Opinion: Academies overspend revealed!

Figures in a Government consultation paper on the funding of academies have revealed that Michael Gove’s policy of getting schools to convert to academies is expected to cost nearly £600 million more than planned over the two year period 2011 – 2013.
This confirms what Lib Dem activists have been saying for some time i.e. that the programme for converting schools to academies is costly and unsustainable, as well as being divisive and unfair.
When a school decides to leave its Local Authority (LA)  and become ‘independent’ (i.e. dependent on central government!), in addition to its standard funding it gets an extra grant called LACSEG (Local Authority Central Spend Equivalent Grant) to allow it to buy in the services it no longer gets from the LA.
Heads and Governors have done the sums and soon realised that the LACSEG gives them far more than they need and so they get a net bonus. In the case of large secondary schools, this might amount to £400,000 or even more.
The word spread quickly, hence the ‘dash for cash’ that has dominated the educational scene for the last year. Gove claims that Heads are attracted by freedom and autonomy (released from the shackles of bureaucratic LAs); in practice, Heads are going for the extra money, especially at a time when school funding is tight.
The LACSEG is partially recouped from the money that the LA spends on pupils with acute needs. This in effect transfers funds from those in greatest need to those with fewest problems. The rest of the money is top-sliced from the general grant to councils, whether or not they have any schools converting to academies! This crude method has incensed local councillors by its unfairness.
Figures published on July 19th show that the expected LACSEG spend on academies in existence and schools likely to convert within the next year will amount to £997 million (mid-range estimates).  The clawback from Local Authorities already announced and partially implemented is £148m for 11-12 and £265m for 12-13, making £413m in total.
This leaves a gap of £584 million. This is tantamount to a bribe to tempt schools to convert to academies in order to justify Gove’s flagship policy.
The consultation on what to do started on July 19th and ends on August 16th.
The country surely cannot afford a wasteful and unnecessary policy of this kind. Liberal Democrats in Parliament and in the Local Government Association must speak out about this. Liberal Democrats on school governing bodies are urged to dissuade their schools from converting to academy status.
In two years time there will be a new national funding formula for all schools which, we are told, will treat all schools fairly. That is something all Liberal Democrats ought to be fighting for.
Peter Downes is a former President and Funding Consultant of the Secondary Heads Association (now the Association of School and College Leaders), a Cambridgeshire County Councillor and Vice-President of the Liberal Democrat Education Association. He successfully proposed a motion opposing Academies and Free Schools at the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool last September.

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  • Who’d have thunk the tories would behave this way?

    They wouldn’t be getting away with it without the Lib Dems.

  • No doubt when the performace of the academies pick up and the performance of the non-academies goes down, thanks to this disgraceful bribery and corruption, then Gove will claim success.

  • It is not too late to make significant changes to the Education Bill. One of the worst measures is the requirement that all new schools MUST be free schools or academies, even if parents would prefer a Local Authority school. It is a strange version of localism in which the Secretary of State decides who should maintain a new local school.

    There also needs to be an accountability mechanism for academy chains. Some of them will soon be bigger than LAs and yet they are accountable to absolutely nobody. As a parent, when your complaint is ignored by the Head, try complaining to the Academy Trust 300 miles away!

  • Simon McGrath 23rd Jul '11 - 6:27am

    £584m more money spent on education. Isnt this actually a good thing?

  • Unfortunately this comes way too late for the coming academic year. Schools opening in September as Academies are already in gear for that – how can the decision on them be reverted now?

    @Simon McGrath – you ask, “£584m more money spent on education. Isn’t this actually a good thing?” Yes – it would be a good thing if all schools across the board were receiving this cash, but they are not. There will still be struggling schools which are strapped for cash.

    The whole notion of Academies, whilst seeming to be a good idea on the surface, has been ill though out and will still promote the idea of “good schools and bad schools” depending upon their current status.

    Michael Gove needs to go back to school himself to do the sums properly! as case of “good in parts, could do better”!

  • **ill thought out**

  • Martin Land 23rd Jul '11 - 8:58am

    Simon, it’s a good thing if it’s being spent on the right things…

    The most important point to me here is how schools are swapping the normally ‘light touch’ supervision of the LEA for the heavy hand of Michael Gove and his Whitehall Civil Servants. Academy Trusts, or lets call them mini-LEAs with little or no democratic accountability are even more worrying.

  • This is excatly what has happened at the school where I teach. It is demoralising that such a fundamental shift in the delivery of children’s education is being driven not by educational, political or philosophical persuasion and argument but by little more than a bribe. The Chair of Governors in an end of year speech yesterday bluntly stated that we wouldn’t have become an Academy otherwise but couldn’t afford to turn down the extra funding.

  • Daniel Henry 23rd Jul '11 - 11:11am

    Similar with my mum’s school. She’s the headmistress and would have no intention of becoming an academy but she says that Gove is making it unaffordable to do otherwise.

    Gove comes across as a nice enough guy but whenever I heart about his work as education secretary I cringe. It’s not just ideological differences, his decision-making process is erratic and he doesn’t appear to respect the teaching profession at all. My dad is the head of a secondary school science department and is furious at how he keeps making big changes at a moments notice without giving teachers enough time to make the necessary preparations to meet them.

  • Peter Chivall 23rd Jul '11 - 12:17pm

    It reminds me when the school I taught in became ‘Grant Maintained’ under John Major – we lost all access to specialist LEA services, in my case Science advisors and training courses, unless, of course, the school paid for it. What the school chose to pay for was time off for senior staff to advance their own careers – in 7 years I got just 1 day of training other than the collective termly ‘training’ days (which we spent on admin.).
    When the school was supported by the LEA we could expect support from specialist advisers who would call in at convenient days and times – when we went Grant Maintained, the responsible Civil Servants expected a senior member of staff (usually a Deputy Head) to come ‘off timetable’ and meet them at a mainline station 20 miles away and drive them to the school (and back afterwards).
    Under LEA ‘control’ a school is supported by officials and advisers who know the school and its locality. Under the ‘freedom’ of Academy status the school may have its Governors appointed by a Trust hundreds of miles away with ultimate control by a civil servant in Whitehall.
    With National Curriculum and OFSTED, the Tories in the 90s effectively nationalised education. Now with ‘all must be Academies’ they are trying to privatise it, but with real control remaining with civil servants in London.
    I could go on…….

  • Nigel Quinton 23rd Jul '11 - 5:01pm

    I attended an event late last year which Sarah Teather attended as part of a panel debating education policy. The most painful part of the evening was listening to her trying to argue the Whitehall line that there was no financial advantage driving schools’ decision to opt for academy status, despite many in the audience having first hand experience of exactly what this article makes plain, that the LACSEG is effectively a bribe to move away from LEA’s.

    We need the Liberal Democrats to be much stronger resisting this – what we get is Danny Boy Alexander praising academies as a great success in justification of the public services white paper.

  • Helen Flynn 23rd Jul '11 - 8:00pm

    Time for an emergency motion, I think, at the absolute minimum. We simply cannot have this happening on our watch.

    Also time to revisit the Impact Assessment that Gove signed off for the Academies Bill. In that he estimated that there would be 200 academies converting per year over 4 years, therefore 800 in total; 200 in 2010/11; another 200 in 2011/12, and so on (we are way, way ahead of these totals based on current conversions and ones in the pipeline). He also estimated that the total one-off costs in 2010/11 would be £14 million and that the total annual economic costs of converters on 2010/11 would be £33 million.

    He is way off the mark and should be held to account for his inability to control the academy conversion process and the massive economic cost the accelerated rate of progress is causing the country.

    If this were the private sector, he would have to answer to his superiors for his lax figures and inability to estimate the costs accurately. He would be out of a job. It seems that he has, by his incompetence, caused a massive financial hole to develop at the DfE. All based on no cast iron evidence of the overall improvement in results of the academy programme.

    He describes the “benefits” of the programme as “the increase in estimated lifetime earnings of the additional number of pupils attending academies and obtaining improved GCSE grades”. What guff!! Whoever let him get away with that complete immeasurable nonsense needs removing from office.

  • Simon McGrath 24th Jul '11 - 10:44am

    Have to say I am amazed at the elaborate aguments for not spending more money on education. To argue as Rebekah does that “Yes – it would be a good thing if all schools across the board were receiving this cash, but they are not. There will still be struggling schools which are strapped for cash.” seems to imply that we should never spend more money on some schools unless we spent it on all schools which is pretty odd.

    @helen flynn “Time for an emergency motion, I think, at the absolute minimum. We simply cannot have this happening on our watch.”
    You mean we should have an emergency motion to stop something which is in the Coalition agreement and which involves spending half a billion pounds more money on education?

  • @Simon McGrath. Show me where the coalition agreement explicitly gives carte blanche to the massive enlargement of the academies programme–in particular the detail of allowing all outstanding schools to become academies. As I said in my comment–even Gove did not envisage when he devised the Academies Bill that this many schools would be involved so early on, if you take his impact assessment at face value.

    Here is what the coalition agreement says broadly about schools: “We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand; that all schools have greater freedom over the curriculum; and that all schools are held properly to account.”

    Much of the coalition agreement pronouncements actually relate to free school and new providers. the only actual mention of academies comes in the last clause, and is unrelated to expansion of the programme: “We will ensure that all new Academies follow an inclusive admissions policy. We will work with faith groups to enable more faith schools and facilitate inclusive admissions policies in as many of these schools as possible.”

    Your comments about cash are bizarre. How can it be right to let some schools “wither on the vine” whilst others get more cash and enlarge?? A school withering on the vine amounts to completely screwing up the life chances of a cohort of pupils–simply not acceptable, and how an SoS such as Gove can think that amounts to a holistic approach to state education is beyond belief. if this is the best he has to offer, then it is a sad day for very many of our children.

    What many of you don’t realise is that it really does not have to be like this. There are many countries which have effective, locally delivered education systems. Where Gove has let this country down, is that his “vision” (tho’ I don;t think he has one) does not look at local system reforms–rather at individual schools competing for pupils and resources , thereby guaranteeing a sink school in every area. All headteachers I know are well aware of this, and know it is madness. Meanwhile many of them have little choice but to scramble for the cash or switch to academy status before they are forced to.

  • Steve Comer 24th Jul '11 - 9:14pm

    Peter Chivall is right to draw the parallel with the Grant Maintained Schools set up under the Major Government.
    Back then I was a member of Parents Opposed to Option Out which helped parents campaign for No votes in the ballots that were held on GM status. I well remember one where the Chair of Governors and Head of a Secondary school serving mainly better off areas, thought their say so would be enough to convince parents. It wasn’t – they lost the vote by over 2-1. Of course the Blair and Cameron governments learn’t the lesson. Schools becoming Academies now don’t have to ballot parents at all!

    The Academy and Free School programme is about nationalising education. The Coalition is supposed to support ‘localism’, yet what we see is more centralisation of decision making in Whitehall. Once LEAs are gone, the only people giving advice and support for schools will be private companies. This is yet more ideologically driven nationalisation and privatisation and goes far beyond the words in the Coalition Agreement.

  • It’s good to hear from other LibDems anxious and angry about the Gove philosophy on Education and Academies. I agree that Headteachers and Governors are being sweet talked into moving to Academy status but I am still trying to work out what they think the benefits are, particularly a couple of years down the line when the cash incentive disapears. From what has been said, Central Government budgeting is already in trouble and we’ve hardly started.

    It seems to me that all three political parties at Westminster are in favour of this policy. It appears that it is down to LibDems at local authority level to attempt to present the reality of the Academy agenda to parents/heads/governors.

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