The government has announced that £53 million will be made available to help multi-academy trusts (MATs) take on more schools this year.
But the funding will be restricted to those with a “proven record” of turning around underperforming schools.
The fund, previously called “the regional academy growth fund” but now renamed “the MAT development and improvement fund”, will also be targeted in more than 100 specific areas of the country.
The areas picked have all been identified as having “low education standards” and “weak capacity to improve”.
The Department for Education said the money specifically to help MATs “build their capacity to take on and deliver improvement in underperforming local schools”.
Only MATs with a “proven record of working with underperforming schools to improve performance” will be able to bid for grants, and Schools Week understands that it will be managed more strictly than in previous years.
Regional schools commissioners will be responsible for doling out the cash, and will also provide support to MATs to take on new schools with “high levels of disadvantaged pupils and significant performance gaps”.
Sir Theodore Agnew, the new academies minister, said the “most effective way” to ensure there was no limit on pupils’ potential was to use the “expertise and talent that exists in our school system”.
“This fund is another way to get the methods that we know are having an impact into the areas that need them most,” he said.
In total, 108 areas have been earmarked based on specific local needs, including the government’s 12 “social mobility opportunity areas”.
The National Education Union doesn’t like the way the funding is being allocated, however.
Kevin Courtney, its joint general secretary, wants cash released to local authority maintained schools as well as academies.
“Why is the government establishing a school improvement fund to which only multi-academy trusts can apply?” he asked. “‘Good’ and ‘outstanding’ maintained schools should also be encouraged to apply for funding to support neighbouring schools.
“It is clear that the government continues to have a blind spot when it comes to recognising the fantastic education that the overwhelming majority of maintained schools provide to children and young people.”