Emma Lewell-Buck MP: The failure of academies is a ticking time bomb

Concerns over the creation of academy schools.
Concerns over the creation of academy schools.

Last week a report was published which said that 55% of academy schools are in deficit. When depreciation of assets was taken into consideration, this figure rose to 80%.

This is a worrying number of schools under threat. Due to Tory policy, around 7,000 schools are academies. South Shields has three secondary and one primary academy schools. And the government is still forcing failing schools, including South Shields School, into academies. Nationally, these conversions have cost the taxpayer £745million.

But why are academy schools in this financial mess?

Academies have been victim of mismanagement, being often grouped together into ‘multi-academy trusts’ (MATs).

In the UK there are approximately 1,350 MATs. Half of the largest MATs have issued warnings about funding. And they have already been failing. One MAT with 21 schools under its control collapsed, but parents and pupils were not told of this until a few days into the new school term, leaving the school without effective management, parents furious and children let down. These schools are now being termed ‘zombie schools’.

These trusts pay exorbitant wages to management. In an analysis of 127 of the largest MATs, one journalist found that 357 people in these organisations were paid at least £100,000, 69 people on £150,000 or more and 15 cases of individuals on at least £200,000. When 80% of academies are in deficit, how can they justify these ridiculous salaries?

If these academy leaders were well qualified individuals then it might be a different story. But a report released last month disclosed that civil servants do not carry out checks to ensure that all academy trustees and senior leaders are fit and proper people to carry out their roles.

Clearly the academisation of schools has gone hand in hand with monetisation of our children’s education, and the government has allowed a small group of people to profit at the expense of our children’s education.

One of the reasons behind this is the lack of accountability of academies who don’t have to pay teachers a set wage. Given that staff make up 72% of costs in these academies, teachers will likely be the first to go.

We saw this over the last two years where £2.8billion of real-terms Tory cuts to education led to 15,000 teachers and teaching assistants cut in secondary schools in England, with 580 of these in the North East.

Last Friday’s report warned that in two years, academy schools currently in deficit could face insolvency. When this happens either the tax-payer will be stuck with a hefty bill or children will be transferred to another school.

This is a ticking time bomb that the Tory government need to address by properly investing in our children’s future.

Under a Labour government things would be different. In our manifesto we outlined our ambition for a National Education Service where we would have an excellent education system for all.

We would reverse the cuts to school budgets and protect budgets in real terms as well as introducing a fair national funding formula where no school or child is left behind.