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School's out but do you lose out?

Emma Maier
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The government’s five-week academy funding consultation has done little to quell fears about fairness

The government’s five-week academy funding consultation, which was released just as schools broke up for the summer, and closes on 16 August, has done little to quell fears about fairness.

It is not only the timing that has raised eyebrows. Academy status was intended to offer ‘freedoms’ but not financial benefit or disincentive. But there are concerns that schools that remain under the local authority umbrella may lose out.

Lacseg raises the important role that local government plays in prioritising spending where it is needed most

When a school becomes an academy it will no longer receive some central services provided by the council, so the government plans to reduce funding to councils and give academies the Local Authority Central Spend Equivalent Grant (Lacseg).

The snag is that while the Local Government Association put councils’ savings at £60m over two years, the Department for Education planned to withhold £413m from councils. The consultation says it “aims to respond to the challenges made by local authorities”, yet goes on to double that £413m to £940m.

Lacseg includes school improvement and behaviour support, and administrative support such as legal or statutory accountancy services. This is where some discrepancies originate.

The DfE plans to offer behaviour support and school improvement funding on a per pupil basis. Yet in the real world, just as the NHS does not divide its budget equally by 62.3 million UK residents, councils spend funding where it is needed. Given that first academies were Ofsted ‘outstanding’ rated, they are unlikely to have been major recipients, so councils costs are unlikely to reduce. Likewise, administrative functions will continue despite the academy shift, so the council does not save.

In addition to the obvious issues of fairness and cost realities, Lacseg raises the important role that local government -ultimately local democracy - plays in prioritising spending where it is needed most for the benefit of the whole area.

It also highlights the tension between efficiencies obtained by economies of scale (as advocated by the government in the guise of shared services and joint procurement) and devolution of funding and decision making.

Perhaps academies could club together to achieve savings. We might call this new grouping a ‘local education authority’…

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