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'Converting maintained schools to academies' - key findings from NAO's report

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This report, by the National Audit Office, examines whether the Department for Education has an effective system for converting maintained schools to academies. The following document summarises the key findings and recommendations from the report.

Key findings

  • In January 2018, 7,472 of the 21,538 state-funded schools in England (35%) were academies.
  • Of these, 6,996 had converted from maintained schools and 476 were free schools.
    o Academies were teaching an estimated 47% of pupils.
    o 72% of secondary schools were academies, compared with 27% of primary schools.
  • The Department for Education provided revenue funding of £17billion to academies in 2016-17, 35% of the total amount spent on schools.
  • Most schools that converted from maintained schools to academies did so without a sponsor.
    o Between 2010/11 and 2016/17, 4,674 mainly high-performing schools converted without a sponsor. In contrast, 1,573 mainly underperforming schools converted with the support of a sponsor.
    o The number of schools converting in this way was highest in 2016/17 after the Department announced its intention that all schools would become academies.
  • In January 2018, the proportion of schools that were academies varied from 93% in Bromley to 6% in Lancashire, Lewisham and North Tyneside.
  • In 2016-17, the Department spent £81million on converting schools to academies, but this does not represent the full amount spent by all bodies involved.
    o This represented an increase of £45 million compared with 2015-16 and £17.1 million compared with 2014‑15. (The variation was broadly consistent with changes in the number of schools becoming academies.)
    o The Department does not routinely collect data on whether its funding covers the amounts that schools and sponsors spend on conversion, or on the costs incurred by local authorities in supporting the process.
  • It’s estimated that, in January 2018, there were about 37,000 children in maintained schools that Ofsted had rated as inadequate more than nine months before but that had not yet opened as academies.
  • There is considerable regional variation in the availability of sponsors located near underperforming schools.
    o In January 2018, 242 sponsored academies were more than 50 miles from their sponsor.
    o For example, 19% of sponsored academies in the West Midlands were more than 50 miles from their sponsor compared with 5% in the North West of London and South Central England
  • There appears to be a shortage of sponsors and multi-academy trusts with the capacity to support new academies.
    o In August 2016, the Department estimated that, by 2020, 2,700 more schools might need a sponsor. By January 2018, it had approved 1,101 sponsors, including nearly two-thirds of existing multi-academy trusts. Many sponsors support more than one school.
  • The number of schools moving to a new sponsor (‘re‑brokerage’) has increased each year since 2011/12, rising to 204 academies in 2016/17.


  1. Now government no longer expects all schools to become academies, the Department should articulate its vision for the school system.
  2. The Department should reinforce and consistently apply tests of financial risk and due diligence to all academies and trustees, building on those used for prospective sponsors.
  3. The Department and the Education and Skills Funding Agency should improve how they share knowledge and expertise.
  4. The Department should take more effective action to speed up the process of converting inadequate schools.
    a. There is scope for the Department to involve the Agency more in assessing financial risk during the conversion process and for both organisations to consolidate the information that they currently hold in multiple databases.
  5. The Department should improve its understanding of the factors limiting academy sponsors’ capacity to expand or discourage new sponsors from taking on underperforming schools.
    a.It should also evaluate the impact of the funding it has provided to build sponsor capacity. It should use this information to target initiatives to develop capacity in the local areas where the need is greatest.