Counties warn of "academisation by back door" from ESG removal

GOVERNMENT plans to cut the Education Services Grant amount to "academisation by the back door" for schools, county councils have warned.

The ESG, which is used for school improvement services and to fund HR, welfare services and special needs pupils, was originally due to be phased out by 2022 as part of the Cameron government's plan to compel all schools to become academies. However, the new Government announced that it will be removed completely by August 2017.

However, now the Government has dropped the Education for All Bill, the County Councils Network is calling on education secretary Justine Greening to review the decision, warning that removing the grant could lead to a decline in standards that sees schools forced to convert to academies.

The CCN said that by the time it is withdrawn, ESG will have already have been cut by £800m since 2014-15.

It warned that removing the grant will leave high-performing education authorities struggling to provide school improvement services to help raise standards, or to support pupils with special educational needs, as well as the majority of academies that already purchase these services from their local county council.

Research by the CCN shows more than two-thirds of academies (68 per cent) purchase their school improvement services from their county council or county unitary. Almost every county has at least one academy purchasing improvement services, such as consultancy services, training packages, curriculum materials and conferences - and in some areas, every single academy is purchasing services from the local authority.

Cllr Paul Carter, chairman of the CCN, said: "Counties have a long and proud track record of delivering high quality education, as evidenced in that 89 per cent of local authority-maintained schools are rated Good or Outstanding. With the majority of academies across the whole country buying school improvement services from county authorities, it is clear they value local authorities' expertise and knowledge as a key component for delivering a better education for all.

"Yet the complete reduction of the ESG, based on a now discarded policy and bill, will leave councils with a virtually non-existent budget in which to improve standards. The long-term consequences of this are far more damaging than the short-term and modest savings for the Treasury's budget.

"The Government re-thinking the Education for All Bill is a positive step, but the withdrawal of ESG will have a massively detrimental impact on local primary schools and leave councils unable to support academy schools. Was this really the intention behind the decision? You could argue this is forced academisation by the back door."