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Quarter of academy converts are primaries, new figures reveal

One in four of the schools that have converted to academy status is a primary, new figures from the Department for Education show.

As of 1 March there were 467 academies, 194 of which converted after the option was made available by education secretary Michael Gove last year.

Mr Gove gave every school rated as either "good" or "outstanding" the opportunity to become an academy as one of his first acts as secretary of state.

But experts have expressed surprise at the number of primaries that have taken the plunge because they are smaller and have considerably less spending power than secondaries.

Despite this, many headteachers have seized the chance to "cement" their independence by becoming an academy.

But for Amanda Bennett, head of Greenlands Academy in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, it was the business opportunities rather than increased freedom from local authority control that appealed.

"Our governing body decided it would be negligent not to explore it further," Mrs Bennett said. "In terms of all the freedoms such as changing the school holidays, none of them were even on the radar.

"Instead we looked at it from the services side of things. We produce our own school meals and we provide school meals for six other schools. Using our business manager, we wanted to see how becoming an academy could allow us to do the same in other areas, to look at what other services were centrally held."

Bradworthy Primary Academy in North Devon, which runs its own catering, cleaning and maintenance services, said it was the "clear financial benefits" that made converting to academy status most appealing.

Being a relatively small, 140-pupil school, was not a deterrent. Bradworthy head Richard Stephenson said: "I don't see that there are any issues which relate to the size of the school, although I guess if we were very small there probably would be issues relating to a lack of personnel."

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said the number of primaries converting was higher than he anticipated.

"I am receiving a lot interest from our members about possibly converting, although the number will be proportionally smaller than secondary schools because it is hard to get the support network, so I would imagine primary schools will be putting their names forward in groups and clusters," Mr Hobby said.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "With schools currently facing budget cuts, existing academies struggling to manage deficit budgets and an increasingly uncertain economic future, now is not the time for primary schools to be thinking of going it alone.

"In the difficult economic period ahead all schools will benefit from the support available as part of the local authority family of schools."

Secondaries - 38% on cusp

A survey by the Association of School and College Leaders this month found that almost half of England's secondaries are considering becoming academies.

Of the 1,471 ASCL members questioned, 8 per cent said their schools have already become academies, while a further 38 per cent said they were in the process of converting, or intend to as soon as they are eligible.

"Early converters have gained financially and will be able to protect budgets," ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman said.

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