Monday 15 November 2010

The conversion of existing schools to Academies – Some questions to be asked

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1.   Issues to raise with Governors

a. As an academy, you will take on a whole range of risks and responsibilities that are currently managed for you by the LA. These include financial, technical, personnel and legal issues as well as

responsibility for all the buildings and assets.

Has the headteacher made you fully aware of all these in detail?

Are you confident that you, as Governors, have the expertise and time to manage these new responsibilities adequately?

b.  As an Academy, your school will be completely independent of the Local Authority (LA). You will be funded, monitored and regulated by the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA), a

government created quango run from London.

Will the remoteness of this supervision and control be an advantage or a disadvantage?

c. Your schools’ future is directly in the hands of the Secretary of State. He could, for example, close you down without consultation if things started to go seriously wrong.    Remembering that, over

the years, there will be different Secretaries of State with different attitudes to education, are you happy to accept that the school’s future will depend on an individual?

d. The Act as passed on July 27th, 2010, requires you to undertake ‘appropriate consultation’.

If you have already consulted, are you satisfied that you have fulfilled your responsibilities to the parents (current and future), teachers and local community, making them fully aware not only of the

potential advantages of becoming an academy  but also of the potential pitfalls?

e.You will have been made aware that the school receives extra money on becoming an academy (see section 5. below for details). However, the government is clear ‘that it does not expect

schools converting to academies to have a financial advantage or disadvantage’.  This must mean that the government expects a conversion academy to spend what would otherwise have been

spent on it by the LA, albeit independently. It might also mean, although the regulations are not yet clear, that an academy with a ‘financial advantage’ would have its ‘bonus’ clawed back as the

country’s financial status cannot tolerate double funding and wastefulness.

In the light of this uncertainty, have your school’s Head and Finance Manager produced a detailed Business Plan showing what extra costs will be incurred and how these will be met, not just in the

short term but going forward into subsequent years?

Given that you will not be able to call on the LA to rescue you in the event of emergencies, there is a need for substantial contingency funding in reserves.

Have your Head and Finance Manager carried out a full risk assessment in the context of likely scenarios and made a plan for how to set aside enough contingency to deal with a crisis? Is this a

specific part of the Business Plan?

2.   Issues to raise with the headteacher

The incoming coalition government has offered outstanding schools the chance to convert to becoming an academy. This has been presented as an exciting innovation.

In recommending academy status, on what criteria would you be able to demonstrate clearly to governors and stakeholder groups that you are acting in the best interests of the school, both for

now and the long term?

By taking your school out of the LA, you will be removing funding that is currently spent by the LA on behalf of pupils in all schools and particularly those who need special help for a variety of

reasons.

Would you think it reasonable before recommending academy status to make an impact assessment of how your conversion to academy status may affect children in neighbouring schools and

the rest of the Local Authority?

Have you evaluated how your actions might affect your professional relationships and shared ways of working with colleagues in other schools?

You will have the freedom to change the length of the school day or the length of the school year.

Have you considered  the difficulties that would cause for teachers with children in other LAs or non-academies?

If you have school buses, the LA remains responsible for home to school transport but any extra costs caused by changing the school day will be charged as an extra by the LA.

Have you factored this into your business plan?

3.   Issues to raise with the staff (teaching, support and administrative)

a.    As members of staff in an Academy, you will be employed directly by the Governors  and will be outside the national pay structure. This means that your pay can be varied, down as well as up,

without reference to national pay scales, according to circumstances determined by the leadership of the school.

Has the significance of this been made clear to you by the Head and Governors?

b.    The freedom to appoint teachers outside the national pay scales could mean that the Head and Governors could recruit the ‘best’ teachers from other schools, or other staff, to fill a post similar

to yours but at a higher pay rate.

How could this impact on relationships in the school between leadership and staff and between individual members of staff?

c.    As you are outside the national agreements, it may be more difficult for your union or association to defend you if something is imposed on you with which you are unhappy. As you are outside

national agreements, your union/association representatives will need to deal directly with the Head and Governors.

What attitude will the Head and Governors take to your union/association membership?

Will they discuss matters with your union/association representatives?

d.    As your school leaves the LA, some of the funding that is currently spent by the LA on behalf of pupils in all schools (and particularly those who need special help for a variety of reasons) will no

longer be available to the LA but will come to your school. Have you been made aware of this?

Do you think this might prejudice good relations with teachers in other schools?

e.    As an academy, you will be freed from the national curriculum but your pupils will still be tested according to the national regulations.

Do you welcome this greater freedom?

Have the possible implications in terms of workload been made clear to you?

4.   Issues to raise with parents

The decision to leave the LA and become an entirely independent school funded directly by the central government is a decision of major significance for everybody involved in the school –

Head, Governors, teachers, support staff, parents and pupils. It is a decision that cannot be reversed, other than by the Secretary of State closing the school down. The school was required by

legislation to undertake ‘appropriate consultation’.

Were you consulted?

Did you respond or ask any questions?

Was a meeting called to give you a chance to find out more?

Do you think that you fully understand what this decision means?

Are you taking the Head’s recommendation on trust?

b.  school that leaves the LA takes with it a share of the money that the LA currently spends on pupils in all schools (including yours) who have particular needs not covered from the school’s normal

budget.  These needs may arise for your children or other pupils in your school.

What guarantees have you been given that the extra help will be bought in as required, at an equal or superior service level to the help already provided by the LA?

What method of accountability will be provided by the new Academy that best value is always achieved when buying in these services?

Because your school is classed as ‘outstanding’, it may well be that it does not have many pupils that currently need the extra help. By taking a share of LA funding when you don’t need it, you

are possibly depriving those pupils in other schools that may need it.

Has this been flagged up to you as a possible local impact of gaining academy status?

d. If you have any complaints about what happens in school, you will obviously go the Head and Governors in the first instance.  If your concerns are not resolved, you will have to refer the matter to

London and the Secretary of State. Your local councillor will not be in a position  to help you, nor will officers from the Local Authority.

Are you satisfied with this procedure as a way of sorting out problems?

5. How  Academies are funded and the probable impact on residual Local Authority schools and services

a. A school converting to academy status receives:

i. the per pupil funding it gets through the local formula, including direct reimbursement    of business rates

ii. the same standards grants and all other special grants awarded to all schools

iii. a top-up grant, based on the number of pupils in the school including post-16,  to cover the cost of providing services and covering costs currently met by the LA

iv. a grant to cover insurance and grants to compensate for non-recoverable VAT

v. a start-up grant of £25,000

b. The top-up grant has to cover, (for example, not exhaustive):

Behaviour support services
Maternity cover, long-term sickness, supply cover
14-16 more practical learning experiences
Establishing eligibility for Free School Meals
Repair and maintenance of school kitchens
Museum and library services
School admissions
Licences/subscriptions
Termination of employment costs
Therapies and health-related services
Parent partnership guidance and information
Monitoring of SEN provision
Pupil support
Education welfare service
School improvement
Asset management
music services, visual and performing arts, outdoor education
Premature retirement and redundancy
Monitoring national curriculum assessment

The amount of top-up grant is calculated from the total sum spent by the Local Authority other than directly through the schools budget. This total ‘non-schools spend’ is divided by the number of

pupils in each phase. The top-up grant is called the LACSEG grant (Local Authority Central Spend Equivalent Grant).

Real example: In Cambridgeshire the average pupil unit of funding is:

Primary: £3,044, with a range from £2,517 to £5,939 depending on the size of the school

Secondary: £3,654, with a range from £3,425 to £5,115

The LACSEG top-up grants in Cambridgeshire for 2010-2011 are £337 per pupil for primary and £318 per pupil for secondary.

c. Recoupment: A proportion of what is paid to academies is recouped by the YPLA from the LA. In Cambridgeshire, this amounts to £101 per primary pupil and £84 per secondary pupil. At the

moment, the remainder is not recouped and so is being funded from somewhere else in the DfE budget. It appears therefore that the government is ‘double-funding’ by giving academies money

that they have already given to LAs.

Two examples of what academies will receive:

i.      One of the largest and most ‘successful’ village colleges, serving a highly privileged area, has 1,400 pupils. Its top-up grant will be £445,200. By becoming an academy, this school removes

£117,600 from LA central funds.

ii.    One of the largest primary schools with 461 pupils will receive £155,357 and will remove £46,561 from LA central funds.

d. Which schools gain most? The real ‘winners’ are

§  larger schools,

§  with relatively few pupils who will need extra help,

§  few social problems requiring Educational Welfare Support

§  with recently refurbished buildings with low maintenance,

§  in areas which are not facing demographic decline,

§  with staff who are male or beyond child-bearing age,

§  but not too close to retirement

e. An unresolved issue:

The consultation on school funding 2011-2012 states in paragraph 73:

The Government is clear that becoming an Academy should not bring about a financial advantage or disadvantage to a school.

It is not yet clear how the YPLA will calculate financial advantage or disadvantage and what steps it will take to rectify any discrepancies.

f. What might Academies spend their extra money on?

Clearly, an Academy takes on many extra responsibilities and will need to recruit extra administrative staff to handle these, thus incurring extra cost (when viewing education overall) because of the

loss of economy of size. If the Academy does not have many pupils who will need to draw on the extra help previously available from the LAA, or if the academy chooses not to do so, and if the

Academy decides it does not need to buy in school support or school improvement advice (as it is already deemed ‘outstanding’), it will undoubtedly have a net financial bonus..

According to local circumstances, the Academy could, for example, spend its extra money on:

Extra teaching staff for smaller class sizes
Better equipment and teaching materials
Higher salaries for the Head and for senior teachers (Academies no longer have to follow the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document)

The effect of this could be to

enable it to attract the apparently best teaching staff from other schools with the offer of better pay
introduce an inflationary effect into the senior salary structure (with long-term knock-on effect on the Teacher Pension system)
enable it to attract more pupils, thereby increasing its net extra income further and reducing the cost-effectiveness of neighbouring schools.
make this already successful school even more successful

g. The impact on the central LA services will be difficult to quantify in the early stages but if several schools (number uncertain) leave the LA, some of the services provided will simply become

uneconomical. For example, an LA might have a very small team providing speech therapy and it might become impossible to retain any specialist staff with this expertise, thus depriving the

residual LA schools and pupils of access to a specialist service they need and for which they will not have the funds to buy in.

h. The ethical issue: is it right to condone a development that will inevitably widen the gap between the most and least successful, improve opportunities for the most fortunate and reduce support

for those who need it most?

i. The financial issue: in a time of austerity is it right that there should be double-funding? In due course the LACSEG component will surely be fully recouped from the LA, or alternatively, the

national amount available through the Dedicated Schools Grant formula will be reduced. In either case, the extra funding for academies will come from the money for other schools. All will suffer for

the benefit of those who benefit.

j. And what about central costs? All this will be administered on a school-by-school basis by the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA). Is this likely to be cost-effective when the infrastructure for

funding, regulating and monitoring is already in place in LAs? Where will the extra money for this come from?

k. And what about the opportunity costs? Thousands of people – heads, governors, teachers, union officers, officers in the LA, officials in the DfE and YPLA,  –  are agonising over the details of

this development when they already had many challenges to face in a time of austerity. Is the real gain for pupils sufficiently significant to justify all this activity?

[Version 2, October 3rd, 2010: NB This is an extended version of a paper produced originally to stimulate discussion at a Fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat Federal Conference in Liverpool

in September 2010. It will now continue to be up-dated as new information becomes available. Anybody considering academy status must obviously consult the official web-sites and

documentation. The author (details at the end) will be pleased to receive suggestions for corrections and modifications.]

Peter Downes

peter.downes@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

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