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Monday, 30 May 2016

'Outrageous' Government rules could leave Bradford taxpayers with huge bills when schools convert to academies, councillor warns

'Outrageous' Government rules could leave Bradford taxpayers with huge bills when schools convert to academies, councillor warns
Councillor David Ward outside Hanson School in Swain House

'Outrageous' Government rules could leave Bradford taxpayers with huge bills when schools convert to academies, councillor warns


BRADFORD taxpayers could be left with massive bills if schools with huge budget deficits become academies under "outrageous" Government rules.
National policy dictates that a school converting to an academy will keep any surplus budget, but if the school is in the red, the debt will be passed on to the local authority.
With more schools predicted to become academies in the next year, the risk of Bradford Council taking on more debts is also increasing.
Former Bradford East MP David Ward is the new Liberal Democrat spokesman for education on Bradford Council.
He said was wary of the Government's academy policy while he was a part of the coalition government.
He said: "The academies bill was the first piece of legislation I voted against when I became an MP, it was my first rebellion.
"This issue about deficits being passed on to the local council was a major concern to me.
"It is just outrageous that when a school becomes an academy its deficit has to be picked up by the local authority, but when they have a surplus it goes to the academy sponsor.
" It is unfair to local taxpayers. If a school is considering moving to academy status what is the incentive for the school to carefully manage its budget?
"A lot of schools take careful control of their budget, and have to make difficult decisions to keep it balanced, and this policy means other schools can effectively hand over their deficits to the taxpayer.
"It is crazy. This system isn't fair, but its the rules."
The balances of Bradford's council-run schools have recently been published and show that while some schools have healthy bank accounts, others are overdrawn by a total of £1,162,328.
Hanson School in Swain House - part of Cllr Ward's ward - has a deficit of almost £800,000. It is due to join the Wakefield City Academies Trust, so the debt could soon be passed onto the taxpayer.
In 2015 the school's deficit was £97,805, but this leapt to £799,985 by March.
The school, which has 1,700 pupils and was placed in special measures last year, has been going through the process of becoming an academy for five years. It was originally to join the Schools Partnership Trust Academies, even going as far as renaming and re-branding itself as Hanson Academy on signs, before the deal fell through.
It was due to join the Wakefield City Academies Trust at the start of the month, but the process has been delayed.
A recent visit to the school by Ofsted found that while teaching and performance was improving, the school had experienced "significant staffing issues" in the past year.
There figures show three secondary schools in the district are in deficit. St Bede's and St Joseph's Catholic College had a deficit of £38,493 in March and The Holy Family Catholic School in Keighley had a deficit of £111,230.
One Primary school, Stocks Lane in Clayton Heights, had a deficit, of £45,465.
However, most schools have a surplus, with a total of £18,867,767 in school accounts. Last year that figure was £20,615,502.
The secondary school with the biggest surplus was Tong School, with £981,419; while Grove House Primary School in Swain House has£384,324 in the bank.
Bradford Schools Forum recently heard that many schools had surpluses set aside for major projects such as building works, or specialist provisions, such as special needs education.

It has agreed to investigate what more can be done to prevent schools running up large debts before becoming academies.


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