Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Academies in the news – or not

It isn’t exactly news that academies have been in the news recently. But it is worth reviewing some of the stories and their significance.

The opponents of the academisation of education will have seized on the financial Notice to Improve issued by the Education Funding Agency to the academy chain E-Act. In the past E-Act had plans to become a "super-chain" running 250academies by 2016. It is no blocked by the EFA from taking on any more – for now. Days after the financial Notice to Improve, E-Act announced that its chief executive Sir Bruce Liddington would be leaving. Liddington was a former leading civil servant at the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

The financial Notice to Improve should be a wake-up call for academies whether standalone or chains. They must take governance and financial management seriously.

Meanwhile the spring has seen interviews for free school projects. A few sixth form academies will probably have been among them. There have been applications from Burnley to Salisbury.

Further down the line is the new Connell Sixth Form Collegean academy sponsored by Manchester City as part of an ambitious regeneration project. The Connell academy is intended to meet a demand for new sixth form places but it is located close to well-established and successful sixth form colleges. In the output of the Connell academy’s consultation (pdf available) the complaints of other post-16 providers (who do not benefit from the VAT funding of academies) can be discerned.

What has not been in the news has been the debate among sixth form colleges about seeking academy conversion. Since discussion at the Sixth Form College Forum in the autumn there has not been much talk of this. While conversion appeared to promise the VAT funding enjoyed by academies, it also posed questions about the implications of academy status in terms of loan agreements penalties and formula protection funding. Having said that, some sixth form colleges will have fewer financial problems with academy status and may well succumb to the call of the sirens.