Academy plan 'could cost £1.3bn'

Primary teacher and pupil Image caption Schools must become academies by 2020 or have official plans to do so by 2022, says the government

Labour is predicting the government's plan to convert all England's state schools to academies could cost more than £1.3bn.

The party says the figure is based on a Parliamentary written answer which shows the government paid £66,000 per school for earlier academy conversions.

This would leave a black hole of more than a billion pounds in the education budget, Labour says.

The government says suggestions of a shortfall are "completely untrue".

Under the plan, announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his Budget last month, all state schools must become academies by 2020 or have plans to do so by 2022.

It would mean every English school being funded directly by central government rather than through a local authority.

Conversion costs

Labour's new calculations rely on an answer from children's minister Edward Timpson, to a question on how much the Department for Education had spent on academy conversions.

The answer shows the DfE spent £323m converting 4,897 schools to academies between April 2010 and January 2016.

Labour says this gives a figure of just under £66,000 for each conversion.

Multiplied by the total number of schools to convert - 16,800, including special schools and pupil referral units - Labour says the total cost of the programme to the DfE will be £1.1bn.

On top of this, separate figures highlighted by Labour suggest the legal costs to local authorities could amount to £206m, bringing the overall cost to over £1.3bn.

Last month's Budget allocated £640m over four years to be split between meeting the cost of full academisation and of a new formula to end uneven levels of funding for schools in England.

But Labour says the Budget document earmarks a total of £500m for the new national funding formula.

If this comes out of the £640m that would leave just £140m for academisation, Labour maintains.

This would leave a shortfall of more than £1.1bn given the government's own figures for conversion, says the party.

Money allocated

The Conservatives have called Labour's figures "shoddy", as some of the £500m for the new funding formula will come from money already allocated in the Autumn Spending Review as well as from the Budget. However, they did not specify the proportion.

Image copyright JEFF OVERS Image caption Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell called the academies plan costly and unnecessary

Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell said: "This costly reorganisation of our schools is an unnecessary and unfounded distraction, which could harm standards in our schools.

"These new figures show the real cost of this reorganisation and leads me to ask the question, yet again, why?

"Schools don't need this and parents, communities, teachers and school leaders don't want it and now we find that it's going to cost over £1bn, money which could be better spent driving up standards," said Ms Powell.

In a statement, a Department for Education spokesman did not address the detail of Labour's calculations but said: "It is completely untrue to suggest there will be a shortfall of funding for our academisation plans.

"As set out in the Spending Review, and in last month's Budget, we have enough funding to support a high quality, fully academised school system.

"We have over £500m available in this Parliament to build capacity in the system, including recruiting excellent sponsors and encouraging the development of strong multi-academy trusts."

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