A brand new building or just the chance of a new boiler?

Natasha Steel's picture
At the Hove Park School consultation events held by the Senior Leadership Team, a PowerPoint slide was shown suggesting the school would benefit from a £4 million rebuild if it converted to an academy. If this was true it would be a pretty important point to consider so Hands Off Hove Park’s dogged team of researchers decided to get to work.

We started with the site run by the consultancy Capita that, in their words, is “intended to provide practical advice for schools looking to convert to academies”. After all, Capita was founded by Rod Aldridge and Rod Aldridge’s foundation runs both academies in Brighton – BACA and PACA.

This is what the Capita has to say about the chances of a school converting to an academy and attracting capital funding:

“Some…have been attracted by the financial incentives… The Government is keen to play down any capital funding advantage to converter academies and it is unlikely that such advantage will materialise…”

Feeling a little underwhelmed, we decided to have a look at the Department for Education (DfE) websites. Last year Michael Gove announced £4 billion of capital funding to create new school places and to carry out maintenance and repair work to existing school buildings.

This £4 billion included £1.6 billion of funding for local authorities to provide additional school places, plus £595 million for local authorities to support the needs of the schools they maintain (so not academies), for the Sure Start centres, and £200 million of devolved formula capital for all schools. But there, down the list, was £392 million of maintenance capital for academies.

Interestingly, the DfE website explains that the biggest capital programme is be allocated via the Targeted Basic Need Programme that will:

“… offer additional support to those local authorities experiencing the greatest pressure on places and will help them to prepare for further rises in pupil numbers” and has been allocated to local authorities “because local authorities are responsible for ensuring that there are sufficient schools locally to meet demand. Local authorities can use this money to fund projects at any publicly-funded schools”.

Indeed when the Department announced the details of the first round of successful allocations for this Programme, a Hove local authority school was included. However, the successful school wasn’t Hove Park and perhaps that’s why the head and governors are interested in opting out of the local authority and trying their luck with the £392 million in the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund. So we had a look at that.

Unfortunately, the closing date for applications for Round 1 of the Academies Capital Maintenance Fund was January 2014. Round 2 is due to open mid-June 2014, but seems to be available only to academies that opened or are due to open between 2 December 2013 and 1 June 2014 (or for small sums if the school has academy orders by 1 June 2014). See here.

So Hove Park has missed the boat on the first two rounds of this capital funding. But what might have happened had Hove Park been an academy? Would it have received up to £4 million to rebuild the school as implied by the slide parents saw?

The Department is very helpful in providing the figures: on its website. it explains:

“In total 2,015 academies applied for 3,300 projects worth more than £1.4 billion [and] Following assessment and moderation £393 million has been allocated to 1,134 academies for 1,388 projects.”

This seems impressive, but when you start to unravel the figures the disappointment begins. Firstly, only just over half the academies who applied to the fund were successful and less than half the projects proposed for funding were actually agreed for funding. Not great odds.

Secondly, the average funds allocated to projects that were successful was £283k (ie: a little more than £0.25million and nowhere near £4 million). As the DfE explains on its website:

“ACMF was more than three times oversubscribed and the quality of bids meant that unfortunately there were hard decisions to make regarding which projects receive funding … We recognise that many academies will have a range of building condition/expansion issues outstanding. We expect that the similar priorities of addressing urgent building condition need, the Basic Need for additional pupil places, and the need for expansion of academies that are successful and popular, will continue going forward, in the context of a tight capital settlement for the Department over the coming years.”

This is not really encouraging.

Would being the lead in a Multi Academy Trust have helped? Well only MATs with 10 schools can apply for funding so unless Hove Park joined a MAT with another nine schools being a MAT wouldn’t have helped. As it is there are currently no other schools in Hove Park’s proposed MAT.

Feeling a little worried we looked at the criteria for the academy capital fund and wondered if Hove Park School would be one of the lucky ones if it converted. The guidance lists two criteria for bids from academies:

“Tackling building condition issues including health and safety issues that cannot be met from routine maintenance or Devolved Formula Capital funding – OR - Supporting popular, successful academies that wish to expand their existing facilities and floor space to accommodate more pupils within their existing age range and/or are currently overcrowded.”

Hove Park is popular, but we’re not sure that it’s overcrowded and with Grade 2 inspection results it’s no more successful than many other schools, including other local authority schools, in Brighton. In any case this reason wasn’t mentioned at the consultation events and if the school was overcrowded the local authority fund would probably help anyway. We now see why Capita were so cautious in their advice to schools considering becoming an academy!

Indeed, the consultation events suggested the need for capital funding was around ‘building conditions’ and this is where the boilers come in. It appears many of the successful bids under the academy capital fund’s first criteria were for replacement boilers.

So what have we learnt?

If Hove Park ceased to be a local authority school and became an academy it would be eligible to apply to the academy capital fund. However, if it was an academy it wouldn’t be able to apply for academy capital funding for some time – there’s no mention of a Round 3 on the Department’s website and Round 2 takes us up to the general election in 2015.

Even if Hove Park had been an academy, it would have had only about a 50-50 chance of getting, on average, less than £300K for, perhaps, a new boiler. Now a new boiler is a good thing to have (and it’s expensive) but a 50-50 chance of a replacement boiler might not be a reason to convert.
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David Barry's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 15:36


Congratulations on this clear, and well researched post. I think the recent news that there is going to be both a parental ballot AND parent governor elections, AND that the governing body will not decide until September (when they will have the results of the ballot, and have a number of newly elected parent governors at the table...) indicate that your campaign is having some impact.

David Barry's picture
Mon, 09/06/2014 - 15:54

However, although your post was addressed to a very specific case, namely a claim that specified capital investment would be made in Hove Park - the new boiler - if, but only if, it became an academy is remiscent of the cases in which proposers of Free Schools have claimed that they will be able, for example, to have smaller classes, because they will be better resourced than Local Authority schools. I have seen this quite often, and it seems at best to be based on a misunderstanding of how state schools are financed and the role (and cost) of services provided by Local Authorities. As Free Schools (and of course, Academies) get no support from the Local Authority they ARE in truth, given some extra money to allow them to make their own provision instead. So while they do have some extra cash compared to an LA school they have more things to do with it.

As well some proposers of Free Schools seem to have a fixed belief, uncontaminated by experience, (well not untill their school actually gets going) that Local Authorities are inheriently inefficient which affects the way in which money is spent. So they expect to be able to do things cheaper (and fail...)

In the case of the Whitehall Park Free School the proposers during the "consultation" process stressed this point, as I noted at the time:-

"For example we were told that one of the ways in which the school will be superior is that it will ” be run efficiently, on good business principles, and therefore be able to spend most of its money on teaching and learning unlike Local Authority Schools”. - See more at:


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