New research into the relative costs of academies and LA-maintained schools is flawed because it offers only a loose definition of the “middle tier”, argues Leora Cruddas.
The report released today, Understanding the Middle Tier: Comparative Costs of Academy and LA-maintained School Systems, asks the right questions, but its conclusions are fundamentally flawed.
I have a range of concerns and my concerns follow from a first consideration of what the middle tier actually is. The report offers only a loose definition.
Costs of the middle tier
The report sets out a summary of middle tier costs based on Freedom of Information requests and some nifty guess work largely in favour of the maintained sector.
The document relies on legacy grants like the Education Services Grant, and legacy bodies like, the National College for Teaching and Leadership.
It makes assumptions about the costs associated with running academies. For example, 72 per cent of the costs of teaching schools are apportioned to academies because, the report alleges, more academies are teaching schools. While this may be true, teaching schools offer support to both sectors, so this is not a fair apportioning of costs.
The inclusion of one-off grants like the costs of academy conversion has the effect of skewing the costs considerably to one part of the system. These are not ongoing revenue costs.
The report also somewhat disingenuously deliberately excludes costs related to the maintained sector. For example funding for specific local authority services has been excluded because, it is argued, schools determine whether the services are provided by the local authority or not.
Somewhat oddly, the report asserts that academies spend 58 per cent more on administrative posts than local authority schools. Included in these costs are roles such as chief executive officer, chief operating officer, and chief financial officer.
Of course groups of schools are likely to have strategic posts with greater levels of responsibility than their equivalents in an individual school or academy. This is self-evident. Local authorities also have strategic posts of this nature.
It is right to question the costs of running two different systems but the solution is surely obvious – to have one system in which all schools are part of a strong and sustainable group in a single governance structure with fair funding, better accountability and the same status for all schools.
This is why CST has launched a call for evidence on the future shape of the school system in England.
Differentials in funding
Funding varies massively across the country – this is why we need a National Funding Formula. It is really difficult in this context to look at academies versus local authority schools without looking at local authority levels and controls.
For example, we know London is very more highly funded and also has a higher degree of academisation, than for example the north east which less well funded with a much lower level of academisation.
This has a skewing effect on the data and it more about historical allocations and local authority decisions that actual middle tier costs.
The conclusions do not stack up
The conclusions the report draws that the higher costs of academies related to two key contributing factors are both inaccurate:
- The specific grants for MAT functions and academy system growth – one-off grants should not be included in an assessment of on-going revenue costs; and
- Leadership costs relating to MAT-wide leadership posts funded by top-slicing of grant from their academies – the comparative costs of local authority leadership posts and headteacher posts is also not made with specificity and accuracy for the local authority maintained part of the system.
Therefore I would suggest that it is not possible to make the claims the research is making about the differentials in middle tier costs of the two parts of the system.
Rather, we should be looking at how we build an excellent education system in England, with every school part of a strong and sustainable group in which every child is a powerful learner and adults learn and develop together as teachers and leaders.