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June 7, 2013 / politicsbitesize

Academy Accountability

ChampagneFollowing his appointment as Education Secretary in 2010, Michael Gove set about implementing a shake up of his department and the acadamisation of schools.  His Academies Act 2010 has been a success, with the last count in September 2012 showing that there were 2,309 academies open in England.  Many teachers and parents were critical of the move to convert schools to academy status because, as they see it, it meant that their schools were no longer simply places to educate children but were instead becoming businesses.

And they were right to be critical.  As already reported by Politics:bitesize, in February 2013 a secret memo was leaked to the Independent on Sunday that revealed the full extent of Michael Gove’s plans to privatise the schools that have already been converted to academies.  According to the article, the memo stated that Department of Education officials were considering ‘reclassifying academies to the private sector’ in order to cut government costs, and that they would allow academies to become profit-making entities.

But can the public and the Government fully trust the people in charge of the major academy chains?  In a report in May 2013 by the Times Education Supplement (TES), concerns over a culture of extravagant expenses by one particular academy chain came to light.  E-ACT became one the country’s first academy chains to be issued with a Financial Notice to Improve by the Government’s Education Funding Agency (EFA) due to accounting irregularities.

E-ACT was set up in July 2009 as an independent educational charity and it now runs 31 schools.   It was issued with the notice after EFA found a string of ‘weaknesses’ in the reporting of its schools’ accounts.  The report by the EFA highlighted the nature of the expenses at the E-ACT group and deemed them to be ‘unacceptable’.  Taxpayers’ money that was meant for the schools was being spent on corporate events at luxury hotels and first class travel.

The company has stressed that it has taken action to address the concerns raised by the report and its director general, Sir Brice Liddington, who was paid nearly £300,000 in 2010-11, has been forced to resign.   In a statement, E-ACT’s Chairwoman Ann Limb said ‘We have overhauled both the governance and the culture of E-ACT to ensure that this can never happen again’, and added that she was ‘confident’ that ‘we [can] resolve these issues by July’.

However, it has to be clarified that E-ACT isn’t the only one to have been caught misappropriating funds.  Jo Shuter, headteacher of Quintin Kynaston Community Academy in North London, was suspended in 2012 due to accounting irregularities. A Department for Education investigation highlighted a misuse of public money that included nearly £7,000 spent on Ms Shuter’s 50th birthday party, an overnight meeting held at the Grove Hotel that cost just over £8,000 and £1,500 worth of chairs that were delivered to Ms Shuter’s home.  Needless to say, the academy has also been issued with a Financial Notice to Improve.

And it doesn’t stop there!  According to the TES report it was recently revealed that ‘the country’s largest academy sponsor, Academies Enterprise Trust, which runs 65 schools, had been barred by the Department for Education from taking on any new schools because of fears around its continued growth’.  So in three years Michael Gove’s pet project has started to crumble thanks to the greed of a few individuals and companies who are supposed to be responsible for the education of the next generation.  Whatever happened to ‘lead by example’?

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