The PM needs to get his facts straight on school funding and accountability

Fiona Millar's picture
At a recent session of the Liaison Committee, the parliamentary committee at which chairs of all select committees are given the chance to quiz the Prime Minister, the chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge put some pithy questions to the PM about value for money and accountability with  increasing private and voluntary sector involvement in public services. The exchange is recorded here (at about 16:30) and goes something like this:

Hodge: How do you follow the public pound with so much private sector involvement?"

PM: Literally to follow it. The citizen should be able to choose between services on the basis of much better published information about outcomes and making sure the tax payer can follow his or her pound through the system.

Hodge: Take the case of academies . How do we know they provide value for money?

PM: People can increasingly see the funding per pupil that goes into the school and if we are successful in introducing a more national funding formula for schools that will be even clearer. The parent/teacher /local community knows how much follows the pupil into the school and can then see the results. We need to see how much money going into the schools and the results coming out. This will produce results for very transparent amounts of money that are going in.

The main problem with this answer is that Mr Cameron has got his facts wrong. Parents, and the wider community, can't see how much money per pupil is going into academies because his government refuses to publish this information. Let's take on very high profile example - Mossbourne Academy in the London Borough of Hackney. Mossbourne has certainly performed impressively since it was opened just under ten years ago but we can't see what, if any, impact differential funding may have had on the outcomes of the pupils. Information about the schools 2011 GCSE results was published here in the government's new all singing all dancing performance tables. All the information is present and correct apart from the table showing income and expenditure per pupil which is now published with the performance data for all maintained schools . So if you look at two of Mossbourne's neighbouring schools, Stoke Newington School and Haggerston School, that information is presented transparently(at the bottom of each set of tables between Pupil Absence and School Workforce figures) as the PM suggests.  Or take another part of the country like the West Midlands. The Ormiston Sandwell Community Academy is compared with two local maintained schools here and here. I have chosen these areas at random but parents and teachers might want to check similar information in their areas . I believe they will find that the same issues arise - a very basic lack of accountability about funding in the case of both sponsored and converter academies. Here is an example of one high profile early converter, the Tollbar Academy.

My colleague Henry Stewart's recent analysis of the 2011 GCSE results of English secondary schools  , has received widespread coverage including a page lead in the Observer newspaper. It revealed that the performance of academies is no better than maintained schools on a range of different indicators. However if we want to make a really valid comparison on school performance, and follow the public pound, as Mr Cameron is urging us to do,surely we should be able to see how the funding per pupil compares? The PM should get his facts right and Mrs Hodge should  continue to press him on this issue.
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 11:24

The school league tables do not contain financial information about academies. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, Lord Hill, whose responsibilities include academies, should ensure that all state-funded schools provide this information if Mr Cameron feels it is essential for transparency.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 11:42

The problem is compounded when looking at converter academies. One example is Bourne Abbey Primary which was one of the first primary schools to become an academy in December 2010. Yet the 2011 performance figures for the academy aren't given despite the fact that the school was an academy when 2011 Sats were taken. Instead, the performance table gives a link to the previous school where the results for the 2011 Sats are given but no financial information.

Technically, academies become new schools on conversion. Will this mean that the figures for previous year's Sat results of GCSE attainment will not appear in the school's performance tables? If so, then the only way to compare an academy's performance with that of its predecessor school would be to search previous years for the name of its predecessor which if the name of the school has been changed substantially only those with local knowledge would be able to find this information.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 12:07

"if the name of the school has been changed substantially only those with local knowledge would be able to find this information."

Or those who know how to Google.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 12:41

You are correct - the information might be found by Googling. However, it's an extra obstacle put in the way of transparency. Information about LA maintained schools is all in one place - results, spend per pupil, links to Ofsted. With academies this isn't the case.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 12:10

Do Academies have any other funding streams other than the standard per-capita rate+ pupil premium + LASCEG?

If not, where's the mystery?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 13:13

Ricky - have a look at the DfE School Performance Tables for 2011. There is no financial information about academies but for non-academies you can find the Total Income and Total Expenditure per pupil in the school. This will be compared with the local authority median, the London or non-London median and the national median. If you search for a few non-academy schools in the same area you will find there is a difference between their income and expenditure - some schools are funded more generously than others. For example, in Stamford, Lincolnshire, the income per pupil ranges from £5774 at the Bluecoat School to £3025 at the Malcolm Sargent School.

If you listen to the televised Q+A session (linked in Fiona's post) you will hear the PM say that he wants taxpayers to be able to view the information in order to assess whether it is value for money. The questioner then asked him how an Academy Trust, which is private, could be judged in this way. The information is not available in the DfE tables. She gave an instance where a whistleblower had revealed that one academy federation had purchased a property in France and then paid the travelling expenses of Governors to visit the property. Of course, such dubious spending wouldn't be available on any school spending table - no governing body would readily admit to such spending - but perhaps questions could be asked if the gap between income and expenditure per pupil was sufficiently wide to raise questions about what happened to the money that wasn't spent on pupils.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 17:55

How can we know if we can't see their budgets?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 15:44

Academies fill in WGA data forms, don't they?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 16:03

The Whole of Government Account (WGA) returns for academies have not been finalised for 2011/12. DfE guidance says: "The Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 creates a legal duty on Academies to provide a WGA return and each Academy is individually designated (by Order) for these purposes. The Department and the YPLA are working closely with the National Audit Office to produce a simplified version of the WGA return for Academies’ use this year. The YPLA will write to all academies in April to confirm what is required."

The question still remains: why is the financial information for academies not in 2011 school performance tables? The PM says it's possible for parents to check this information easily - it isn't.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 16:11

"The question still remains: why is the financial information for academies not in 2011 school performance tables? "

I guess the real answer to this is that the whole point of academies is that they are "independent". If they had to jump through all the same bureaucratic hoops that maintained schools have to jump through, how independent and autonomous would they really be?

That said, they should still be accountable for the taxpayers' money they receive, and presumably are through audit processes/the DfE, WGA etc.

I'm not sure the income/expenditure data put in per pupil terms is much use for comparing schools anyway. It would just invite invidious comparisons.... a bit like the original league table approach.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 18:00

Just to confirm NO information about individual academy funding is available either from the DFE or via the Charity Commission as they have now all become exempt charities. Before that one could see the sponsoring chains accounts but they weren't much use as they didn't show income and expenditure for individual institutions. It really is quite outrageous that we are funding these schools but can't get information about this - also very amateurish of the PM not to to even understand his own policies. I understand that Margaret Hodge means to pursue this and we will back her all the way.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 14:01

The written record of the questioning of the PM by the House of Commons Liaison Committee is below - questions about domestic issues including schools are from question 388 onwards:

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 14:41

Mr Cameron told the Liaison Committee: "I believe that schools perform best when there is clear leadership and ownership of the school by the board of governors and the team of teachers running it."

A school doesn't need to be an academy in order to have "clear leadership". The PriceWaterhouseCoopers report 2008 found that when schools improved they used similar methods which were nothing to do with academy status. Strong leadership was one of these methods. And he's right that teachers want "ownership" of what they do - they don't need amateurs to keep telling them what methods to employ across the board. They need to be able to use their professional judgement to decide which methods and resources to use with particular children.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 16:48

Ricky - in response to your post 4.11pm (no reply button). Saying that academies are "independent" isn't good enough. They, like non-academies, receive money from the taxpayer and if the PM thinks that parents should be able to judge schools according to how much they spend then it should be possible to do this for all taxpayer-funded schools.

I agree with you that the spend-per-pupil information is unhelpful and could lead to invidious comparisons. There might be valid reasons why School A receives more funding that School B. And when the pupil premium is distributed parents would need to look at the number of disadvantaged pupils in order to try and work out how much of a school's income comes from this source.

It's simplistic for anyone to say that one school is more efficient than another because, say, 90% of its KS2 pupils reach the benchmark at only £4000 per pupil, while the school down the road spends £5000 per pupil but only 65% of its pupils reach that standard. It doesn't necessarily mean that the second school is "worse" than the first and offers less value for money. It might, for instance, cater for a large number of immigrants who need help in speaking English, or SEN pupils who need support.

Nevertheless, the PM has said parents can see the financial information for all schools. They can't. To misquote Orwell again, "All schools are equally transparent, but some schools are more transparent than others."

Rodger Williams's picture
Sun, 18/03/2012 - 13:14

I know this slightly off topic but would be worth submitting a FOI request about Harris Academy's admission policies and also challenge them as well. If you look at Harris Academy Crystal palace (their flagship academy), although they reportedly use a banded admissions policy only 4% of the students are below average ability and 56% are above average ability. The ability of the cohort is skewed towards the higher ability students and out of line with ability of the students in primary schools within 1 to 3 miles of the academy.

My concern is that given the ability of the students the surrounding area and that fact Harris use a banded entry policy, how is it that they able have such a skewed intake?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 18/03/2012 - 17:44

Schools are supposed to publish their admission policies on their websites. Any changes to these policies are supposed to be preceded by consultation. Admission criteria for 2013/14 should be finalised by 15 April and published by 1 May. If anyone wants to object they can contact the Schools Adjudicator although they must do it within a particular timescale (by 31 July according to the Adjudicator's website).

Under the new admissions code objections to Academies admission arrangements go to the Schools Adjudicator rather than the Education funding Agency. The code says ‘Any person or body who considers that any maintained school or Academy’s arrangements are unlawful, or not in compliance with the Code or relevant law relating to admissions, can make an objection to the Schools Adjudicator’.

It should be noted that the website of the Schools Adjudicator gives incorrect information about who can complain (it limits complaints to parents/carers - this has been overturned by the new admissions code). The Schools Adjudicator emailed me some weeks ago to say they would be updating its website but it hasn't been done so. This doesn't bode well for complaints handling if an incorrect statement on its website can't be corrected in reasonable time.

A guest's picture
Sun, 18/03/2012 - 23:27

I found this on the school site.

Applicants will be allocated to an ability band on the basis of their NVRT test score. There will be 9 ability bands with the percentage of places available in each band being determined by the profile of the distribution of ability of the applicants for the Academy.

I think this explains the skewed distribution.

Rodger Williams's picture
Sun, 18/03/2012 - 20:46

I know that Harris use a lottery system to select the students for each of their bands, but unless low ability students do not apply to Harris Crystal Palace I can not see how only 4% of its intake is below average. It should be about 4-5 times that amount.

Is there a way of finding out the KS2 scores of the students that applied to the academy and forcing the academy to hold its random banding done in public?

Rodger Williams's picture
Tue, 20/03/2012 - 16:53

Do you think that only 4% of the those that applied to the academy were below the average standard? I know the area around Harris CP quite well and I would find that highly unlikely.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/03/2012 - 17:09

Rodger - something odd is going on at Harris City Academy, Crystal Palace. A guest is correct when he quotes from the school's website about the ability bands but if you check the DfE school performance tables for 2011 you will find that the 2011 cohort had 56% high attainers, 40% middle attainers and only 4% low attainers. I can't understand how the school got such a skewed intake when it's supposed to have 9 ability bands. Could you throw some light on the matter?

The Crystal Palace Academy was originally a City Technology College (CTC) and it became an academy in 2008. When Kenneth Baker set up CTCs he said that their intake should reflect the ability range in the catchment area but this doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, only two of the academies which were once CTCs had a proportion of low attainers over 10% in the 2011 cohort: Leigh Technology Academy (16%) and Djanogly City Academy (28%). Some ex-CTCs even have a proportion lower than Harris Crystal Palace in the 2011 cohort. Brooke Weston College had only 2%, CTC Kingshurst Academy only had 1%. Thomas Telford, which is still a CTC, also had only 1% low attainers.

I don't know how this can be - perhaps you can suggest a reason why these so-called comprehensive schools have so few low attainers.

Rodger Williams's picture
Tue, 20/03/2012 - 19:27

I have a few ideas but I am not willing to share them on a public forum. I do know that there are a number of low ability students from that part of Croydon, especially boys, that are congregated in a small number of schools in other parts of the borough.

Do you think that if someone was to send a FOI request to Croydon Council to find out the KS2 results of students that applied to Harris CP, they would issue the data?

A guest's picture
Tue, 20/03/2012 - 20:42

They do not say they take equal numbers from each ability band but 'the percentage of places available in each band being determined by the profile of the distribution of ability of the applicant'. Therefore if the majority of applicants are from the top bands this will result in a skewed intake.

Rodger Williams's picture
Tue, 20/03/2012 - 21:08

That is what they state, but I would like to see if distribution of the applicant's KS2 levels back that up, hence the FOI request to Croydon Council. I would also like to find out who observes the random draw.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 11:02


The definition of "low attainers" is NOT "below average"; it is "failing to achieve Level 4 at KS2.

One of the closest primaries to Harris Academy Crystal Palace is Paxton, which achieved 100% Level 4 or above at KS2 in 2011.

This may go some way towards explaining why HACP has so few low attainers.

Given the thrust of this site is that local kids should go to their local secondary...... it would seem perverse to complain if Paxton kids went to HACP.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 09:09

Rodger and A guest: Up to 10% of applicants to Harris Crystal Palace can be selected on aptitude for Technology. The present admissions criteria states: “There will be 9 ability bands with the percentage of places available in each band being determined by the profile of the distribution of ability of the applicants for the Academy.” I presume this means that if the “distribution of ability of the applicants” is skewed towards the top end as it appeared to be in the 2011 cohort then there will be fewer low-ability pupils. I am surprised this admission criteria was allowed because (a) it goes against the alleged ability profile (fully-comprehensive) of City Technology Colleges as envisaged by the Secretary of State (Kenneth Baker) who set them up, and (b) it means that the intake will be decided by the type of applicant which has resulted in the Academy not being fully-comprehensive in the way sponsored academies are supposed to be.

Harris Crystal Palace has just finished consulting about changes to the admission criteria for 2013/14. The proposed code contains detailed information about technology tests and how the 10% of pupils will be selected on basis of aptitude (the ones with the highest scores). The proposed code is here:

As my post above pointed out, the three remaining CTCs have a tiny proportion of low attainers: Emmanuel College, Gateshead, only has 6%; the BRIT school, Croydon, only has 5%; and Thomas Telford, Telford, only has 1%. And only two of the academies which were once CTCs have a proportion of low attainers above 10%. Clearly something is undermining the principle of these academies/CTCs being fully comprehensive.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 11:54

Ricky - re your comment 11.02 am (no reply button). The tension between ensuring a fully-comprehensive intake in academies and admission of pupils to their nearest school was recognised by the National Audit Office 2010:

“Forty-three per cent of academies said they resolve over-subscription with ‘fair banding’, which involves testing applicants to identify their ability range, and awarding a fixed percentage of pupils within each range a place. While supporting the ‘mixed ability’ policy objective, fair banding can in theory reduce the extent to which a school serves its immediate area (another key tenet of the academies policy), since local children may be refused a place in favour of those from further afield who match the required profile.”

There appears, then, to be a mismatch between two competing tenets of the academies programme as conceived under Labour: that academies should be fully-comprehensive and serve the local area.

It seems that in some cases it may not be possible to reconcile these two tensions. It is important, then, when judging the effectiveness of schools to take note of their ability range. It is surely no coincide that the "worst" performing (in terms of raw results) ex-CTC academy - Djanogly in Nottingham - had the highest number of low attaining pupils in the 2011 cohort. In fact, it could be said that Djanogly was the only one of the ex-CTC academies that had a fully-comprehensive intake.

Mr Gove holds up CTCs and ex-CTCs as examples of high academic achievement - it's important, therefore, to realise that the majority of them have a very low proportion of low-attaining pupils in their ability range. It's almost like saying grammar schools are "better" than secondary moderns because the results of the former are higher than the latter. Well, they would be, wouldn't they?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 12:09

To some extent, I agree Janet.

That's why I welcome the data on the performance and progress by prior-attainment group being included in the new tables.

However, the danger remains that many schools will adopt a fatalistic attitude, or think it is okay to maintain the differentials they have inherited from primaries. Yet, surely the point is to intervene and change things? Shouldn't we expect secondaries to use Year 7 to get low-attainers to catch up?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 12:54

See my comment on Francis Gilbert's thread re Ofsted judgement on English teaching in schools. There is a link to the matrix which the DfE uses to judge what is expected progress. For instance, a high-attainer gaining Level 5 at the end of KS2 would be expected to gain a Grade B at GCSE whereas a low-attainer gaining Level 3 at the end of KS2 would be expected to gain a Grade D.

The matrix doesn't assume that all pupils will get a GCSE C. If it did, then this would indeed be a sign of dumbing-down. Remember, GCSE C was supposed to show above-average ability when it was first introduced. If it is now regarded in some quarters as the minimum level of attainment - not just a sign of average ability but a threshold of competence. How standards would have slumped in 25 years if this is the case.

Mr Gove's doublethink about standards is discussed here:

A guest's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 15:28

Catch up to what level Ricky? The new tables show whether pupils are making expected progress. Yes some pupils may have underperformed in primary school (for many reasons) and make above expectations progress in secondary but for others making expected progress will be a mark of them working very hard and to the best of their ability.
If all low attaining pupils at KS2 reached the 5 A-C GCSE benchmark which was set for the above average pupil then something would be wrong.

Rodger Williams's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 16:16

To your above post, why did you cite Paxton School instead of Cypress Junior School?

After all Cypress Junior is the nearest junior school to Harris Crystal Palace, Crypress Junior have a much larger cohort than than Paxton School and it also happens to have a far lower set of KS2 results than Paxton School.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 16:53

A guest - you correctly highlight the worrying trend of downgrading GCSE C so that it is no longer a sign of above-average ability. Grade C is increasingly regarded as a basic standard which ALL children should reach. When GCSE was first introduced, GCSE grade G was the threshold of basic competence (it still is the threshold for functional literacy/numeracy) and GCSE grade E was the grade that the average 16 year-old was expected to achieve. Today, anything below a C is seen as "poor".

So, if GCSE C is now regarded as the basic threshold, which grade shows above-average ability? And which one, if any, shows exceptional talent? And is GCSE any longer a fit preparation for A level? Or has the standard of A levels also fallen?

Governments have fallen over themselves to show that they are raising standards by requiring more children to be pushed through GCSE C. In doing so they have devalued the grade and brought GCSE into disrepute.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 12:40

Is Cypress Junior even closer? Perhaps it is. The reason I didn't mention it was that I had never heard of it. Looking at the most recent Ofsted report, I see that it does indeed have lower SATS results, and has a number of children with autism.

None of this has much bearing on the main point - that Harris Ac enjoys a situation where it attracts candidates from admission from some pretty good nearby schools in Lambeth and Bromley as well as Croydon.

Rodger Williams's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 17:15

That does not explain the skewed admissions and the only way this point would be settled would be for Croydon Council to published the ks2 performance data for the students that applied to the Harris.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 18:29


Those who applied to the Harris would have applied to other schools too. Some would have put other schools as first preference (and got their first preference). Harris will have made offers of places that were turned down. I don't think you could unravel this ball of string without finding the KS2 results of all of those made offers by Harris (who wouldn't have known if they were first preference or not), whether they ended up there or not. I don't think a school can game the system really.

Rodger Williams's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 19:37

That is true and as I posted Croydon Council would have that information. And a school can quite easily game the admissions system.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 23/03/2012 - 12:17


As I understand it, a school might get 1000 applications for 150 places.

It then places them in order 1- 1000, according to its admissions criteria.

The school does not now which applicants have put it first, or where else each might have applied.

The council then allocates candidates to their first preferences, then second (if first prefs full) etcetera.

The school will then be told that Nos: 3, 5, 16, 24, 39, 41, 106, 209 etc. have accepted places. If it cannot know who will, how can it skew anything?

At what stage does the school actually get to now the KS2 results of applicants?

Rodger Williams's picture
Fri, 23/03/2012 - 16:03

If you hold your own admissions test and run your own random admissions draw you will have plenty of scope to manipulate the ability of your cohort if you choose to.

So there would be no need for the school to know the KS2 scores but the council would know the ability profile of students they applied.

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