DfE must make ‘smarter decisions’ about struggling academies, says Greening

CREDIT: This story was first seen in Tes

Education secretary has asked Lord Agnew to investigate whether ‘steps’ are needed to improve MAT governance, Tes reports.

The government needs to make “smarter decisions” when transferring struggling academies to new academy trusts, the education secretary has told MPs.

Justine Greening was questioned by MPs on the Education Select Committee about the collapse of Wakefield City Academies Trust, and how academies are rebrokered.

She revealed that she had asked new education minister Lord Agnew to examine how academy trust boards operate, and whether any changes need to be made.

The education secretary told the committee that the DfE should take “smarter decisions” when struggling academies are transferred to new sponsors.

Conservative MP Trudy Harrison said she found the process “rather a grey area”.

Ms Greening said: “I think there is strong process there, but I think it is important that we take smarter decisions in relation to how multi-academy trusts are able to take over schools when they are being asked to rebroker them, and at the end of the day, the key objective for me is school improvement.”

Asked about the financial probity of academy trusts, Ms Greening said the government had “significantly” tightened rules on related-party transactions, and added: “I have asked Lord Agnew to look at how effectively boards operate and whether we need to take steps around that”.

Asked by Labour MP Lucy Powell what she had learned personally from the collapse of Wakefield City Academies Trust, Ms Greening said she had learned that she had been right to update guidance on the growth of academy trusts.

She said: “I was actually concerned to make sure we had a more structured approach for seeing trusts develop.

“I think it’s exceptionally important, not least because they are often taking on board schools that have underperformed in the past and those children need to be going into a trust that we can rely on being able to lift those standards up.”

Ms Greening told MPs that children in disadvantaged areas that had not been designated as “opportunity areas” would not lose out as a result.

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Gateshead MP Ian Mearns asked why none of the 12 opportunity areas, which target areas identified as social mobility “cold spots”, were in the North East region.

Ms Greening said being outside an opportunity area would not limit opportunities to apply for government grants, and added: “It’s not all or nothing with the opportunity areas.

“They are an initial piece of work I wanted to get kicked off quickly. They are progressing well. I think we are learning from them already, but it is part of a much broader tilt of our efforts to go into communities where we want to see better outcomes.”

Ms Greening defended the use of key stage 2 tests to hold schools to account, after Labour MP and former primary head Thelma Walker said many primaries felt under pressure to “teach to the test”.

The Colne Valley MP said the tests “rather than being a waistcoat are a straitjacket”.

Ms Greening said she would not agree with this description, arguing that previously “many, many” young people were leaving school without mastering basic reading and writing.

She added: “We have through the whole curriculum, both primary and secondary, sought to raise standards, and we have pushed actually to get children up to a higher level, but they are reaching those standards and I think that’s the right thing to do for them.”

Ms Greening confirmed that the government’s much-delayed careers strategy would come out in autumn, as she originally set out in July.

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