Academy failures have seen the education of tens of thousands of pupils ‘being damaged’ and public funds being misused, a Parliamentary watchdog warns.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says that the governance of academy trusts needs to be strengthened and the oversight from the Department for Education (DfE) needs to be more rigorous.

However, the call for better governance comes at the same time that the education secretary, Damian Hinds, has called for more schools to become academies.

He says that academies help to boost ‘freedom and opportunities’ for pupils.

In their report, the PAC questioned the ability of the Education and Skills Funding Agency when it comes to controlling academies’ executive pay awards after a number of high-profile pay scandals recently.

Academy trusts are transparent and accountable

The MPs say the DfE should work towards ensuring that academy trusts are transparent and also accountable to their communities and parents.

The warnings come after growing worries over the academies programme that started under Labour in 2000 and has been widened in recent years by the Conservatives.

The chairman of the committee, Meg Hillier, says that the education of ‘thousands of pupils’ has now been badly affected.

She added: “We have seen the troubling consequences of poor oversight and governance of academy trusts. The wider community and parents are entitled to access transparent information about academy schools.”

There are around 7,500 academies educating nearly 4 million pupils in England but the report highlights that some trusts have misused public money and have not had to face sanctions because of failings by the DfE.

New sanctions to ‘punish and deter’ academies

MPs are now calling for new sanctions to ‘punish and deter’ academies after hearing that the former head of an academy in south London received £850,000 in a severance package.

The committee also looked at another academy with 10 schools in the north of England which are now trying to find new sponsors.

The MP’s say that parents at this particular trust had no idea who they could turn to when raising concerns about the schools and MPs say the DfE’s complaints procedures need to be reviewed.

In addition, the committee is also warning that nearly 25% of schools in England have not told the DfE about the levels of asbestos in their school buildings.

In response, a spokesman for the DfE said the department refuses to accept the committee’s report showing a ‘negative characterisation of academies’.

The spokesman added: “Most academies are delivering a great education, which is recognised by the PAC, and we are taking robust action in a minority of cases where they are not meeting the standards expected.”

Standards appear to be rising more quickly

The call from Damian Hinds for more academies has been made when figures show that more than half of pupils in England are being taught in free or academy schools with standards that appear to be rising more quickly in a sponsored academy than they are in council-run schools.

Mr Hinds says this is a milestone and urged more schools to join the academies programme.

He said: “Everything we have done to improve education in the last few years has been to put a strong focus on handing power to schools and school leaders recognising they are the best placed for making the right decisions for pupils and communities.”