Academy schools regulation 'a real dog's dinner', says lawyer

Academy schools were set to become exempt charities from 1 January, but it remains unclear who will regulate them

Academy schools
Academy schools

The Department for Education has postponed a plan to make academy schools exempt charities from 1 January this year, following confusion over who would be responsible for regulating them.

One charity lawyer has described the situation as "a real dog's dinner".

Under the Academies Act 2010, the schools were due to become exempt charities on 1 January, meaning they would not need to register with the Charity Commission. The act says they would instead be regulated by a "principal regulator" appointed by the government.

But a ministerial decision in a statutory instrument on 22 December said the schools would not become exempt charities until the government had appointed the new regulator.

The Young People's Learning Agency, the public body that distributes government funding to academy schools, had been lined up by the Department for Education to regulate the schools.

There is confusion among officials about whether the YPLA has now taken on this role. A Department for Education spokeswoman said the YPLA was responsible for regulating academy schools at the moment.

"They are the regulator by default because they have all the information," she said."Changes are with ministers for consideration."

But a statement from the YPLA said: "We are not the principal regulator for academies yet. The secretary of state is still considering it."

The YPLA statement said the government had proposed new legislation that would make the organisation part of a new body called the Education Funding Agency, and once this had happened it could become the regulator for academy schools.

But it said no date had been set for this. The YPLA is listed as "under consideration" on the government's list of quangos that will be scrapped, merged or reformed, published in October last year.

Moira Protani, a partner at the law firm Wilsons, said the situation was "a real dog's dinner".

"What if a trustee decides to spend money on something inappropriate?" she said. "There's nobody keeping an eye on them."

She said the confusion could have been caused by disagreements within the government about how heavily academy schools should be regulated.

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