Bigger multi-academy trusts have higher per-pupil costs than smaller trusts, a new analysis has found.
The study also concluded that oversight functions performed by academies cost more per pupil than in local authorities and that the English school system is an expensive “muddle” that hits vulnerable pupils.
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The Local Government Association commissioned the Sara Bubb Associates consultancy to look at the “middle tier” – the system of oversight of state schools which can be provided by academy trusts or local authorities.
The report found that while “large MATs might be expected to gain from economies of scale… the figures do not support this”.
It found that academies belonging to large MATs (those with more than 11 academies) had the highest cost per pupil.
In the secondary sector, costs were 10.4 per cent higher than in a medium-size MAT (six to 10 academies) and 11.9 per cent higher than in a small MAT (two to five academies).
In the primary sector, the difference was 6.5 per cent higher than a medium MAT and 7.7 per cent higher than a small MAT.
“The high costs per-pupil suggests that large MATs have a disproportionately greater number of leadership posts,” the report says.
Overall, the research found that middle tier oversight functions for academies cost 44 per cent more per pupil than for local authority maintained schools. The cost of the middle tier for academies in 2016-17 was £687.4 million and for local authority schools, it was £525.4 million, equating to £167.05 for academies in per-pupil terms and £115.17 for local authority schools.
However, the report admits that its analysis was “hampered by inconsistent categories of expenditure and grant funding in official financial returns”.
“An important conclusion of our research is that the DfE needs to be more open and transparent about the funding of…middle tier functions.”
Analysing the salaries received by MAT chief executives, the report found that most were clustered around £80-90,000 a year, “but with a long tail of higher salaries”.
“We could not discern any particular pattern or governing principle determining the differences in salary levels,” it says. “This could become an expensive issue at system level, as leaders’ salaries often set a benchmark and exert a pull on the pay expectations of colleagues around them.”
The report says the current system in England is a “muddle”, with the research highlighting “how expensive running two middle-tier systems is, with so many resources being channelled into senior leadership posts”.
“We also found that an unintended consequence of school autonomy, system fragmentation, and funding restrictions has been the worsening of provision for vulnerable pupils.
The report adds: “The poor service for pupils with special needs was noted consistently by headteachers.”
It recommends a “comprehensive review of the cost-effectiveness of the MAT model”, that MAT CEO salaries should be subject to a framework such as the School Teachers’ Review Body, and that grants to pay for middle-tier functions “should be equitably distributed between academies and local authority schools”.
An LGA spokesperson said: “We would like to discuss this difference in funding [between academies and local authorities] with DfE to ensure that all schools are funded fairly, taking into account the needs of pupils.”
The spokesperson added: “We believe local councils, with their unique local knowledge and accountability to local people, are best placed to provide and support a coherent, strong, educator-led middle tier in education in England.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Academies are raising standards in our schools by placing freedom in the hands of school leaders, and we will continue to monitor spending to ensure trusts running schools are aware of their financial responsibilities.”