Hunts academies’ cash boost will be short-lived, says ex-head

THE financial benefits of Huntingdonshire’s secondary schools becoming academies in September are likely to be short-lived, a former headteacher believes.

And the new status is likely to benefit pupils from better-off families at the expense of those from families with less commitment to education, Peter Downes, who was headteacher at Hinchingbrooke School between 1982 and 1996, told The Hunts Post.

Mr Downes, who is also leader of the Liberal Democrats on Huntingdonshire District Council and an implacable opponent of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s plans for ‘free schools’, said he could understand why the seven schools in Huntingdonshire were attracted to academy status.

Hinchingbrooke and St Peter’s in Huntingdon, Longsands and St Neots Community College, in St Neots, St Ivo in St Ives, the Abbey College in Ramsey and Sawtry Community College have all been given the go-ahead to re-open as academies in September by ministers.

Mr Downes, who is also a Cambridgeshire County Councillor, said: “The financial incentive is powerful especially when schools are threatened with reduced resources.

“Academies receive extra funding to pay for the services they will no longer receive from the local authority. In practice, they get more than they need.

“Part of this extra money is removed from the funds the local authority sets aside to provide services for pupils in all its schools.

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“The rest comes from the council’s general funding from which it has to look after the elderly, provide services like libraries and repair the roads and pavements.

“It does not seem fair that some schools should get extra money they don’t need at the expense of the rest of society. The Government has recognised that this approach to school funding is unsustainable.

“Within the next two years, it will re-organise school funding so that all schools, LA-maintained and academies, will be funded on the same basis.

“This will leave the governors of academies with all the extra risks and responsibilities of independence but with only the correct money to meet those extra challenges and without any financial bonus.”

Mr Downes warned academy status could also throw additional responsibility onto parents.

“As there will no longer be any local oversight by the county council, any problems that cannot be sorted out by the school will have to be referred to central government. If things go wrong, there will be no local authority to step in quickly with support.

“It is only two years since St Neots Community College was bailed out of its �900,000 deficit by the local authority. Parents will have to keep a very sharp eye on standards, performance and management in the schools.

“So academy status may be of short-term financial benefit, but it would well bring its own problems in the longer term.”

Speaking earlier this year Alan Stevens, associate principal of Sawtry Community College, said academy status would enable schools to offer the best education for students.