Calls for transparency as Wakefield academies to be asked to volunteer information on their finances

Academies in Wakefield will be asked to provide details about their finances, amid calls for transparency.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 12:42 pm
Updated Thursday, 27th May 2021, 12:50 pm

A meeting of local education leaders was told on Thursday that all schools run by Wakefield Council are in sound financial health.

But the picture across the academy system in the district is cloudier, with academies not obliged to tell the council whether or not they have a surplus.

Run directly by the Department of Education, they do however have to file their accounts to Companies House every year.

Academies will be asked to offer up their accounts for scrutiny by the council.

But the chair of the Wakefield Schools Forum, Denis Barry, told Thursday's meeting that he wanted more information.

He said: "For next year I'd like to ask that we are able to look at the balances of academies, because at the moment, we're only getting half the story.

"I'd like to know what the situation is with regard to the academies in Wakefield.

"I accept there may be some complexities around it. But I'm coming at this from a standpoint of transparency and we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the money going into academies is still taxpayer's money."

Most school pupils in England are now taught under the academy system.

The issue was raised previously in 2018, when the Schools Forum asked all local academies to offer up information on a voluntary basis, following claims it was unfair to only scrutinise schools run by the local authority.

On that occasion however, only 30 per cent replied.

Dave Dickinson, CEO of the Walton-based Waterton Academy Trust, which runs 13 schools across Wakefield and Barnsley, warned the Forum that that episode may repeat itself.

Mr Dickinson told the meeting: "The problem, I feel, will be getting a full picture. Some academies may be more transparent than others.

"I think there will be some difficulties with getting some multi-academy trusts to share their business, because of the complexities around how they manage their business.

He added: "I think transparency will be the big challenge. (But) I don't think it's a big ask."

Academies were first conceived in the mid-2000s as a means of trying to improve failing schools.

Taken out of the control of the local authority, they have more flexibility over staff pay and what they teach their pupils.

The Coalition government increased their number vastly when elected 10 years ago and now more than half of all schools are academies.

But critics claim the programme has reduced accountability within the education system.

Local Democracy Reporting Service