After announcing that this Budget “will put the next generation first and at its heart will be a bold plan to make sure that every child gets the best start in life” – education was unsurprisingly at the forefront of the agenda.
The main headline was George Osborne announcing long anticipated plans that all schools must become academies by 2020 or have official plans to do so by 2022. The academy proposals fall under Osborne’s pledge to ‘set schools free from local bureaucracy’ and any that fail to change will be ‘forced under new radical powers to be adopted by the government’. This is a massive pledge by Osborne especially in the primary sector, as in England only 2,440 of 16,766 primary schools are already academies, leaving a huge amount to be converted. Whilst in the secondary sector a much higher proportion have already been converted, with 2,075 out of 3,381 already under academy status.
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, argued that: “Whatever the type of school, two of the essential ingredients for success are sufficient funding and teacher supply. Unfortunately, schools currently face real-terms cuts and a recruitment crisis.” Will either of these be solved by being an academy?
But are schools which are academies actually more effective? The National Children’s Bureau said there was evidence that local authorities were often as effective as academy chains in providing high quality education. In fact, the only difference is that academies at the moment tend to enjoy less examination and more freedom. Chair of the Education Committee Neil Carmichael agrees with this “Multi-academy trusts receive little scrutiny and in our inquiry we are determined to examine the performance, accountability, and governance.”
And what is the cost to deliver this pledge? The average cost of transferring a school to an academy is £45,000 – meaning the whole project will cost £700million. With just £140million put aside for the academy conversion, it leaves a £560million shortfall. Labour has warned that this black hole will leave Mr Osborne with no option but to raid the education budget for a much-needed increase in school places. Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell claimed: ‘The Chancellor’s plans for education are unravelling. Schools are already facing an eight per cent cut to their budgets, the first time education spending has fallen since the mid-1990s. This half a billion pound black hole in the education budget means that schools will be further out of pocket as a result. The Chancellor needs to come clean about where this money is going to come from.’
It seems clear that the main problems in education are still teacher shortages, lack of good school places and gap in education between disadvantaged children, but by turning schools into academies it is unclear how this addresses any of these issues?
Other budget proposals include a £1.5 billion package of additional funding which will mean at least a quarter of secondary schools will be given cash to provide an extra five hours a week of lessons and activities including sport and art. Other headlines are the proposal to make maths compulsory until aged 18, the sugar tax which will fund more sport in primary schools and after-school activities in secondaries. There will also be a new focus on school performance and results in the north of England with an extra £500 million to be made available to ensure a ‘fair funding formula’ to address imbalances in the system.
What do you think of the budget? Do you think the proposed academy changes will make any difference? Should the money be spent elsewhere? Have your say…