Academy conversion is costing councils up to £30m, BBC suggests

Local authorities are being forced to clear the debts by using up their government education grants.

The Department for Education said that since debts were accumulated while the schools were under council control, the debts should be paid by the council.
However, the Local Government Association has exposed that this inheritance of debt means that vital funding has been revoked for schools not involved in the scheme.
The BBC recovered the data by submitting a freedom of information request to all local authorities in England. The inquiry revealed that £32.5 million has been spent to clear the debts accumulated as a result of the Academies Act, 2010.
The initiative instructs that, when council-maintained schools choose to convert, their respective local authorities are responsible for any funds that are incurred, including legal fees.
David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: "It is not fair that some schools are burdened with a deficit while other schools can walk away and leave that debt behind at the detriment of other schools in the community.
"It is not right that the taxpayer foots the bill. This money could instead be spent in ways which directly benefits pupils."
In 2012, education chiefs in Birmingham declined to writing off the £1.3 million owed by schools converting to academies. Following this, in 2013 there were fears that Birmingham’s school budget could run out if the scheme continued.
A spokesman for the Birmingham City Council said: “All of Birmingham’s children must benefit from any changes to the education system, so we need the government to make changes to enable this to happen so school and council budgets, that are already stretched, are not strained even further."
Councillor John Jones, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for school improvement, said that the expectation for councils to simply write of conversion debts was “extremely frustrating”.
Local authorities paid off debts by using the Dedicated Schools Grant, the main source of income supplied by the government to support the school budget.       
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “Councils are only required to cover a school's deficit when it has become a sponsored academy after a prolonged period of underperformance, and the deficit was accumulated under council control.
"Academies are a vital part of our plan for education and are transforming the education for millions of pupils across the country."
Christine Blower, from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), commented on the inconsistencies caused by the scheme.
She said: “This is another example of the financial pressures that the academies policy has brought to bear on local authorities' education budgets.

"As a direct consequence of the academies programme, local authorities have less money to fund and support other schools."

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