Another financial incentive to convert

Sarah's picture
by Sarah
The James Capital Review published last week includes yet another incentive for schools to consider conversion to Academy status. Under their proposals individual Academies who are not part of a group would get their own allocation of devolved capital funding. Schools which are LA maintained would be included in capital maintenance and improvement plans determined by their local authority or Diocese (in the case of VA schools). Academies in groups would have their needs determined by the Academy sponsor.

Therefore if a school has aspirations for capital investment the only way to guaranteed control over a sum of money would be to be an Academy.

Free Schools of course are to be funded, procured and delivered by central government along with all the serious amounts of capital for major capital schemes (interesting to see where the threshold is drawn).

It will be interesting to see the government's response to the review.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 14/04/2011 - 20:27

Sarah, I am not sure your analysis is quite right. Decisions about capital spending will be down to the 'responsible bodies' according to the Review. That could be an academy trust or chain, or a local authority, but it could also be the diocese or the charitable trust/foundation associated with a non-denominational VA or trust school, so still a maintained school. This is another example of how it is possible to have a degree or autonomy within the maintained system. In fact VA or foundation schools that are not faith schools could end up having more freedom than academies in large chains. Another reason why the co-operative trust model should be re-visited.

Sarah's picture
Fri, 15/04/2011 - 09:53

If schools are part of an umbrella organisation such as an Academy chain, Diocese or Local Authority, those responsible bodies will have allocations for those schools 'aggregated up' to them to allocate - this means that the only schools which will have their own capital funding delegated directly to them would be a solo Academy which is not part of a chain or a VA school which is non-denominational. Admittedly this delegated funding is likely to be relatively small scale based on current DFC allocations but still it represents control for an individual academy or non denom VA school which others would not necessarily had (since in a given year they would not be able to guarantee that the responsible body will prioritise work at their school). Schools which have previously had their own DFC allocation are likely to be unhappy about this arrangement in my view - which is why I believe, and others are saying, that this could act as a further incentive for conversion.

Toby Young's picture
Fri, 15/04/2011 - 21:54

Bit weird to discuss the James Review without linking to it. It's here:

Everyone involved in this debate should read it. Here's my summary from this week's Spectator:

Government reports don’t often make scintillating reading. But the Review of Education Capital by Sebastian James is an exception. Colloquially known as the James Review, it’s an investigation into Building Schools for the Future, a programme of capital expenditure on schools overseen by the last government. It also contains various proposals as to how education capital might be better spent in future.
Sebastian James is the group operations director of Dixons Retail and, reading between the lines, it’s clear that he’s appalled by the level of inefficiency and waste he uncovered. You would expect this to lead to eye-popping rage – after all, it’s taxpayers’ money that has been going up in smoke – but the tone of the report is closer to existential despair. From a successful businessman’s point of view, the wrong-headedness of the last government’s approach to capital expenditure was on such a massive scale it goes beyond anything likely to result in frustration or anger. The tone is closer to shock and awe.
As with so many government initiatives, the road to hell was paved with good intentions. The idea behind the BSF programme was to refurbish England’s crumbling secondary school estate. It was initially costed at £45 billion, but this was revised upwards to £55 billion as the completion date stretched ever further into the future. By the time Labour left office, £8.65 billion had been spent with some 310 schools benefiting from BSF investment. That’s an average cost per school of approximately £28 million. That’s 20% higher than it costs to rebuild a school in Denmark, 25% higher than in Sweden and 40% higher than in Ireland.
Why did BSF schools cost so much? For one thing, the process of applying for funding was needlessly bureaucratic. On average, each Local Authority that submitted a bid invested £4 million on “pre-procurement”, money spent almost entirely on consultants and lawyers. Typically, the “pre-procurement” process took between 18-20 months, largely thanks to sheer level of paperwork involved and the need for borough-wide “consultation”, i.e. Local Authority junk mail.
Then there were the design costs. Each project was supposed to bring about “Educational Transformation”. This was a clear policy priority and armies of architects and educational consultants were employed to bring it about. Yet this was boilerplate NuLab mumbo jumbo, the educational equivalent of voodoo economics. “In our workshops and through our wide-ranging call for evidence we were unable to find any coherent definition of what was meant by ‘Educational Transformation’,” writes James.
Not surprisingly, the architects employed to work on BSF schemes had complete confidence in their shaman-like powers and advised their clients that the key to bringing about this “Transformation” was to spend tens of millions of pounds on bespoke buildings. Absolute nonsense of course, a point I’ve made many times before and, in the process, brought the ire of the architectural profession down on my head. Here is the damning conclusion of the James Review: “We spent some time in workshops and reviewing evidence of the impact of buildings on learning outcomes and discovered that … there is very little evidence that a school building that goes beyond being fit-for-purpose has the potential to drive educational transformation.”
Oh well, I hear you say. At least some Local Authorities ended up with some fantastic-looking schools – glass boxes that have already won Stirling Prizes and will be acclaimed as early 21st Century masterpieces by future architectural historians. Er, not quite. No process was put in place to assess the merits of the designs of BSF schools until 2009, some six years after the programme was launched, and the upshot is that many of the buildings are not fit-for-purpose. To give just one example, Unity City Academy, a new school in Middlesbrough, cost £27 million and is so poorly deigned that its energy bills are 67% higher than the average for Academies. It was built in 2004, but already the roof needs fixing.
Sebastian James’s main recommendation is that the Department for Education should confine itself to building schools that are sturdy and practical and forget all that bilge about “Educational Transformation”. He also advises the Department to duplicate some of the systems in place in Tesco and Dixons whereby building costs are engineered down by 10-15% per annum. Let’s hope somebody up there is paying attention. We can’t afford to waste any more taxpayers’ money on building giant Rubik’s Cubes when so many schools are falling down, including those built by the last government.

-- ENDS --

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 16/04/2011 - 07:52

We have already posted a link to the Review here with some detailed comments from people who were actually involved in BSF. The James Review leaves many questions unanswered. I don't think all the heads,governors and pupils in schools that did benefit from the BSF investment would agree with either all that James says or with this assessment published in the Spectator. Many will tell you that the new buildings have made a huge difference in their local communities. James talks about buildings not translating into better exam results ( yet) but education is about more than just exam results and new buildings can offer a range of other opportunities; sport, drama, art , extended provision, not to mention a sense of pride in pupils who often live in very impoverished homes. In that sense they are transforming the lives of their pupils.
As it happens I agree with some of the criticisms made by James ( as I have made clear in several articles in the Guardian since 2008) although find it odd that PfS gets off so lightly since this organisation generated the worst of the bureaucracy and waste. Now they are in charge of building free schools! It isn't clear to me that these recommendations will address may of the issues left outstanding by the cancellation of BSF.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 17/04/2011 - 16:25

In March 2010 a Price Waterhouse survey found that 80% of head teachers thought that Building Schools for the Future transformed learning. 80% also believed that BSF had the potential to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

When Mr Gove cancelled BSF last year FullFact.Org investigated his use of figures. They found that Mr Gove had used accurate figures but these were out-of-date. They were not the most recently available. Mr Gove also ignored findings which suggested the delivery of the programme had improved. FullFact.Org concluded, “This makes the Education Secretary’s wider claims that BSF was subject to “massive overspends [and] tragic delays” seem somewhat dated.” Why am I not surprised when I discover another example of Mr Gove's creative use of statistics?

So BSF was cancelled, based on dubious data, but Partnerships for Schools (PFS) carries on, despite being heavily criticised for its bureaucracy. It continues to be “the government's delivery agency for capital investment in schools, covering all secondary schools, primary schools and the new Free Schools.”

PFS recently launched a “tool kit” for groups wishing to set up free schools.

However, clicking on the link to the tool kit resulted in an error message - "removed, had its name changed or temporarily unavailable." It's not much of an "invaluable tool" if it doesn't work, is it?

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