One-third of Osborne's promised £1.5b would go on conversion costs

Janet Downs's picture

George Osborne will announce an extra £1.5b to education ‘to increase classroom standards,’ the Independent says.

All schools must become academies by 2020, he’ll announce.  If they haven’t done so they will have an academy order slapped on them.  This total enforcement wasn't in the Tory Manifesto.  But schools must be coerced to embrace ‘freedom’ and leave local authority (LA) ‘control’.

But LAs don’t control schools – that myth’s busted in our book.  But there’s increasing evidence that multi-academy trusts (MATs) do control their academies by making decisions centrally to conform to the academy brand.

Changing school structure does not automatically ‘increase classroom standards’.   When schools become academies then improvement doesn’t necessarily follow.  Henry Stewart’s analysis shows schools remaining under LA stewardship were more likely to pick up.

Osborne has ignored the advice of the Education Select Committee to stop exaggerating academy success.  Instead, he’s pinning the future of the education of our children on a policy which is not a magic bullet.  Many academies have done well, yes, but many are doing badly.  Only last week Chief HMI Sir Michael Wilshaw criticised seven MATs including four of the largest.

74% of England’s schools are not academies despite all the promotion, pressure and propaganda about conversion in the last six years.    That’s about 16,500 schools.  Each school which converts receives a grant of £25,000 to cover administration and legal costs of conversion.   The total cost of wholesale conversion would cost around £412m.  That’s one-third of the promised £1.5bn.

That’s not the total cost of conversion, of course.  Sponsors receive start-up grants up to £150k for each secondary or all-through school.   Transferring academies between trusts will be an increasing cost as stand-alone academies join MATs or struggling MATs offload academies.

At the same time the Department for Education (DfE) has used a little-known procedure to delay publishing its accounts.  The National Audit Office (NAO) has given an adverse opinion of DfE accounts for the last two years.  It’s expected it will do so again.  Neil Carmichael. chair of the Education Select Committee, greeted the delay with:

‘Slipping out a statutory instrument to extend the deadline on the last possible day is further evidence of DfE’s struggle to get its act together on financial matters…Today's events leave us with no alternative but to consider the wider question of financial management at the DfE.’

The Chancellor says some of the £1.5b will be available for secondary schools to increase their hours.   But the Education Endowment Fund toolkit found extending school days had ‘low impact for moderate cost’ and needed ‘well-qualified and well-trained’ staff for maximum benefit.  If ‘well-trained’ staff are needed to maximise the effect of longer hours then it follows such staff are needed all the time.  But the Government thinks training teachers isn’t necessary – anyone with a degree can do it.   EEF suggested it ‘might be cheaper and more efficient to attempt to use existing time more effectively before considering extending the school day.’

An extra £1.5b to education would be welcome if it was for tackling the shortage of school places, addressing problems with teacher recruitment and retention, maintaining buildings in urgent need of repair or fixing the school funding crisis.  But it isn’t.   Money is being channelled not where it’s urgently needed but to pursue blindly a policy which doesn’t improve the education system as a whole.   Osborne’s ‘zeal for reform’ highlighted by the Independent is blinkered.  It’s not underpinned by evidence but by prejudice.

UPDATE Petition to scrap plans for wholesale academisation has already attracted nearly 38,000 signatures.  Add your signature here.




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