There are news reports that the Attorney General has ordered the Charities Tribunal to review Charity Commission guidance for private schools on demonstrating the provision of a public benefit (which is essential in order to qualify for charitable status). This follows the Independent Schools Council’s pending application for judicial review, challenging the lawfulness of the Charity Commission’s guidance. The issue is whether the guidance places too great an emphasis on financial assistance by way of bursuries.
A former electrical engineering student at Queen’s University in Belfast has brought a judicial review against his former university relating to the grade that he received — a 2:2, rather than the 2:1 that he suggests he would have received had he been provided with adequate supervision (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11376021).
Established case law indicates that the Courts will not get involved in disputes over marking/academic outcomes (see e.g. Clark v University of Lincolnshire and Humberside  1 WLR 1988). However, it would appear that the present claim relates to a preliminary issue: should the University have provided the Claimant with an opportunity to appeal internally against the mark that he received for the degree. It appears to be alleged that the Claimant ‘had been denied a right to appeal against his classification because he had already graduated from Queen’s in the summer’.
There seems to be some merit in this point: although the Courts will not interfere in the final decision on marking, they will be keen to ensure that students (and former students) have a proper opportunity of challenging marking decisions. It is possible, however, that Mr. Justice Treacy, who is hearing this matter, will say that the appropriate forum to challenge the lack of an appeal is to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. We shall soon see: a decision on the permission application is due next month.
There are currently news reports that the DfE is thinking about allowing some school to give admission priority to poorer children. If this is particularly aimed at academies, whether converters or free schools, then, given that the model funding agreement effectively requires them to abide by the School Admissions Code, are we going to see changes in the Code?
Peter Oldham QC
On 10th September 2010 the National Audit Office published a report entitled ‘The Academies Programme’. The report contains a wealth of interesting information and statistics on academies and can be read here.
Although the report’s primary purpose is to evaluate “the performance of existing academies in meeting the original Programme objectives”, Part 3, which assesses the management and governance of academies, also considers the challenges for the future expansion of the academies programme under the Academies Act 2010. The following statistics are also recorded:
- As at 31st August 2010 there were 203 open academies.
- 181 schools had formally applied to be an academy under the 2010 Act by 1st September 2010.
- Of those, 142 are due to open as academies during 2010-2011, with 32 opening in September 2010.
- In addition, 74 ‘old’ academies (those created from under-performing schools, see our blog post here) are to be established, with 64 of those opening in September 2010.
Overall, the report is positive about the educational achievements of academies so far. ‘Most’, it records, are achieving increases in academic attainment for their pupils compared with their predecessor schools, although a ‘small number’ have made ‘little progress’. Academies are ‘generally’ becoming more popular, although there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The report attributes that to the ‘lower proportions of such pupils in more recently opened academies’. Perhaps surprisingly, it is also recorded that ‘on average, the gap in attainment between more disadvantaged pupils and others has grown wider in academies than in comparable maintained schools.’
It is with regard to management, governance and value for money that the report sounds a faint note of caution with regard to the expanding programme under the 2010 Act. Although acknowledging that data are at present limited, the report states: “The expansion of the Programme will increase the scale of risks to value for money, particularly around financial sustainability, governance and management capacity…[and] plans for faster expansion will increase the need for rigorous programme monitoring and a systematic framework to secure good practice and compliance by all academies.”
The report makes a number of recommendations. The first, interestingly, is a plea to the Department for Education to clarify what its policy position actually is:
“To support future evaluation of value for money across an increasingly diverse range of schools, the Department should state what the objectives of the Academy Programme now are, and how it will measure success against them.”