Academies rake in the cash

18th May 2007 at 01:00
Accounts filed at Companies House show they receive twice as much as local comprehensives. Fran Abrams unravels the figures

city academies received an average of almost pound;1,600 more per pupil in standard funding last year than neighbouring comprehensives, a TES analysis has revealed.

In some cases, their published accounts showed income per pupil was more than twice that of similar schools in similar areas. When capital funding for building projects was added, their total income per pupil was more than that of the top independent day schools.

The findings, based on an analysis of the 14 academies which so far have filed accounts for the 2005-06 academic year, drew criticism from opponents of the programme, which was set up to help raise standards in deprived areas.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT, said every pupil in England deserved to receive an education as generously funded as those in academies.

"The Chancellor has promised to raise per capita spending to that of the public schools," he said. "He needs to set his sights a little higher and to ensure every school benefits from this level of investment. Privileging the few, disadvantages the many, in these circumstances."

Because academies operate under different financial reporting rules from other schools, it is difficult to make direct comparisons between their incomes and those of local authority schools.

The TES's figures for funding in comprehensive schools came from a Department for Education and Skills website which allows schools to compare their income with similar schools in their own area or elsewhere. But academies are not required to publish their financial data via the DfES as other schools do. Instead, they file annual accounts at Companies House.

The income declared by the academies in their 2005-06 accounts showed an average revenue of just under pound;6,500 a pupil. Similar-sized secondaries in the same regions, with similar levels of free school meals and sixth-form provision, averaged just under pound;4,900 a pupil.

Three London academies - St Paul's in Greenwich, City of London in Southwark and Mossbourne in Hackney - had revenue funding equivalent to more than twice that of similar comprehensives: they received pound;8,000, pound;9,000 and pound;9,600 per pupil respectively. St Paul's had the highest per capita funding of any school. Added together, its capital and revenue income made pound;12,630 for each of its 633 pupils.

Both Mossbourne and St Paul's received generous funding because they did not yet have a full complement of pupils, but all 14 academies had more to spend on education than their neighbours.

The academies' average income - including capital and revenue grants but excluding private sponsorship and start-up funding where identifiable in the accounts - came to pound;9,039 per pupil per annum. So, in these few schools, Gordon Brown's promise to raise spending in state schools to the same level as in independents has almost been met. The average fee income of the top independent day schools - those which were members of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, the Girls' Schools Association or the Society of Headmasters and Headmistresses of Independent Schools - was just pound;60 per pupil higher, at pound;9,100.

The DfES denied the academies were more generously funded than other state schools. A spokesman said the accounts were not comparable because academies' were for the academic year while others followed the financial year. Academies also had to pay VAT.

The Dixons city academy in Bradford received pound;170,000 for VAT compensation, which equates to pound;157 per pupil.

Some of the apparent discrepancy could also be start-up funding.

The DfES's model funding agreement for academies reveals a wide range of discretionary grants which can be given to academies.

Their annual revenue funding includes an element to cover services provided to other schools by local authorities, money for the cost of school meals and start-up grants. The agreement adds that, "subject to the Secretary of State's agreement", the Education Secretary may allocate extra grants for "matters for which it is necessary for the school to incur extra costs".

Academy principals argued their funding was no more generous than local schools. Sir Michael Wilshaw, of Mossbourne community academy, said its apparently high income was due to "build-up" - the school had the same buildings costs last year, with just 423 11- and 12-year-olds, as it would have with a full range of age groups.

"We have to run the curriculum, and we need two caretakers. The DfES recognises that by giving us a supplementary budget," he said. Once we have our full complement, the only difference would be what I call hold-back funding, money that would normally be spent by the local authority."

Dr Anna Vignoles, a director at London's Institute of Education, said: "I expected the city academies to get additional funding. There are lots of costs involved in running independently of a local authority. But did I expect to see such large differences? No."

"The funding differences are substantial, so I would expect to see substantial improvements in attainment. I haven't seen any convincing evidence that city academies are achieving at a greater level than other schools."

But the DfES spokesman said: "The National Audit Office has now officially confirmed that academies are improving results among the most deprived children in the country and on course to deliver good value for money.

That's why they are heavily oversubscribed."

How some of the budgets compare

Funding per pupil for different schools pound;6,500

Average of the 14 academies (2005-06) pound;4,900

Average for a similarly sized and deprived secondary school pound;5,305

Dixons city academy, Bradford pound;6,178

Bristol academy pound;7,959

St Paul's academy, Greenwich pound;9,096

City of London academy, Southwark pound;9,611

Mossbourne academy, Hackney

Note: these are approximate revenue funding figures, so do not include capital spending. The 14 academies are those that filed accounts for the 2005-06 academic year.

How the costs keep growing

Almost pound;50 million has been spent on advisers for 46 academies, more than pound;20m on consultants, and pound;28m on project managers.

Teachers' leaders calculate that sum would have built two schools.

Academies are costing up to pound;50m to create, almost double the predicted average cost. The business academy in Bexley, south London, received Pounds 46.2m between 2001 and 2004, with pound;35m spent on building work.

A DfES spokesman said last year that the capital costs for academies should be between pound;25m and pound;30m, the same for a new 1,300 pupil inner-city secondary school with a sixth form. "Their revenue funding is also comparable to maintained schools in the same area," he said.

Analysis of accounts from 2004 revealed that of the 12 academies then open, less than half had received all the pound;2m pledged by their sponsors. In two cases, by the time the academies opened, sponsors had paid out less than Pounds 200,000 for schools that cost more than pound;25m to build.

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