Schools seeking academy status ‘to beat cuts’

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RISING numbers of secondary schools are seeking academy status in the belief that it will help them financially in a time of spending cuts.

Almost half of England’s secondaries are intending to convert, or have already converted, according to a poll by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

Of these, nearly three quarters – 72.3 per cent – believe their school will benefit financially, while nearly three fifths, 58 per cent, believe it will bring greater freedom and autonomy.

The report has been published as new Government figures show the number of academies in Yorkshire is set to rise to 40, almost four times as many as two years ago.

The ASCL said that as academies receive their funding directly from Government these schools have been able to protect their budgets when others, who are given their money from local authorities, have not.

Of the 1,471 ASCL members questioned, eight per cent said their schools have already become academies, while 38 per cent said they were in the process of converting or intend to, as soon as they are eligible.

Some 34 per cent said they were undecided, while just under a fifth – 19 per cent – said they have no plans to become an academy.

ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said the numbers choosing to convert have risen since the union conducted a similar survey last autumn.

“The Department for Education has said in its documentation that there should be no financial incentive or disincentive for becoming an academy but this is certainly not the message that is getting to schools,” Mr Lightman said.

“It is very clear that early converters have gained financially and therefore will be able to protect their budgets in ways which other schools have not. Although they know that this funding bonus will not be sustainable, they see it as a way of cushioning their schools from the cuts of the next few years.

“In many areas local authority services have been decimated leaving schools with little reason not to convert.”

Of those who are undecided, or say they have no plans to convert, 51 per cent said they do not believe there is enough to gain from converting.

Two in five, or 40 per cent, said they were concerned about the effect on other schools.

Academies are funded directly from Government with the freedom to set their own curriculum, timetable, admissions and employment arrangements.

They were originally introduced under Tony Blair’s government a decade ago to replace struggling inner-city secondary schools.

Now Education Secretary Michael Gove is urging all state schools to apply to have the same freedoms by opting out of local authority control and becoming independent academies with funding direct from the Department for Education. Under the last Government academies only operated at secondary school level but Ministers have opened the programme up to primaries and special schools.

There are now 35 academies operating across Yorkshire of which 24 have opened as new schools and 11 are existing schools which have converted under the coalition’s education reforms. Ministers have also given the go ahead for five more schools in the region to convert to academy status which will bring the total to 40. In March 2009 there was just 12 across Yorkshire.

Harrogate Grammar is the latest school in the region to become an academy while orders giving schools the power to leave their local council’s control have been issued for Cottingham High, Harrogate High – operating in partnership with Outwood Grange in Wakefield – Archbishop Holgate and Manor CE Schools in York.

Meanwhile staff at two Yorkshire universities are set to take part in a national strike over pensions this month .

University and College Union members at Bradford and Leeds are set to be involved in a dispute over changes to the USS pension, which was created for academics and senior administrators in pre-1992 universities.

The UCU plans to hold strikes on March 22 and 24.