Tweeting questions to the secretary of state for education is an interesting experience but not the best way to get to grips with the accountability of academy schools
Concerns were raised this month, in the Public Accounts Committee no less, about accountability for academies. Treasury permanent secretary Sir Nicholas Macpherson spelt it out that lighter oversight of spending was inevitable if schools were to be made independent. It was good to see this issue – which has been worrying many people in education finance – being taken seriously.
I’m not so clear, though, that concerns around accountability are sufficiently high on the agenda elsewhere in government. The Education Select Committee was also in session recently – and called for submissions in Tweet form.
Now, of course I recognise the power of twitter and social networking sites – consultancies seem to be springing up everywhere offering training for organisations of every size in how to get their message across in the new media. But, seriously, when the Academies Act ran to 22 pages and the Academies Financial Handbook to 212 pages, just how can anyone get to grips with academies’ accountability in 140 characters?
Well, I’m no Luddite, so I accepted the Secretary of State’s invitation to tweet him a question. The experience began well. Over 5,000 people also tweeted to him, but my tweet was one of those chosen to be read out in the Select Committee on Education. The exchange went like this:
Chairman reading tweet: ‘Can you pls set out the chain of accountability for academies when things go wrong?’
SoS Michael Gove@ ‘It depends on the sponsor’.
And that was it.
For what it’s worth, in my view, in these current scary times, improving public financial management is a critically important challenge for all governments – at global, regional, national and local levels. And just as a democracy needs a free press, good financial management needs proper accountability at all levels.
Academies may have many new freedoms but they are still funded from the public purse. Bedding in the new academies with a clear framework of accountability is obviously easier than reaching for the sticking plasters when things go wrong. The time for serious thinking about accountability for academies is now.
Lesley Lodge is finance and policy manager for local government at