Budget 2016: Osborne's proposals and the sector's response
Schools are going to be forced to become academies under the new Budget, announced this month by chancellor George Osborne. We provide a glance-and-go overview, plus a round-up of key responses from teachers, unions and more.
- All schools will become academies. Every school in England will either have to be an academy by 2020 or in the process of becoming one for 2022. Any school failing to make the transition will be forced to so under ‘radical’ new powers to be adopted by the government.
- Provision will be made to encourage academy chains to take over so-called ‘Cinderella schools’ which are unattractive to potential sponsors because of their small size, tight budgets, expensive buildings or remote locations.
- The current system for funding schools will be replaced by a fairer national funding formula from April 2017. The government aim for 90 per cent of schools who benefit from the new formula to receive their extra funding by 2020. An extra £500million will be made available to ensure the deadline is met.
- There will be £20million a year in additional money for schools in the north of England.
- There will be a review to consider making the teaching of maths compulsory until the age of 18.
- Secondaries can be open for longer hours. A further £285million has been set aside to allow of a quarter of secondary schools to provide at least five extra hours a week for extra-curricular activities such as art and sport.
- The ‘real-terms’ protection of school funding in England, as outlined in the Spending Review 2015, will be maintained.
- The government will invest more than £1.5billion in schools and other areas such as housing and transport over the next three years.
- The primary school sports premium will be doubled to £320million per year from September 2017.
- There will be an additional £10 million funding to expand the number of healthy breakfast clubs.
- The government will provide £14 million to deliver a mentoring scheme for disadvantaged young teenagers.
Extra funding is, of course, always welcome. However, the government's plans to turn all schools in to academies have come under fire from all angles, with school leaders, unions, local authorities and the Labour party joining the debate.
Chancellor George Osborne said the move to 100 per cent academisation would ‘[set] schools free from local education bureaucracy’. But the proposals have been attacked by school leaders. Heads have warned of ‘significant’ risks to primary schools, which may not have enough resources to take on the new responsibilities that come with academy status.
School leaders have also scorned the oxymoron of this ‘forced freedom’. Writing for the TES, headteacher Geoff Barton likened the proposal to a ‘matron prising our reluctant mouths open and forcing cough mixture down our throats.’ He added he would be ‘the last person in England dragged kicking and screaming to be an academy head’.
While the main headteachers’ unions were generally accepting of the government’s direction of travel, NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby questioned the usefulness of academies in bringing about real improvement. He said: ‘If every school in the country became an academy tomorrow, the performance of the education would be unchanged; the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students would remain the same... Simply removing schools from local authority control... will solve nothing by itself.’
Taking a similar view, ASCL’s interim general secretary, Malcolm Trobe, said improvement will only be achieved if the government back up their vision with adequate resources. He explained: ‘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.’
The Labour party, too, have joined the debate. The day after the chancellor’s speech, they revealed a £560million ‘black hole’ in funding the country-wide conversion, which they claimed would leave schools ‘further out of pocket’. The Conservatives hit back, labelling Labour’s calculations ‘shoddy’ and ‘back of the fag packet’ estimates which are ‘way off mark’.
"The national funding formula is, of course, a welcome development, but we are less convinced about the requirement for all schools to become academies by 2020. So far, there has been no evidence that academies do any better for pupils than maintained schools. What about those academies that don't improve after they are converted? We also foresee problems with the national funding formula, including a new set of financial 'winners' and 'losers'.
"Furthermore, although the government is promising 'real-term' protection of school funding, the stark fact is that schools and academies will be facing financial pressures now and into the foreseeable future. A flat cash-per-pupil protection does not cover salary inflation, nor statutory increases in employer pension contributions and national insurance – which government must seek to address."
Find out more!
In our latest issue of School Leadership Today, Peter Downes, a long-term campaigner for the national funding formula, and a very vocal critic of academies, gives his opinion on the government's proposals so far and the latest evidence that their obsession with academies will damage our education system beyond repair.
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