The claim

“The number of schools converting each year is difficult to predict. In each year the number of converters is estimated to be: 2010/11 – 200; 2011/12 – 200; 2012/13 – 200; 2013/14 – 200.”
Impact Assessment, Academies Bill 2010

Cathy Newman checks it out

Michael Gove has always resisted putting a figure on the number of academies he wants in England. But buried in the technical notes which accompanied last year’s Academies Bill is a projection that 200 schools would become academies each year. In fact, that’s proved a massive under-estimate.

The Government says it’s delighted so many comprehensive schools are choosing to opt out of local authority control. But is there a cost attached to the frantic pace of reform? And can we afford it?

The analysis

The last Labour Government came up with the idea of academies. The schools are directly funded by the government rather than local authorities, with greater freedom to set staff pay, the term and day lengths and curriculum.

Originally, Labour wanted 200 academies by 2010 – a target Tony Blair doubled to 400. But while Michael Gove has fought shy of what he called a “dartboard approach” to the number of schools, he’s quietly creating far more academies than the last government did.

The impact assessment attached to the Academies Bill 2010 suggested 200 schools would become academies this year. In fact, since the Coalition formed last May, a total of 999 secondary schools have either become or will soon become academies. Of those, 840 are good or outstanding, and 159 are under-performing.

Some 504 primaries have either converted to academy status since May 2010, or are in the pipeline. And the Education Secretary today announced 200 failing primary schools would be taken over by academies next year.

So the pace of reform is pretty dizzying – and it doesn’t come cheap.

Although academies get the same per pupil funding as local authority-controlled schools, there are plenty of other financial benefits if schools convert to academy status.

Even outstanding schools get a bonus for becoming academies. Every primary or secondary which converts gets a £25,000 sweetener. And for failing schools, the financial carrot is far bigger – around £400,000 per academy created.
The Education Department is cagey about whether the money is there.

A spokesman told FactCheck: “The last confirmed figures for spending on academies for the financial year 2010-11 is just over £2bn and includes costs incurred under the previous Government’s plans. We have made considerable cost savings in the academies programme since coming to office.”

He added that there was “no specific budget” for academies – a statement which seems barely plausible. He also failed to answer repeated questions about whether there was a funding shortfall because schools are becoming academies far faster than expected.

Cathy Newman’s verdict

When you meet the dynamic headteacher of King Solomon Academy, as I did today, you know why the Education Secretary is so keen on academies. Venessa Willms came from South Africa and was shocked by the poverty she found in London’s inner-city schools. But despite 40 per cent of her primary school children receiving free school meals, and three-quarters speaking English only as a second language, the vast majority are now achieving better results than the national average.

So it’s no surprise that Michael Gove is happy to tear up his Department’s modest aims of 200 new academies a year in favour of something much more radical. But because academies do receive more money than the “bog-standard” comprehensives they replace, there are now real questions about whether the Government has budgeted for such rapid reform. Questions which tonight the department hasn’t fully answered.