Budget 2016 - Universal academisation and the schools funding crisis

17 March 2016

There was little surprise in the Chancellor’s announcement that all state schools will need to have either converted to become academies or be in the process of doing so by 2020, with 2022 being the ultimate deadline for doing so.

Anyone working in and around the sector clearly recognises that the academisation of the state school system is essentially ideologically driven given the lack of robust evidence and the stated views of senior educationalists.  There are also many schools that provide Outstanding education, regardless of their legal form.

But is there a financial or economic angle to the Budget announcement of universal academisation?

It is well recognised that funding is one of the major issues facing schools – the IFS calculated that there was an 8% real reduction in school funding over this parliament, and there are significant numbers of schools that are predicting deficit budgets from next year onwards.  Academisation means that the share of funding that previously went to local authorities will largely go directly to the academies, so the government may be able to indicate that school funding is better protected.  Of course this ignores the fact that without the educational and administrative support services local authorities have provided state schools, academy expenditure budgets are likely to need to increase, and the net effect on financial results may even be negative.  Added to the mix is the change to the school funding formula, in which there will clearly be both winners and losers.

On a more prosaic note, many have commented that there is insufficient capacity in the system to cope with this rate of expansion in the numbers of academy schools.  Certainly, the woes of some of the larger existing academy chains have been blamed on their rapid expansion, and there are real concerns about the skills and experience in financial management and governance that are available in the sector.  There also must be some concern about the future availability of experienced and high quality professional advice with several thousand schools converting over the next 4-6 years.