Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
29 MARCH 2010
Chair: May I welcome you to this short
session on the funding of academies? As I said outside, this is
an historic meeting as it may be this Committee's very last sitting.
I have been assured by John Bangs that he has several bottles
of champagne in his large bagI will be deeply disappointed
if that is not the case.
John Bangs: I'm
sorry about that.
Q1 Chair: It is good that you
are here. When we look at an issue like this, we give our witnesses
a couple of minutes to make comments on the generality of what
we are looking at, which, in this case, is the funding of academies.
Interpret that in a reasonably generous spirit. The academies
programme is quite mature now. A large number of academies are
being built and have been completed. We are learning the lessons.
People argue that the rules have changed significantly in terms
of sponsorship of academies and the way in which they now relate
to local authorities. Imagine that you are taking the patient's
temperature: how are academies at the moment? Let's start with
Nick Weller: I think they are
in a very healthy state and that this summer's results will demonstrate
that going forward. There has been an interesting move to have
different models of sponsorship. Maybe we will touch on that later.
I think that, over the next few years, the relative success of
those various models and the individual sponsors within them will
become clear. I think the movement will have even more direction
after that has emerged.
Q2 Chair: Tell me a little bit
more about your involvement.
Nick Weller: I am the principal
of an academy in Bradford. We are a high-performing schoolan
outstanding school. We are a former CTC and were converted in
2006. Last September, we opened our second academy, Dixons Allerton,
in Bradford. It is on the site of the former Rhodesway School
and has been going for seven months or so now.
Chair: Being a West Yorkshire Member
of Parliament, I was trying to give you a chance for a bit of
a commercial there.
Nick Weller: Yes, thank you very
much. We recently bid for another school in a neighbouring authority,
but, unfortunately, we did not get it. Our general plan at the
moment is to build a small federation of geographically concentrated
schools. We believe that about three to five is the ideal number
for our federation, where we can maximise our impact on standards
and get some financial efficiencies across the group. That will
obviously end up being spent on students' education.
Q3 Chair: So if you had a cluster,
would they all be with the same sponsor?
Nick Weller: As a CTC, the school
built up sufficient funds to sponsor itself as a city academy.
Although originally the school was sponsored by Dixons, now we
are self-sponsored. Now, of course, as an educational sponsor,
we don't have to put up money to sponsor other schools.
Chair: Thank you for that. Andrew?
Andrew Baisley: We believe there
are still a lot of questions to be answered about academies. I
am here representing the Anti Academies Alliance, which is a still
growing and broad-based campaign of parents, teachers, governors
and trade unions. We dispute the claims of academic success of
academies. We are concerned that the improvement in results is
often at the expense of a broad-based curriculum. Particular concerns
were raised by last year's Civitas report. The single largest
reason for the growth of our campaigns relates to problems with
and a perception of a lack of consultation. A campaign recently
started in Trafford. Two schoolsStretford High and Lostock
Collegehave outstanding and good Ofsted reports respectively.
Four weeks ago, the council announced that they would be closed
and re-opened as a single academy in September of this year. At
the same time, it was announced that Stretford's grounds will
be sold to Tesco for £21 million, which instead of being
invested in education, is being given to Lancashire county cricket
club to renovate Old Trafford. The still-sketchy plan is to build
a new multi-storey school on that Stretford site. In the meantime,
the new academy will be opened on the two sites, four miles apart.
Key Stage 3 will be taught in one and Key Stage 4 in another,
so siblings will no longer be able to travel to school together,
and collaboration between teachers across that school will be
extremely difficult. Parents have collected 7,000 signatures so
far in this four-week period, and have held a march to the town
halls, supported by their Liberal Democrat and Labour councillors.
The question is, how does that relate to the core aims of the
academies project? I think it fails in that the academies project
is about the attainment of children from deprived backgrounds
and increasing parental choice. The final irony of this story
is that the money that's been taken out of education to give to
cricket will not be of much service to the children, because there
will not be enough space on the new site to play a game of cricket.
John Bangs: May I first say, since
this is the last meeting of the current Select Committee, that
the National Union of Teachers has always taken the Committee
seriously. There is a good reason for that, because this is a
Select Committee that has literally made the weather. We appreciate
the attention that you've given us, the invitations to give evidence
and the fact that the reports have actually made a big difference.
Chair: Thank you for that, John.
John Bangs: I am serious. I'm
not being egregious; I mean it. First of all, I want to saythis
is a disclaimer that Steve Sinnott, our general secretary who
died, always madewe are not against academies as schools.
We want to see all schools be effectiveto work and be successful.
This is an issue of academy status. My mind goes back to the meeting
held by Neil Kinnock, Estelle Morris, Steve and a range of other
speakers in front of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, when
there was a big debate about the direction of travel, which was
Estelle Morris's phrase, and also to her more recent evidence
to your Committee, with the four ex-Secretaries of State, when
she said that she wished she'd focused on standards and not structures
and that that was the biggest mistake for this Government. All
I can say is that we agree. There is an ugly word that's beginning
to emerge in relation to the United States, which is "exceptionalism".
That is, "You'll just have to understand that we do things
differently around here." Unfortunately, that has a greater
relevancein a sense, in terms of this Committeeto
home. Academies operate under that label of exceptionalism. The
argument for them is somehow separate from every other argument.
When I was doing some interviews for a book I'm jointly writing,
the sense of annoyance among heads of outstanding community schools
about the claims made about academies is palpable. There are critical
issues that any new Government has to address. The totally unfounded
claim that, by virtue of academy status, you will create school
improvement was effectively shot down by PricewaterhouseCoopers
in its report. You can't get around the issue of a democratic
deficit. There is a major democratic deficit created. Neither
can you get round the issue of professional isolation of teachers
and head teachers within local authorities and academies. We picked
that up in interviews. Nor can you, in many cases, get round the
very high staff turnover in schools. Nor, incidentally, can you
get round the fact that there is this extraordinary coalition
of people within the Anti Academies Alliance and outside it, including
Civitas, which are addressing the Anti Academies Alliance meeting
at our annual conference on the issue of a need for a fundamental
review in relation to the claims made by academies before any
new ones are created. They remain highly controversial, essentially
because of the groundless claims made for many aspects of them.
Chair: Thank you. Paul?
Q4 Paul Holmes: When looking at
academy schools, one of the things that educationalists are interested
in is whether they are improving performance. As we heard from
Andrew and John, and from PricewaterhouseCoopers, the jury is
certainly out on that overall. If their performance is improving,
the question is why. One argument is down to intake, but we are
not here to talk about that today. The other is that they get
more money and therefore can do more things. I want to explore
that a little. We know that academies get more money in the sense
that their new buildings cost more than those of equivalent state
schools. No one can argue with that. We know that the first wave
of academies got some more money. They had sponsorship money,
although not all of that has been paid and we no longer have to
pay that money. We then come down to the core funding, which will
be the vast majority of academy funding from now on. The National
Audit Office is about to produce a new report. The previous report,
which was produced in 2007, said on page 35 that "The Department
aims to provide academies with funding for running costs that
is equivalent to other maintained schools in similar circumstances."
On the very next page it points out that "the 12 academies
that opened had received an average of £1.6 million in start-up
funding", whereas "27 Fresh Start secondary schools",
which are in exactly the same position as academies in trying
to improve failing schools, had received £750,000 extra.
In short, the NAO is saying on page 35 that they get exactly the
same money but on the next page that they get twice as much. Does
anyone wish to comment on that?
Nick Weller: I think it is true,
if you are looking at the first NAO report, that those are based
on early academies. It would be quite predictable if, say, the
Conservatives win the next election and start up parent schools,
that the first few parent schools probably will have money thrown
at them. That was true of the early academies; those that got
in early did get more start-up funds. Any new school, a local
authority school or any new school, would get start-up money to
appoint a head teacher and so on.
Q5 Paul Holmes: So it would have
twice as much?
Nick Weller: In the early days,
yes. That is not our experience now. In fact, the start-up money
for some schools, particularly in the second year, has been cut
quite significantly. It is less than was anticipated. You may
well be right, but when you see the next NAO report you won't
see that. In terms of academies costing more, again I think you're
referring to the time of the early bills. Academies are now built
within the Building Schools for the Future programme. Our second
academy will be built within the BSF programme. It has been funded
in the same way; it is exactly the same funding per square metre,
per pupil, as any other BSF school. Again, for the last couple
of years, I wouldn't agree that academies cost any more money.
Obviously, you can point to some early examples, when there were
architects and some extravagant buildings, arguably. In terms
of income, academies are funded at the same rate as other local
schools. The only difference is that there is no local authority
top-slicing. The money that I get, and the money that our second
school gets, is about 10% more than local schools, because it
is not top-sliced by the local authority. What that means, of
course, is that you don't get free HR advice, or free legal advice
and other services; you have to buy that in. But local authority
services are variable, and having choice in the way that you spend
money and having extra discretion in how you spend that money
obviously leaves you greater flexibility. That is a financial
advantage. However, in terms of the direction of travel, it would
be a better model for local authorities, particularly as funding
becomes tighter, to look at slimming down the centre and trying
to devolve as much money as they can to schools directlymore
along that model. Sometimes, we decide to buy services from the
local authorities, as with HR, for example. At other times, we
will go to our own solicitors. You don't just get your money top-sliced;
you are making buying decisions. That is more efficient and it
does give you a financial advantage. It is a financial advantage
that I think should be extended to schools. We touched on local
authority roles in setting up academies and I will come back to
that later maybe, if I can.
John Bangs: I agree with Paul's
comment. The reality is that new academies are set up with major
financial advantages. We have done some work on examples of the
financial advantages. In fact, Parliament has been assiduous in
getting those answers. For example, Austin Mitchell asked about
the amount spent on three academies in north Lincolnshireit
was over £97 million. The start-up costs were well over £1.5
million in two cases. The sponsor payments were nil on the basis
of two of those, and £500,000 for the Havelock academy. There
is a sense thatalong with the ring fence that there often
is on bought-in and purchased advice going to the sponsors, who
will actually direct the head teacher to get school improvement
advice from that ring fence, for exampleacademies actually
do get a boost for quite a long time after their start-up costs.
Then, of course, there are capital costs. You are talking in many
cases about double the amount spent on a new academy, compared
with a community school. On the issue of funding, it is clear
thatnot in all cases but the majoritythere has been
extraordinarily generous funding compared with new community or
Q6 Chair: I would have thought
that, as a teaching union, you would be dancing in the street
every time a school got lots of money. Is it a little bit strange
that you are complaining that schools get lots of money?
John Bangs: I think trade unions
are founded on the basis of equity. It is the inequity of the
allocation. It is a good point that it has been a common cry from
teacher organisations that, if some schools can get that, why
can't all schools? Or, if the argument is that there are in the
end financial constraints, how about equity? The basis for that
is not profound jealousy or anything like that. It is the claim
that because you do get more money, you get that special attention;
ergo, your results are far better. I absolutely agree with the
argument that schools in deprived areas with children from socially
and economically deprived backgrounds deserve better than they
have got. But there is a far, far better formula that you could
apply to all schools in those circumstances, rather than some.
Q7 Chair: So you would like middle-class
areas to get the same money as more challenged areas?
John Bangs: No. I think there
is an issue about the current funding formula, which is separate
from academies. Academies seem to have a kind of curious hermetic
funding formula of their own, outside the funding formula applying
to the rest of schools, whether in socially deprived or middle-class
Q8 Chair: Tony Blair's original
intention surely was to put more money into schools with greater
degrees of challenge, in terms of both economic and social background
and of the results that the children were getting. I would have
thought that, theoretically, a teaching union might have been
in favour of that.
John Bangs: Yes, but there is
the expense of creating a wide democratic deficit and real anxiety
among teachers and head teachers. The turnover rate in the early
academies for head teachers was very, very high because of the
unbearable expectations placed on their shoulders. The claim was
that because they were academies, they would automatically improve
massively. I would go back to William Atkinson, who argued strongly
and rightly for community schools at the centre of their communities.
He argued that schools in deprived areas, wherever they are, deserve
the extra funding, irrespective of their status, to make links
with their communities and to create a situation in which the
staff are stable and have the resources to do the job. That is
the criterion that should be applied, not whether or not they
are separate from the maintained family of schools.
Andrew Baisley: I think I agree
with all of John's points. I would just reiterate them if I took
up your time with that question.
Q9 Paul Holmes: Just as a final
extension to that particular point, the National Audit Office
report in 2007 also pointed out that the first wave of academies
not only got twice as much start-up funds as Fresh Start schools
but got them for longer, as well. The money didn't tail off after
two yearsit was still going after three or four years.
Certainly, the first wave of academies got much more generous
Nick Weller: It is now two years.
As I say, in terms of bill costs, you are funded exactly the same
as you are under any other local authority school under the BSF
formula. There is no academy premium.
Q10 Paul Holmes: You cannot look
at the new academies to judge academies because they are too new,
so you have to look at the older ones that have been around for
four, five or six years. The point remains that they have a lot
more money, smaller classes and better facilities. They could
afford breakfast clubs and after-school clubs because they have
Nick Weller: What gives them that
cash is that they do not have the local authority top-slicing,
and that is what will give them that money going into the future.
Q11 Paul Holmes: What if they
choose not to use that money to buy in the special educational
needs services that a local authority normally provides?
Nick Weller: If they choose to
do that, they can. It will depend on their reading of the quality
of those services or whether they can provide those services themselves.
Those children still have to be served. It is a question of who
can provide that service better.
Q12 Chair: Could you enumerate
Nick Weller: Well, as a local
authority head in my last school, if I needed something like legal
advice, I would just pick up the phone. If I needed HR advice,
there were behaviour advisers and SEN advisers. As long as you
didn't ask them to talk to children directly or have any dealing
with children, they would quite happily come along and give the
staff any advice that they needed. I would say that most local
authorities are very variable in terms of the quality of their
services. I do not think that that is a very controversial thing
to say; everyone would probably agree with that. Therefore, because
there is a local monopoly of those services, the money of a local
authority school is top-sliced to pay for those services. It is
far better, I think, to devolve that money to schools. Schools
will naturally spend the money where it is most effective. They
will do the best for their students and they will try to get the
best results for their students.
Q13 Mr Timpson: May I just pick
on Andrew for a second? I am trying to get a sense of what you
are standing for. "Anti Academies" probably spells it
out quite well, but I am just trying to understand why you are
so anti-academy. In answering that question, you gave us some
examples of where you see academies failing or where the public
reticence about academies is greater than we are led to believe.
Do you think that in some parts of the country, in some local
education authorities, and in certain circumstances, there is
a good case for academies, and that your objection to some academies
is not necessarily a reason to object to all academies?
Andrew Baisley: The slogan for
the Anti Academies Alliance is "a good local school for every
child", which is a bit motherhood and apple pie really. We
are in favour of schools that are locally accountable and that,
like any community school, have councillors and parents as governors
so that there is stakeholder governance and no one party has an
outright majority. Every academy has a sponsor with a controlling
majority on the governing body, which severely limits the input
of parents and teachers in the running of the school. Do I think
that there are ever grounds for an academy? I think that there
are often grounds for interventions in schools that are in difficulty.
However, I do not see academy status, with its sponsors, as the
key part of that or as a particularly helpful addition to the
running of a school.
Q14 Mr Timpson: Just to understand,
are you advocating the status quo? Are you happy with the amount
of control and power that teachers and parents have in the current
education system, or do you have some other formula for education
in local communities that you have not told us about yet?
Andrew Baisley: No, I think that
education has become very diverse and that there are so many different
models that there is little cohesion across the different sets
of schools. We are in favour of moving towards more cohesion rather
than less. I suppose that we want to go in the opposite direction
of travel from the one we are currently heading down.
Q15 Mr Timpson: Who would you
want to run these schools?
Andrew Baisley: We like the model
of local authority control.
Q16 Mr Timpson: When you say "we",
who is that?
Andrew Baisley: The Anti Academies
Alliance as an organisation.
Q17 Chair: How many academies
are there now?
Andrew Baisley: Two hundred odd,
isn't it? Two hundred and three or four.
Q18 Chair: Does it not seem extraordinary
that we have 3,500 secondary schools, and this is somebody trying
to do something different in 200 of them? I made this point to
Lord Baker, who has an aspiration to have 100 university technical
schools. It is a rather small element if you're trying to do something
new, isn't it? Are you against all innovation, Andrew?
Andrew Baisley: No, Chair, I am
not against all innovation, but I think that even with 203 academies,
you can have quite a profound effect. You only need one academy
in a local authority to change the outlook of that authority.
I come from Camden, which famously has the highest rating local
authority level. We have just had the first funding agreement
signed for an academy. The result of that is that the other schools
in the borough are looking at how they respond. I'm sure you think
this is a good thing, but they have to respond with trust school
proposals. What has been an extremely successful borough in the
provision of education, where you have a family of schools that
work closely together to support each other and work collaboratively,
is now looking at competition being brought in, at chasing after
pupils against each other and at the collaboration starting to
subside and break down. That collaboration is one of the great
strengths of our local authority. One academy can make a much
greater difference than on just the particular school itself.
Q19 Chair: But only a stone's
throw from the London authority you have described is another
where all the evidence shows that children were being so badly
let down across the piece that something dramatic had to be done.
That was the case, wasn't it? Are we going to let young people,
who only have one chance at their education, languish in local
authorities that don't deliver on the educational aspirations
of children or their parents?
Andrew Baisley: Chair, I think
that the problems in London's education were the result of many
years of underfunding. There has been a dramatic rise in