Free Schools and Academies continue to grow rapidly.  Some critics and opponents are perhaps missing the point.

They have pointed out that those submitting initial Expressions of Interest are taking time to turn into actual Free Schools. But they may have missed the huge numbers in the pipeline.

And there are roughly four new Academies being formed every school day.

Whatever critics say or accuse, by the end of this Parliament there will hundreds of Free Schools and Academies on the ground with little local council maintained provision remaining. This is a fixed term five year Parliament until Thursday 07 May 2015. William Hill will give you odds of 5 to 1 that this will be the next Election Date.

So whatever Government is elected – a Coalition, ‘hung’ Parliament or outright Government Majority – it will be difficult to introduce legislation to reverse this growth or to reintroduce local council control. Many Free Schools and Academies will never have been maintained schools anyway.

So the first reality is that Free Schools and Academies are here to stay, whether they are Primary, Secondary or All Through.

The second reality is that through growth of these directly Government funded schools and public expenditure reductions, many local councils will soon not have any significant education department. There are already examples as far apart as Solihull and Somerset where maintained schools are being gently told that there are barely adequate local education department resources to service their needs.

Free Schools

Critics of Free Schools have poked fund that from an original 760 expressions of interest, only 24  Free Schools opened this September.

But they may have overlooked other figures in the Department for Education Press Release of Friday 09 September 2011 about the spread of these Free Schools.

  • 17 are primary schools, five are secondary schools and two are all-age schools.
  • 6 are faith schools.

 

Free Schools are spread across England. 12 are in the most deprived 30% of communities. 15 are in areas with a basic need for school places.

5 were set up by teachers, 8 by parent or community groups, 5 by existing education providers, and 1 by an Academy. 5 existing schools will become Free Schools.

Between them, these create more than 9,000 new state-funded school places and are projected to cost between £110m and £130m in capital, to build or renovate.

Critics and opponents of these developments may also have overlooked another DfE Press Release of Monday 20 June 2011 with figures for more applications to open Free Schools in 2012.

In this latest application round there were 281 more applications to set up a Free School from September 2012. There were 227 for mainstream schools, including 126 from local group, including:

  •  34 are for alternative provision schools (such as Pupil Referral Units)
  •  20 are for schools for children with Special Educational Needs.

 

Of the 227 mainstream applications:

  • 77 (34%) are for primary schools
  • 81 (36%) are for secondary schools
  • 65 (29%) are for all through schools
  • 4 (2%) are for 16-19 schools

 

All this means that though it may take time to progress from Expressions of Interest and Initial Applications towards opening, the demand for setting up Free Schools continues. So Free Schools at all levels will continue to grow in numbers.

Academies

Academies are growing much faster.  Though Labour promoted 203 Academies, there are now 801.

Michael Gove as Secretary of State for Education has boosted their growth by simplifying the conversion process. Academies no longer need consent from their local council and sponsors need no longer contribute an initial £2mn.

The Department for Education’s Press Release of Tuesday 12 July  2011 shows that since June 2010, 1353 schools had applied to become an Academy, so that Academies now account for more than 20% of all secondary schools in England.

The handy “publication list” spreadsheet under “Academies/Find Academies” on the DfE site gives a monthly update. For Monday August 01 August 2011, 1461 applications to become Academies had been received, 1229 were approved and 796 new Academies were opened. This compared with 1353 applications, 1124 approvals and 527 new Academies open at Friday 01 July 2011.  In total, more than a third of all secondary schools are Academies or are in the process of converting.

Other spreadsheets on the DfE site provide easy funding ready reckoners so applicants can work out funding possibilities from becoming a Free School or Academy. There are even YouTube links on the DfE site where Academy Heads tell you how to do it. Under “Compare Schools” on the DfE site, there are also comparison tables with other schools.

The funding model for Academies, including the £25,000 ‘Conversion Bonus’ for new Academies, is often shared to develop joint provision within ‘academy chains’. The Special Schools and Academies Trust has Regional Offices which coordinate and promote joint Academy provision.

Frankly, the calculation of Local Authority Central Spend Equivalent Grant (LACSEG) offers little incentive for secondary schools to remain part of local authority provision.  Many local authorities have been surprised to find that published LACSEG figures are higher than they anticipated.

Repercussions and Rationale for Joint Provision

Individual, chains’ or federations’ provision of Academy Sixth Forms means more competition on traditional enrolment territory for Further Education Institutions. Funding follows the student. Since a declining demographic/age profile is working its way through secondary schools, promoting new Sixth Forms by Academies is increasing substantially since this offers possible retention of funding and students. The Post 16 Network within the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust now represents the fastest growing streams within academy provision. Students continue in familiar territory, with the same friends and often with the same teachers.

Many Academies have new or expanded resources, especially in IT facilities, which may present duplication of current FE facilities.

But an ongoing competition for enrolment between academies and FE institutions may cause confusion to potential students, especially following withdrawal of the Connexions Service and the new 16-19 Bursary Fund replacing Educational Maintenance Allowance.

Turf Wars don’t make sense. Higher and Further Education Institutions can sponsor Academies, especially since in May 2010 the £2mn sponsorship requirement was dropped. But an effective answer to possible competition and duplication is surely joint provision and delivery. This offers a wider range of provision and delivery, including development of new courses, through optimising staff and resource allocation between institutions. With all institutions facing public expenditure reductions, joint provision also fosters more effective resource allocation.

Where the remnants from AimHigher and other widening participation initiatives can’t offer this, there could be joint provision of mentoring for students to encourage the most appropriate student career path or provide access to Further and Higher Education.

Reality

One last reality. The 1992 Further and Higher Education Act set up both the Further and Higher Education Funding Councils and severed links between Further Education Colleges, Polytechnics and their local councils. They no longer “belonged to” local authorities and were free to buy various services elsewhere.

Though there have been changes of name and structure, freestanding Further Education Colleges and Higher Education Institutions are here to stay. There will be no point in their going to the Department for Education or Business Innovation and Skills if they are no longer viable. They will simply be told that it’s up to them to recruit enough of the right kind of students.

With this rapid growth of Free Schools and Academies, this will become the same for Primary and Secondary Schools. It’s no good looking to the local authority since in many cases there won’t be any longer a Local Council Education Department.