Latest Public Sector News

02.11.16

School grant cuts to leave counties with ‘virtually non-existent’ improvement budgets

The County Councils Network (CCN) has expressed concerns that the government’s plans to cut an education grant used for improving school services are equivalent to “back door academisation”.

The Education Services Grant (ESG), used as a source of funding for human resources, welfare services, and special needs pupils, is to be removed completely for local authorities by August 2017, the government announced earlier this year.

Council leaders have now written to education secretary Justine Greening to request that this decision is reviewed ahead of the chancellor’s Autumn Statement. This is in fear that the plan will lead to declining standards and resulting academisation, despite the withdrawal of the Education for All Bill, which sought to compel all schools to become academies by 2022.    

Cllr Paul Carter, CCN chairman, said: “Counties have a long and proud track record of delivering high-quality education. With the majority of academies across the whole country buying school improvement services from county authorities, it is clear they value local authorities’ expertise and knowledge as a key component for delivering a better education for all.

“Yet, the complete reduction of the ESG – based on a now discarded policy and Bill – will leave councils with a virtually non-existent budget in which to improve standards.”

He added that the long-term consequences of this are “far more damaging than the short-term and modest savings for the Treasury’s budget”.

Research compiled by the CCN found that over two-thirds of academies nationwide (68%) purchase school improvement services from their local authority, with every single academy doing so in certain counties. These include consultancy services, training courses and packages, curriculum materials, and conferences, delivered either by long-term agreements between the local authority and the academy, or on an ad-hoc basis.

From 2014–15 to next summer, when the grant is to be withdrawn, ESG funding will have suffered cutbacks of £800m. The CCN believes this will not only leave education authorities unable to support the majority of academies purchasing services, but also struggling to raise standards in council-run primary schools. These primary schools may be forced to convert to academies if they are rated inadequate, or if the local authority is deemed ‘unviable’.

Cllr Carter said: “The government re-thinking the Education for All Bill is a positive step, but the withdrawal of ESG will have a massively detrimental impact on local primary schools and leave councils unable to support academy schools.”

He called for the government to work with councils in designing a reformed education system, where county authorities work well in a mixed economy of schools.

“It is imperative that we continue our upward trajectory in high-standards and give our children the best possible start in life,” said Cllr Carter.

The CCN has already been a prominent advocate for the retention of the ESG following the government’s Spending Review, when they were looking to phase out the ESG general fund as schools became academies under the Education for All Bill. However, it now looks like the government will have to enter into further consultation with county councils.

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