DfE stays silent on money set aside for academy conversion

DfE stays silent on money set aside for academy conversion

The Department for Education has assured schools it has more cash set aside to fund all-out academisation – but is still silent on how much.

It also appears that some of the £1.5 billion pledged by Chancellor George Osborne (pictured) in last week’s Budget was already allocated in the autumn spending review.

Last week Schools Week revealed that some schools feared they would have to dig into their own pockets to pay for costs of the forced academy conversions.

The Budget included £640 million to cover both the pledge to speed up the national fair funding formula and to academise all schools.

But Mr Osborne said £500 million of this would go towards the funding formula, leaving just £140 million set aside to convert schools.

That works out at less than £9,000 per school – which lawyers and opposition politicians say is not enough.

It also emerged this week that some of the £500 million will come from money already allocated in autumn.

A Conservative spokesperson told the BBC that the Budget “ensured the department is fully funded to support additional costs of delivering a fully academised school system”.

But the Department for Education (DfE) would not confirm the sum.

The academy push has also raised questions about the impact on cash-strapped local authorities who must pay the legal costs when their maintained schools convert, although some have now started passing on these costs by fining schools when they become academies.

Councils are also landed with the debt of any underperforming schools that convert with a budget deficit. A BBC investigation in September last year found councils have inherited debts of more than £30 million since 2010.

Richard Watts, vice-chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “Academy conversions have already cost local authorities millions of pounds. At a time when councils are having to make further savings to plug funding gaps over the next few years, local taxpayers should not be expected to foot the bill for this process.”

Schools Week analysed government figures in December and found the total budget deficits for local authority-maintained schools had risen from £76 million in 2013/14 to £103 million last year.

The actual number of schools running a deficit had meanwhile fallen from 1,057 to 948.

The DfE said councils only took on the debt when schools became sponsored academies after a “prolonged period of underperformance, and the deficit was accumulated under council control”.

It did not expect the all-out academisation to increase the level of deficit passed on to councils, as it would not impact the number of failing schools.