How long is an academy ‘start-up’ period? One year? Two? More? FoI response shows academies receiving start-up grants for several years.

Janet Downs's picture
How long is a ‘start-up’ period? One year? Two years? Longer? This matters because additional funds are available for academies ‘to support temporary costs for a period after the academy opens’, the Academies Handbook says.

The Handbook describes two start up grants which are supposed to finance temporary costs for a period after the academy opens. These comprise:

1Start Up Grant Part A used for the purchase of a basic stock of teaching and learning materials;

2Start Up Grant Part B covers such issues as an academy filling up year-by-year and the running costs exceed the number of pupils or when costs accrue from predecessor schools. An example of the latter would be continuing a curriculum which is not offered in the academy’s curriculum (dual curriculum costs).

You’d expect Start Up Grant Part A for teaching materials would cease after a short period of time. But data revealed by a Freedom of Information request showed academies are receiving Start-Up Grants Part A several years after opening. In 2012/13, for example, £49,200 was paid to The Marlowe Academy, Kent, which opened seven years previously in 2005. The Petchey Academy, which opened in 2006, received £66,600 six years after it started. In 2012/13, over £600,000 was paid out in Start Up Grants Part A for academies which opened five years earlier in 2007.

Start-up Grants Part A continued to be paid to academies which had been opened for several years in 2013/14. ARK Academy, Brent, which opened in 2008, for example, received £111,596. The academy had received the same amount of Start-up Grant Part A the previous year. Another ARK academy, King Solomon Academy, opened in 2007, received £61,920, despite having been opened for six years. It had received the same amount in 2012/13.

The DfE’s reasoning for the continued payment of Start-up Grant Part A is that it’s based on any annual increase in pupil number until the academy reaches 90% of its planned pupil capacity. But surely any increase in pupil numbers would be financed on a per capita basis in the same way as other schools? If so, then it would appear academies in receipt of these continuing Start-up grants Part A were being double-funded for the increased number of pupils.

Large amounts, some up to several hundred thousands of pounds, were also paid out in Start-up Grants Part B. These are supposed to cover diseconomies of scale caused by, say, an academy filling up one year group at a time. This presumably explains why King Solomon Academy received £148,783 in Part B funding In 2012/13: its 421 pupils (2011 figures) were less than half its 866 capacity.

However, it’s unclear why Bristol Brunel Academy received Part B funding of £81,368 in 2012/13 and £15,190 in Part A funding in 2013/14 when its academy capacity 1080, had 1025 pupils in 2011. Neither is it clear why the Duke of York’s Military School, an existing independent school which became a sponsored academy in 2010, received £171,892 in 2013/14 for diseconomies of scale when it was just 14 pupils below the 90% threshold (450) for claiming start-up funding in 2012.

These examples raise questions over the payment of academy start-up grants. Whether these continued payments can be described as ‘temporary’ is doubtful when they can be paid after several years. Do they give academies an unfair advantage? Can a non-academy whose running costs exceed the amount of per-pupil funding claim a similar grant for diseconomies of scale?

There are other anomalies. Existing schools that become sponsored academies can claim these start-up grants. But these schools aren’t new – presumably they already had books etc. And if they are undersubscribed they can claim Start-up Grant Part B to cover diseconomies of scale. For example, The Blyth Academy, predecessor school Blyth Community College, became a sponsored academy in October 2013. There are 854 pupils in a school with a capacity of 1600. The academy was awarded £147,300 in Part A start-up and £6,000 in Part B in 2013/14. It’s unclear whether the Community College would have received this funding if it had remained as a local authority maintained school.

While it’s to be expected that any brand new school would receive initial funding to stock up on books, computers etc, it’s unclear why established schools which become sponsored academies are eligible for such initial funding. Neither is it clear why academies apparently receive funding for diseconomies of scale when it appears that non-academies don’t. These anomalies increase suspicion that academies are treated more favourably than non-academies.

STOP PRESS The BBC programme Inside Out East Midlands reported that Al-Madinah pupils had no pens, crayons or exercise books. A former teacher told the BBC she had had to use her library card so the pupils could have books. Yet Al-Madinah received £270,425 in start-up grants in 2013/14.

Similarly, Ofsted found pupils at CET Primary School Westminster, a free school opened in September 2012, had insufficient good quality reading books. But the school received £79,300 in start-up grants.

This raises the question about how start-up grants are spent and whether anyone is monitoring the expenditure.

Open academies list can be downloaded here.

Amount of SUG paid out in 2012/13 and 2013/14 can be downloaded here.
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 25/09/2014 - 11:45

According to Government figures released today about planned expenditure on schools, children and young people's services by LAs, 'Academies may receive start up grants during their year of opening'.

It appears the definition of 'year of opening' is rather elastic.

Bess's picture
Thu, 25/09/2014 - 16:35

Janet, the start-up grant is not just for purchasing equipment, although that is part of its purpose, (and that certainly doesn't stop after the first year because more new resources will be required in each subsequent year as the school grows).

It also covers the cost of needing to employ (for example) a Headteacher and senior leadership team when you are growing by, say, just 120 pupils per year. They will normally be teaching, as well as leading, but they still need to be paid the appropriate salary for their grade, the costs of which would normally be spread across a much bigger school.

I would therefore expect a start-up grant to last until the school had reached its full size (although at a reduced level in each successive year).

This isn't something that is unique to academies though. New maintained schools (in the rare examples where they exist) also get a start up grant.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 29/09/2014 - 07:40

Bess - headteachers were paid according to the Leadership Group Pay Spine (although some academy heads seem to be able to pay themselves more than this).

Schools are funded according to a formula on a per-capita bases - schools with more pupils will get more than smaller schools. This should cover any growth in pupil numbers without the need for extra 'start-up' funding.

What if the academy never reaches its planned size (The Marlowe Academy, opened in 2005, for example, has 631 pupils in an academy with capacity for 1080. If 'start'up' grant were to continue to be paid until it was 90% full, then it could theoretically claim 'start-up' indefinitely)?

And why should existing schools which become sponsored academies receive 'start-up' grants. The buildings, fixtures, fittings, books etc are already present. There appears to be no reason for extra funding except to give these academies an advantage (ie a bribe) or to pay for the inevitable 'rebranding'. Academies Week said £70,000 was being paid by the taxpayer for new uniforms at academies moved from the E-Act chain. And we keep being told public funding must be cut back.

But it seems money is available for the Gov't's pet schemes.

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