Academy conversions nationwide announced in Budget

As part of his Budget speech in the House of Commons, Chancellor George Osborne has called for all schools in England to become academies by 2022.

Following Prime Minister David Cameron’s calls in October that ‘local authorities running schools were a thing of the past’, the announcement is due to make it easier for academy chains to take on failing schools, including those with financial or inspection problems.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said of the announcement: “The government’s ultimate agenda is the privatisation of education with schools run for profit. The most urgent problems in schools are to do with the chronic teacher shortage, real terms funding cuts, the school places crisis, chaotic implementation of the curriculum, and workload going through the roof. The drive towards total academisation will do absolutely nothing to fix those problems.”

New funding, also announced in the Budget, will enable 25 per cent of secondary schools to extend the school day and offer further extra curricular activities such as sport and art. Money raised as part of the Sugar Levy will to be used to double the amount of money spent on sports in schools, and schools will be able to bid for funding to offer five hours or more a week of additional lessons or extracurricular activities, with the new flexibility arguably offering such schools the ability to tailor the structure and duration of their school day to suit their pupils' needs.

Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, commented on the longer school day saying: “While we welcome any additional funding for schools, the reality is that the government has already made savings by requiring schools to pay increased employer National Insurance and pension contributions from existing budgets. This is a significant real-terms cut. The ‘additional’ funding is a classic case of the large print giveth while the small print taketh away.

“It is highly divisive that the funding will only be available to 25 per cent of secondary schools as this will potentially disadvantage children at the three quarters of schools which miss out. Many schools already provide after-school activities so we also need to understand how this new provision will be differentiated from the existing provision and what will be expected of schools.”

Osborne also used the Budget speech to confirm that a new national funding formula will be introduced, and that a drive to improve schools in the north will be planned, to match the success of improvements in London.

Finally, Osborne announced that all students may have to study mathematics until the age of 18 under new proposals. This follows recent news that exam regulator Ofqual will include extra scrutiny over the standards of new A-level maths papers, after scrutiny last year.