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County is set for a flood of academies
ALL schools in Oxfordshire could be Academies within five years, the councillor responsible for schools has predicted.
But there are warnings that the scale of the changes could put small rural primary schools at risk.
Academies are funded centrally from Whitehall, but for each school that converts, Oxfordshire County Council loses an extra slice of money so the school can buy in its own services.
Unlike local authority schools, they handle their own finances and can set their own admission policies and curriculum.
At a County Hall scrutiny committee on Friday, councillor Melinda Tilley said: “We do think all schools will go to academies and very few, if any, will be left with us.”
She said that process could happen over the next “four to five years”.
There are already five academies in Oxfordshire, with 14 more conversions set to go through the system in the coming months.
In addition, the Department for Education is looking at converting nine or 10 underperforming primary schools into academies.
The council’s interim deputy director of education, Andy Roberts, said: “We need to find a way of managing the transition as more and more schools choose to become academies or are accelerated into becoming academies by the Department for Education (DfE).
“We are working through the implications of what that might be.”
He told councillors: “My advice is that this is going to happen, so now is the time to take ownership and manage the process.”
But Oxfordshire Primary Headteachers’ Association chairman Peter Cansell told the Oxford Mail that small rural schools could be threatened by bigger schools becoming academies.
As each school converts, money is taken from the county council’s schools services’ budget, threatening the viability of the centrally provided support.
But the county’s smallest schools may not have the resources to go it alone.
The Harwell School head said: “It is making life very difficult for small schools because at the moment we get the money from the local authority to carry on going.
“We are already seeing the diminishing state of the local authority. We have lost virtually all the support over the last year.”
He added: “Oxfordshire has a proud record of supporting small rural schools, but in purely economic terms they are probably not viable. Locally, there has always been some vested interest in protecting them, but looking from a national perspective there is no incentive to do that.”
But County Hall now looks safe from a feared £29m funding black hole if all schools convert following a Government climbdown.
Under funding arrangements, a slice of cash from the county’s schools budget is taken away each time a school converts, allowing headteachers to choose whether they still buy in the council services.
Last summer, a Government consultation had raised the spectre of the council being left £29m in the red if all schools converted, because far more was being given back to schools than they used in services.
Under new DfE proposals, the council would lose £15m in funding for services it currently spends £13m on. Despite the loss in cash, some of the existing provision would have to continue, even if all the schools left county council control.
Council finance business partner Simon Pickard said: “It is more than our spend, but no longer a complete outrage. It could be managed.”