Saturday, 30 July 2011

Opinion: Academies Overspend Revealed! (By Cllr Peter Downes)

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.