DfE ‘investment’ in academy buildings is ‘hype’ says union boss

Janet Downs's picture
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The annual round for academy trusts to bid for funding from the Condition Improvement Fund opened yesterday, the Department for Education says.  Academy trusts with fewer than five academies* are eligible to apply for money to improve the condition of their buildings.

This year the DfE has strengthened the criteria around CIF submissions.  In an attempt to keep the lid on excessive executive pay in academy trusts, points will be deducted from trusts paying two or more salaries over £100k or one salary over £150k. 

In a controversial move, the DfE will penalise academies who don’t submit plans after an ‘adviser’ visit.

In July, Schools Week found academies receiving CIF money were ‘expected’ to follow advice from school resource management advisers (SRMA) sent by the DfE.  This changed the relationship between trusts and SRMAs from considering advice to taking orders.   The DfE has now made it clear that trusts will lose points if they don’t update financial improvement plans after SRMA visits.  In other words, trusts are under pressur to  ncorporate SRMA advice in future financial planning or reduce the chance of getting essential work done.

The Department for Education says it’s making ‘more than £400m’ available.  This is inadequate.   In 2017, the National Audit Office estimated £6.7bn was needed to upgrade schools in England to a satisfactory condition or better.  

Teaching unions said  the money available was ‘woefully inadequate’.  Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, dismissed the £400m announcement as ‘hype’.

What isn’t made clear in the DfE’s breathless announcement (the word ‘million’ appears nine times) is that any money awarded may not necessarily be a grant.  Academies can show ‘commitment’ by taking out a CIF loan.  Trusts who ‘choose to apply for a loan’ will be rewarded with additional points.  In other words, trusts needing cash for repairs stand a better chance of getting necessary l work done if they agree to repay the DfE with interest.

It’s rather like a landlord telling tenants they’re more likely to have their rotten windows replaced if they agree a loan from the landlord.  Not so generous, is it?

 

*Multi-academy trusts (MATs) with five academies or more may be eligible for capital funding under the School Condition Allocations. 

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