How has the Budget affected the future of English schools?

The UK Budget 2016 contains a number of surprise developments which are likely to be of interest to the education sector. Key highlights include:

• all schools in England to become academies or in the process of becoming academies by 2020;
• an extra £500m to ensure a fair funding formula and hence redressing the imbalance in funding in different parts of the country;
• doubling of funding for PE and sport in primary schools – funding from £160m to £320m to be funded from the sugar tax levy from September 2017;
• £1.5b funding for 25% of secondary schools to stay open after 3.30pm;
• consideration of plans for maths to be taught until the age of 18;
• £20m investment in a “northern powerhouse schools strategy” to redress imbalances on performance of schools between the North and South of England.

This is the most radical change in the education system in the last 50 years and has substantial implications for:

• how schools are funded;
• the future of local authority funding and involvement;
• the impact of further multi academy trusts being responsible for large clusters of schools;
• the responsibility for evaluating a school’s performance;
• how far schools are responsible, not only for academic performance, but the health and welfare of pupils:
• the accountability and governance of schools.

As with all Budget announcements, questions are already being asked about the practical implications of these changes.

In particular, many see that existing academies who are already funding extra-curricular activities will miss out. In addition, what will be taught in those extra hours? Some are advocating STEM and work related activities.

How will the funding to 25% of secondary schools be allocated when existing secondary schools are already struggling with their budgets?

There is also concerns about the funding and welfare for pupils currently captured under special needs, looked after, and pupil referral grants. A domain currently operated with heavy involvement of the local authority.

Are there sufficient numbers of potential school governors to serve on the new governing bodies?

Concerns are also being raised about how the admissions policy for all these schools will be co-ordinated and monitored.

Other matters, such as determining the ownership of land, obligations to large pension scheme deficits, and how much further the already diminishing budget share given to existing academies has to stretch when certain new academies are perceived to be receiving extra funding. Schools are already facing a major teacher recruitment problem and they will want to ensure harmony for pupils and staff in this transition process.

For primary schools in particular, 85% are still in local authority control and many will be concerned with the challenge of converting to academy status and potentially losing their independence and local identity by joining larger academy chains, particularly when they see some of the large chains being asked to account for poor performance standards. However, there are good performing chains and by joining them, schools can benefit from excellent shared teaching expertise and more efficient economies of scale, particularly in an environment where primary schools may not be able to receive on their own.

There are roughly 20,000 schools and roughly 4,500 are academies in England. If the rate of change by 2020 is needed, there are a lot of schools that will be forming into legal charitable companies and will have to be accountable as directors, trustees and governors, ensuring not only compliance with educational matters, but complying with charity and company law as well.

We have a dedicated Education group which has assisted many clients convert to academy status. If you would like to find out more about what is involved, please get in touch.

For further information, please contact Nick Simkins.