department takes a close interest in the figures that are published.

Many happy returns of the day, Mr Speaker.

Pate’s and Balcarras schools in my constituency are exceptionally well managed financially and are among the most outstanding schools academically in the country, but both of them tell me that they will struggle with projected sixth-form funding in particular. Will the Secretary of State have good news for them and me and other hon. Members by the time she meets us later on today?

As the hon. Gentleman may know, the Government can work quite quickly. However, I am not sure they will work that quickly this afternoon, although I take careful note of what he has said. He is not alone among Members of Parliament in raising that issue.

I have sent you a birthday card, Mr Speaker—[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Perhaps that is an interest I should declare.

The Secretary of State will be aware that I have sent her a letter asking for an urgent meeting on Grace academy in Coventry, where financial matters have been raised. More importantly—or as importantly—we wish to raise with her the general administration of the academy company, which is in very bad shape and judged insufficient by Ofsted. Will she please tell me whether she will agree to that meeting?

I appear to have set a trend in referring to your birthday, Mr Speaker.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his letter, which I will look at carefully. If I cannot meet him, I am sure that one of my ministerial colleagues will, but I will endeavour to ensure that he is able to have a discussion with the Department.

I very much appreciate colleagues’ good wishes, but there is no need for them to be added to, because I think it will just delay proceedings. However, everybody’s good will is greatly appreciated.

And mine, too.

As I am sure the Secretary of State is aware, The Durham free school got a notice to improve from the Education Funding Agency before Christmas, and today it was put into special measures. However, it is extremely difficult for me or anyone else to get information from the Education Funding Agency, so will she intervene to ensure that all information about this school, and the reasons why it has failed and is so badly managed, is put into the public domain?

As the hon. Lady mentioned, Ofsted published a report this morning on The Durham free school, and I was very concerned to find that the children had been let down by a catalogue of failures, as reported. Because I do not think there is any imminent prospect of improvement, the regional schools commissioner has today written to the school, informing it of the decision to terminate the funding agreement. I am happy, of course, for there to be a further discussion—if not with me, with one of my ministerial colleagues—about the information that can be made available. There may be some issues of confidentiality or sensitivity, but I will of course endeavour to keep Members updated.

The Secretary of State will know that in 2013-14, her Department spent £328 million on oversight of academy schools, yet the National Audit Office said that her Department still does not know enough about school-level governance. Does she think that is good enough, and what is she going to do about it?

We do not agree with the National Audit Office conclusions. We take a close interest in the way all academies and free schools are run and governed, and we of course work with local authorities in respect of maintained schools. We want all children to have access to a good local school, and I think it important to note that since 2010, 1 million more children are in good and outstanding schools.