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LGA calls for DfE to pick up the bill for academy conversions

Councils have been forced to divert more than £22m of local taxpayers' money to pay the costs of schools converting to the academy status, according to figures released by the Local Government Association.

However, the Department for Education issued an unusually firm response: “The LGA is wrong.”

It says councils are only required to cover the cost for ‘sponsored academies’: those required to change for ‘failing’ while under the watch of councils. Schools that choose to make the change themselves, known as ‘converter academies’ have to fund themselves.

Despite this, the LGA says that the academies programme should be fully-funded by central government and not subsidised by local taxpayers, pointing out that councils are struggling with funding cuts of 40%.

According to research by the LGA councils have been forced to use at least £22.4m from their budgets to cover the cost of schools in their areas becoming academies between 2011-12 and 2013-14. The full costs of becoming an academy, which can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds for each school, must be picked up by the Department for Education, the LGA says.

The LGA statement says: “Under current arrangements, when council-maintained schools become academies local authorities have to pick up the tab for the costs of conversion. This can include the cost of any deficit and legal fees.

“Academy schools are independent of their local council and answerable to Whitehall, and can either choose to convert from council-maintained status or be sponsored to become academies to bring improvement. They attract more funding than council-maintained schools and many receive extra money on conversion. On conversion, academies are considered ‘new' schools.”

A DfE spokesperson said in response: “The LGA is wrong. Local authorities are only required to cover a school’s deficit costs if it has become a sponsored academy after a prolonged period of underperformance. This underperformance has almost always taken place while the school was under the control of a council.”

According to government figures more than two thirds of 4,400 academies have converted by choice, meaning the council has no obligation to cover any deficit costs. Just 1,282 are sponsored academies.

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "We are supportive of academies and free schools but it is simply not fair that some struggling schools are burdened with a deficit while others walk away to become academies and leave local taxpayers to foot the bill. Nor is it right that consultants and lawyers are making good money handling these conversions when local taxpayers expect this money to go towards other local priorities, whether that is improving other schools or fixing potholes.

"Councils already have to subsidise the costs of school places and free school meals from existing budgets. This is yet another example of central government not providing enough money to pay for its policies and of local communities being forced to pick up the tab.”

He added: “It is not right that we are having to pay this money for legal and structural changes to schools, rather than it being spent in ways which directly benefit the achievements of pupils."

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